RE: transmission

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Fri 16 May 2003 - 13:27:39 GMT

  • Next message: Chris Taylor: "Transmission, baseball and arguments about intentionality"

    At 12:49 AM 16/05/03 -0400, you wrote:

    >>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?

    At the lowest and the highest levels yes. At the lowest level *however* memory is stored it is the same for all nerve cells. There is a heap of evidence about the structural changes of synapses in forming memory. See the work on sea slugs.

    At the highest levels (assuming you know baseball at all) there are millions of people who expect to see 4 bases, 3 strikes, 4 balls, 9 innings. (More if the game is tied, there was a news story yesterday about one that was in the 17th inning.) People are likely to riot if they showed up for a game and found 3 or 5 bases.

    In between these levels who knows? Brains are more different from each other than other impressionable media but unless I am a specialist in paper or magnetic media I ignore the detailed difference between sheets of paper and magnetic tape even though I know that at some level one differs from the next. It just doesn't matter.

    >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.

    Efficiency. Meme is one word. Calling a meme an element of culture or a replicating information pattern is just true.

    >>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.

    So what? "Meme" is like string, the word does not imply a length, only that the collection of information travels down time as a lump. Dawkins goes to great length in _Extended Phenotype_ about the same problem with defining a genetic replicator. Eventually he came to the conclusion that it is however much stays in one chunk "long enough" to feed back on its own destiny. You are welcome to call baseball a "scheme of memes"
    (Hofstadter's term for connected memes) or talk about the baseball sub-meme of the batter getting to first base on being hit by a pitched ball and I will not complain.

    >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 baseball?

    Easy. Ignore the differences and concentrate on the similarities. There are *huge* differences in dogs depending on the breed, but we know the whole collection is distinguished from cats. Likewise, baseball is distinguished from football (both kinds) and cricket, though all are in competition for people's free time and entertainment budget. (I have a vague memory of a baseball strike some years ago that made a big difference in movie ticket sales.)

    >>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?

    It doesn't matter at this level.

    Look, I have an *INTENSE* interest in the nitpicking details of how certain classes of memes "take advantage" of evolved human psychological traits. But this exercise is about demonstrating the nature of memes as being information--*independent* of the media, be it brains, paper, video tape, or artifacts.

    >>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.

    Not just rules, read above, "how to play the game."

    >>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).
    >The books contain rules about baseball.

    See above.

    >>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.
    >Why muddy up the situation with a word like meme when rules (as in
    >baseball) would suffice?

    Because "rules" is not inclusive enough for what I am trying to get across.

    >>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.

    In that case, why are you on the memetics list? Just to get people to argue with you? If you want to talk about neutral or drift, be my guest. May I suggest that accents and fads may be examples?

    >>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.

    As I have pointed out, ideas that are copied from one brain to another
    *are* memes.

    >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.

    "Poodle, Collie, pit bull, and wolfhound are all great words in their own right. Smearing a word like "dog" across them does not seem to add much clarity."

    English *does* have a use for highly inclusive words.

    Keith Henson

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