Re: transmission

From: Douglas Brooker (
Date: Sun 18 May 2003 - 08:17:38 GMT

  • Next message: Van oost Kenneth: "Re: transmission"

    "Wade T. Smith" wrote:

    > On Friday, May 16, 2003, at 09:05 PM, Reed wrote:
    > Well, Reed wrote almost a hundred questions, and, haplessly, I do
    > realize not all of them boiled down to this one-
    > > Where are the memes between performances?
    > - but, enough of them do boil down so that I see this as the one I can
    > have time to answer. (Of course, I'm also very sorry that I seem to be
    > alone defending or trying to explain the sense behind the performance
    > model, but, there it is.)
    > Besides, he double-dog dared me....
    > So, where are the memes between performances?
    > I will be flip, and let you realize that, for the performance model,
    > this is a meaningless question. It would be a stupid one if you
    > understood the performance model, but, you apparently do not, so it is
    > only a question from ignorance, I'm again hoping, against the paranoic
    > reaction that you only want me to keep typing so that all of my other
    > life plans will gae aglae.
    > But, yes, the question is meaningless because, in the performance
    > model, the meme _is_ the performance. Period. It doesn't 'go away', and
    > it can't get 'between' things. Once the performance is over, the meme
    > is over. That was it. Finito.
    > The performance model does not accept any other existence to a meme
    > other than the moments of its activity. (And thus it does not accept
    > any supernatural existence in more than two places at once, which the
    > memeinthemind model demands.) In the special case of artifacts, we have
    > a result of a performance, of a meme, which may exist for many moments,
    > even ages, but, no, the meme is not a continuing agent in any way shape
    > or form for the performance model. What _does_ continue, and what
    > maintains the forces for continuance, is the cultural venue that allows
    > the performance to happen, and this is also a possible moment in
    > objective time, because cultures have died and are mortal in that
    > sense. A strong and continuing culture, with many controls and commands
    > upon its venues, expects performances of specific natures, and usually
    > gets them. (In a baseball stadium, two teams play baseball while a
    > large audience observes. In a school, teachers and students perform. In
    > a listserv, well, some of them, people write intelligible and cogent
    > explanations of theories. In a religious commune, prayers are said at
    > every matin.) Culture is the command of venue, to coin it in a phrase,
    > and performances are the activities that are controlled by the
    > parameters of these venues, and a continuing culture is one that
    > expects performances that are effectively understood to happen because
    > of the parameters set. When the flag is raised, the sergeant issues
    > commands, and expects a full salute. If he doesn't get it, punishment
    > is meted out. This is analogous to all cultures, stemming from the very
    > basic urges of reward and punishment inherent in social groups. Keith
    > works this behavioral agency into most of his arguments, although he is
    > still wandering around in the stillborn fog of memeinthemind-land.
    > > Let's say that you are playing a piece of music on the piano and I'm
    > > watching it on a TV. If someone pulls the plug on my TV, have you
    > > stopped
    > > performing? What if no one else can watch or hear you but me, and now
    > > I
    > > can't?
    > Yes, in this example, I have stopped performing as far as an agent of
    > cultural evolution is concerned. (But, I was not totally unobserved, so
    > there might perhaps be a following performance from you.) The meme is
    > over, as a meme requires a performer, a venue, and an observer. (Your
    > TV is a special case of venue, since a technology is involved.) There
    > can be no further reduction in these requirements for a meme to occur.
    > In the case of an artifact, we have a performer within a venue, a
    > physical result, and an observer who needs to be within the same venue,
    > or the artifact will be culturally evolutionarily impotent. Again, I
    > have the very concrete and empirical example of the Tlingit elders,
    > who, upon seeing, handling, and discussing among themselves an artifact
    > taken from their tribe almost a hundred years ago, who, because they
    > have no written history and because there was no spoken history about
    > this single artifact (or several others, but one will do), realized
    > among themselves, and made it clear to all in that room, that the
    > culture, and thus the cultural venue, that created this very artifact
    > in their hands, perhaps a creation of a relative of one of them, was
    > meaningless to them all. A piece of their culture was extinct. The
    > chance of another performance was gone. This was a seminal moment for
    > me in my thinking about cultural evolution, and, I ask you, what does
    > the memeinthemind model say about such moments? Not much, as I can see.
    > And yet the performance model explains cogently and vividly,
    > unfortunately not without removing any of the sadness.
    > Chris is helping me out, thanks, Chris.... and you responded to him-
    > > Are you saying that every performance creates a selection
    > > environment that stimulates the evolution of a complementary
    > > performance?
    > > That sounds plausible.
    > Yes, he is and I am. You have just described the memetic process. But
    > realize also that every culture is controlling, or attempting to
    > control, the parameters within which these performances occur,
    > stimulating not necessarily the evolution of a following or
    > complementary performance, but making conditions more probably
    > stimulating to a repetitive performance, because cultures desire
    > maintenance and stability.
    > Finally- from Philip-
    > >> In the performance model, there is no continuity of 'meme' necessary,
    > >> but, just like a spider makes a very similar web every time yet
    > >> different due to the parameters of the environment, culture commands
    > >> the venue, controlling the parameters of performance. Every meme is
    > >> unique, but may, just like the spider's web, have enough relational
    > >> attributes to be called a 'comedy', or a 'waltz', every time, and this
    > >> is a marker of memetic stability.
    > >
    > > No argument here, well put.
    > Thanks.
    > >> Continuity can absolutely be dependent and perceived as continuing
    > >> upon
    > >> discontinuous entities. And culture is a great example of this
    > >> mechanism, as is evolution and, indeed, the human body.
    > >
    > > I'm sorry but I lost you here Wade, please clarify the point your
    > > are trying to make.
    > I was trying to say that the effect and the appearance of continuity
    > can come from the congregate of things that are discontinuous, or
    > discrete, as the human body is formed of discrete organs and systems,
    > even at cellular levels, of discrete chemical processes, all of which,
    > over the time allocated by the universe for evolution to work, have fit
    > together to create the species we are all happy or unhappy to call our
    > own. The continuity of culture is likewise, with the discrete systems
    > of religion and economics and politics combining to form a nation, or a
    > state, or a tribe. It is certainly one thing to view this city I live
    > in, Cambridge, from one house, and then from another, but within a view
    > from overall this country, Cambridge is very much an appearance of a
    > democratic and liberal entity. Cultures command the venues they expect
    > performances from, and yet even this control is a control of several
    > discontinous entities. That memetic stability happens is not
    > necessarily the result of one meme continuing, but the result of
    > several parameters being set within which only one appearance of meme
    > is compelled. The ballet is an example of one such venue, although all
    > venues can be considered, wherein the controlled parameters are legion
    > and amount to the gauging of minutiae. Laboratory science, of course,
    > is another extreme example, although similar performances are only
    > expected where rational results are attempted to be replicated, whereas
    > in the ballet, a similar result is not only expected, but any variance
    > from the classical choreography is held in disrepute.
    > Of course, when viewing anything microscopically as compared to
    > macroscopically, discretion becomes more a fact of verity than valor.
    > At any rate, my main point was that a common mistake made in popular
    > memetics is one of calling something like 'baseball' a meme, where
    > baseball is in fact a huge aggregation of thousands of cultural
    > processes, and to call it a single meme would be madness.

