Re: transmission

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Mon 19 May 2003 - 18:30:06 GMT

  • Next message: "Re: transmission"

    At 11:17 AM 19/05/03 -0400, William L. Benzon wrote:
    >on 5/19/03 9:32 AM, Richard Brodie at wrote:
    > >
    > > I'm having a great deal of difficulty understanding you. I know you're not
    > > saying you don't believe knowledge can be taught. Right? You're not saying
    > > that, are you?
    >No, I'm not saying that.
    > > So you must be saying something else. I'm guessing you are
    > > saying something like you don't believe the physical representation of
    > > knowledge in someone's brain gets replicated.
    >Yes, I'm saying at least that.

    The way you stated it, I have to agree. Because while there is physical representation of knowledge/information in brains, it is the *information* that gets replicated rather than the physical structure. As I have mentioned before, there are no two sheets of paper identical at the fiber level though feeding them to a OCR engine would give identical text files--identical information.

    > > If that's what you're saying,
    > > let me point out that that's not a requirement for memetics any more
    > than it
    > > is necessary for any matter to be transferred when you download software
    > > from a server.
    >Bad analogy.
    >Jack and Jill are sitting in the park under an apple tree. They see an
    >apple front of them on the ground. Each is looking at the apple so there is
    >something in Jack's brain that corresponds to the apple and something in
    >Jane's brain that corresponds to the apple. But there is no replication
    >from one brain to the other. Each is looking at and recognizing the apple
    >independently of the other.
    >What I'm arguing is that the situation is not much different if they're
    >sitting on a bus and Jack writes "apple" on a piece of paper and hands it to
    >Jill. Now they've both got something in their heads that corresponds to
    >"apple." But there has been no replication from one mind to the other, no
    >"downloading" of information from one brain to the other.
    >In this second scenario imagine that Jack and Jill never knew one another
    >prior to sitting down on the bus. Whatever it is the arises in Jill's head
    >when she sees the piece of paper was there before she ever met Jack. Nothing
    >has been transferred from Jack's head to Jill's. All that has happened is
    >that Jack has caused Jill to call up something in her mind that corresponds
    >to "apple." It may be more or less "like" what is in Jack's mind. But it
    >has not been transmitted or replicated from one to the other. Those
    >concepts don't tell you what is going on.

    Bad example since both know of the object class apple beforehand. I.e., it would be hard to devise a test that showed before and after effects of this information transfer. Jill would recognize "apple" both before and after seeing one with Jack or the word on paper.

    Now, consider 100 plus years ago where both of them were familiar with another red fruit, the tomato. At that time a lot of people thought tomatoes (relatives of deadly nightshade) were poisonous. Say Jill thought thus and Jack ate tomatoes with gusto. Jack and Jill are under the tree and Jill sees Jack eat a tomato. She watches and seeing he does not get sick, tries them and adds tomato to her diet, a fact that can be observed.

    The same might happen if she read a note from Jack "Tomatoes are good to eat." If she didn't start eating them, she might well change her behavior enough to ask others about eating this odd red fruit. This too is observable.

    >Now, what if, instead of "apple," Jack had written "quantum indeterminacy,"
    >or "justice" or "meme" on the paper? What's the chance that those words
    >would evoke more or less the same thing in Jill's head that already exists
    >in Jack's?

    Depends entirely on how much background they share all the way from total incomprehension to wondering why this dude had slipped her this paper naming her professional interest. I doubt you would see a measurable change in behavior.

    But let's go back to about the time of Watt and assume Jack and Jill were both mechanical engineers who designed and built Newcomen engines. Let's say that Jill was on her way home from a lecture by Watt and finds Jack on the horse drawn trolley. She could talk to Jack about it, draw him a picture, or write the words "separate condenser" on paper and show it to him. There would be a near immediate change in Jack's behavior with the chances being very high he would *never* design and build another Newcomen engine.

    That's a meme replication event.

    Keith Henson

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