(Reply to Benzon) Re: transmission

From: Gudmundur Ingi Markusson (gudmundurim@yahoo.com)
Date: Thu 15 May 2003 - 08:47:13 GMT

  • Next message: Philip Jonkers: "Re: transmission"


    <<Let's continue with "dog." Sometime relatively early in life the infant

    sees dogs while mommy or daddy or big sis or big bro says "dog." When this

    goes on long enough the infant learns that there is an association between

    the sound /dog/ and the animal. But that association is constructed in the

    infant's brain BY THE INFANT HERSELF. No one's doing it for her. No

    meaning is ever TRANSMITTED from anyone else to the infant. All that

    EVER happens is that words are uttered in contexts from which the infant

    makes inferences. And so it goes for word upon word upon word.>>

    As such I have no disagreement. Of course this is the situation and it is clear that replication is not happening (and, by the way, that is also one of the great points of Aunger’s (2002) critique on “traditional” memetics). That which is transmitted fairly faithfully is the process which the receiving person then repeats. In this account, memes would be Peircian sign-vehicles, as Terrence Deacon (1999) has suggested.


    But, is it necessarily the case that an evolutionary process must be excluded on the level of cognitive-mental activity. Even though there clearly is no replication of ideas between minds, is it not still possible that there is *heredity* of minimal, significant cognitive-mental elements between minds, as they make their inferences? Enough to sustain an evolutionary lineage, however fragile, between minds?


    I do not know what those significant elements might be. Maybe one could suggest that they involve combinations of what Lakoff and Johnson have called image-schemas (1999) which are linked to certain domains of experience, and that the significant aspects that must be repeated between minds (as they make inferences) are force-dynamical aspects of such schemas, in the sense of Talmy (2000).


    We might then have two lines of repetitive processes that sustain cultural evolution: an external one, as you and Deacon seem to be suggesting, where processes are repeated with a high level of accuracy, and a cognitive-mental one, that shows heredity (not replication) of significant aspects of “semantic primitives” (not ideas).


    These thoughts aside, my basic point is whether the exclusion of transmission and replication (which to my mind is an obvious impossibility) does necessarily make a cognitive-mental evolutionary process impossible. And whether scientific and theoretical work could not be carried out if one finds a better alternative to the defunct replication concept.



    Gudmundur Ingi Markusson



    Aunger 2002: The Electric Meme. Free Press.

    Deacon 1999: The trouble with memes (and what to do about it). Semiotic Review of Books 10 (3).

    Lakoff and Johnson 1999: Philosophy in the Flesh. Basic Books.

    Talmy 2000: Toward a Cognitive Semantics. MIT.

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