    unless maybe the single meme referred to was an attempt to describe a process. in which case the memes functions as a place holder to describe processes which are too complex to understand.

    it could be that the nominal "meme" is simply a fiction, a marker, that, it is thought, will make the task of describing the process in question more effective. an epistemological supposition, not unlike the "grundnorm" of Hans Kelsen's legal theory.

    trying to describe something that is more verb-like, but calling it a noun is a recurring problem in many areas.

    but clearly it is a popular urge.

    a good post Wade.

    also, on the question of the use of the word "quantum": Two aspects to this
    - one is whether as a metaphor, and only as a metaphor, it might provide a tool for understanding that a meme might have different identities under different circumstances, comparable to the energy-matter distinction of a quantum particle. distinctions derived from a process-result comparison are
    'in the same ballpark'. usage of 'meme' might also reflect simultaneous usage both as a superordinate and as a hyponym.

    the second aspect is the reaction to the introduction of the metaphor
    'quantum'. I can understand, particularly in an American context, wanting to avoid the use of such a 'charged' term. It has entered into the popular imagination and has meanings that physicists might not recognise as legitimate. The reaction I think refers to an innate self-knowledge American speakers have about the nature and likely trajectories of their academic and popular discourse. (an example of this 'degradation' might be what happened to a very good concept, the 'floating signifier' by its application to race issues in the US. another is the use of the word 'volksgeist' in legal anthropology - it's pretty much a no-no word in legal theory in Europe because of its NAZI associations. Both of these concepts are more or less essential in the work I do, but I have to struggle to deal with their pejorative associations).

    Also, I wonder, how, exactly, the disparaging references to quantum being
    'cool' fit into the analysis. Unfortunately, possible insights are pushed away because of this reaction.

    to what extent does the controversy about the nature of the 'meme' parallel other theoretical controversies in other disciplines? the recurrence of polarised controversies within disciplines - such as positivism versus natural law in law - suggests some unknown force (or thing!) is at work. is it possible for memeticists to step back from their immediate controversies and see the systemic structure of their own discipline? or must an anthropologist be called in from outside to do this work?

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