RE: transmission

From: Scott Chase (
Date: Fri 16 May 2003 - 04:49:46 GMT

  • Next message: Scott Chase: "RE: transmission"

    >From: Keith Henson <>
    >Subject: RE: transmission
    >Date: Wed, 14 May 2003 20:04:53 -0400
    >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.
    Is the idea of baseball encoded similarly across brains? Is the structural similarity (isomorphism) even close for the baseball idea between you and I?

    My main concern is when we jump from the less contentious term idea to the meme with extra baggage and try looking at it aa a discrete entity residing in brain which takes part in some assumed Darwinian process.
    >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?
    Why not call it an element of culture. You are slipping memes in by way of a definitional slight of hand.
    >Baseball (or cricket for the limies) is an element of culture.
    >Are there objections to this?
    Baseball is a collection of different elements and when decomposed into smaller fragments it becomes difficult to approach with an internalist model. How are we going to map engram:rule:performance using baseball as an example, especially when adding comparison across individuals with different histories, even for their experience with the game of baeball?
    >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.
    So how much do we know about the information as it resdes in the brain, aside from typical assumptions about synaptic efficacy changes and neural patterns? Anything specific about baseball on the brain?
    >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.
    So now we've shifted the focus from information in a brain to rules in a book.
    >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
    The books contain rules about baseball.
    >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
    >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.
    Why muddy up the situation with a word like meme when rules (as in baseball) would suffice?
    >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.
    Aha, we've shifts from elements of culture to wanton Dawkins-esque selectionism. That is just one of my pet peeves with memetics. If selection doesn't explain all of evolution (there is the mechanism of genetic drift and there's the neutral thory of evolution), why must we burden cultural explanations with wanton selectionism, not to mention the dubious genetic analogy.
    >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.
    Eating fruits containing ascorbic acid sounds more like an idea (a good one at that) to me.

    Memory, idea, rule and performance are great words in their own right. Smearing a word like "meme" across them does not seem to add much clarity.

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