RE: transmission

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Thu 15 May 2003 - 00:04:53 GMT

  • Next message: "Re: transmission"

    At 12:49 PM 14/05/03 -0400, Scott wrote:

    (re Richard Brodie's comments)

    >Is there sufficient reason to assume that ideas are isomorphic between
    >individuals? If so, provide some here:

    I would say so, where I take "isomorphic" to mean similar.

    In a short form, one definition of memes (that does not conflict with the definition of a meme as pure information) is "an element of culture" where culture is the sum total of information available to humans.

    Does anyone have serious disagreement with this so far?

    Baseball (or cricket for the limies) is an element of culture.

    Are there objections to this?

    Now consider this variation in a thought experiment I have used here before where a person can be tested for having the information in their brain about baseball by teaching an isolated group of children (who have never played ball and stick games) a recognizable game of baseball. You dump kids, teacher and equipment on an island and come back in two months.

    The variation is that the teacher on this assignment doesn't know a thing about baseball, but is given books on baseball rules and how to play the game before being dumped on the island.

    If the kids are playing a recognizable game of baseball when the experimenter returns, then the only information source for what they are doing is the books. I.e., the books contain the baseball meme (information).

    I don't think you could get funding for this experiment because the outcome is too obvious.

    Now information has to be "contained" in matter of some kind (photons included). I am not picky about what form it takes, human minds, ink on paper, magnetic tape or chipped into stone. Memes can sometimes be loaded into minds from what a person can get out of made objects, a shoe, a pot, a chipped rock. (I have spent a lot of my professional life "reverse engineering.")

    Memes are often learned from watching others (though not exclusively as a certain person claims). Chimps learn to collect termites with sticks by watching adult chimps. You could almost certainly transfer this meme by showing video tape of collecting termites to naive chimps. You *might* be able to convey the "termiting meme" to a chimp that knew sign language without demonstrating what to do. (You could certainly do it with humans.)

    On the subject of how accurately information replicates from mind to mind, that depends largely on how much effort is put into transmitting it. In the days before pocket calculators, most children learned multiplication tables with a very high degree of fidelity. The process is much like communication between computers. Computers test the data they get from other computers and will retry if the data is corrupted (which it frequently is).

    Human children are likewise taught, tested, and corrected on spelling and math till most of them "get it right." Game rules (three strikes, four balls) tend to be very accurately replicated. This is not true of all memes, look up "Play it Sam" and "Play it again Sam" in Google.

    But some amount of mutation/sloppy copying/random recombination/outright invention is as essential to memetics as it is to genetics. Without variation, there is nothing to be selected. The differential survival of memes (and why) is what memetics is about.

    Keith Henson

    PS. The meme that fruits, particularly citrus, prevent scurvy was a significant element in the power of the British Navy at one time.

    =============================================================== This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing) see:

    This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Thu 15 May 2003 - 00:10:56 GMT