From: Reed Konsler (
Date: Wed 21 May 2003 - 00:29:51 GMT

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    OK, I think I understand the performance model except for a few details that, maybe, you can help me wrap up. I assume that some kind of real physical brains are required for a culture to exist. I think what you're saying is that those physical brains aren't any different than a piano or hammer, for instance...just much more complex. All those things are part of the venue.

    One thing I'm not sure of is how performances get translated. For instance:

    1) Alan plays music for Bob. One performance-meme. Alan --> Bob 2) Bob writes music down on paper. One potential performance-meme.
     Bob --> [Paper]

    Now, if no one ever reads the paper, then 2 isn't a performance-meme because there is no audience.

    3) Charlie reads the music on the paper. Closure of one potential performance-meme
            Bob --> [paper] --> Charlie.

    In this case, there is one performance intermediated by a material artifact.

    4) Charlie plays music for Deacon. One performance-meme. Charlie --> Deacon

    Now, all that makes sense.

    The thing I still don't understand is this: if we say that the performance-meme is the unit of cultural selection, then how does it translated between different media. For instance, there are two kinds of musical performance-memes: playing and writing. From my perspective, they are not the same performance-meme. Playing a piece of music is different than writing it...part of a different venue. Yet, it also seems like they ought to be the same, or at least very closely related.

    If I assume that my brain is full of mind-memes there is a relatively straightforward explanation for how the different kinds of performances are related. All the performances, whatever the media, are outward expressions of mind-memes that we can infer exist based on the performances. Individual performances might be effective or ineffective at causing a proximate brain to construct a similar mind-meme. Based on this model, cultural evolution is a process whereby mind-memes collect into larger units (mind-viruses) that express themselves. Selection favors mind-viruses that are effective at causing proximate minds the construct, preserve, and propagate the virus.

    Now, I see what you're saying...why talk about the mind at all? After all, it is the expressions (or performances) that are obviously being selected by cultural evolution. The mind-memes can only be inferred, while the performance-memes can be seen. So, why not throw out the extra, abstract, mind-meme? Occam's Razor, right?

    I'm almost convinced. The question I have is, how are performance-memes containing the same "information", but in different media, related? If I think of it in terms of mind-memes, there is a relatively straightforward answer. An individual meme may be a modular part of several different mind-viruses. The "information" that is both in the written performance and the playing performance is shared in common by two different mind-viruses and these mind viruses are expressed differently. The musical information thus has the advantage of having two vessels that might succeed in the game of cultural selection.

    You can think of an argument the same way. There is a model that you advocate: The Performance Model. Based on the mind-meme model I would say that this is a central collection of memes that is shared in common by multitudes of mind-viruses in your brain, as well as those of several other people, including mine. Every time you make a different argument it is a novel performance leading me to infer the existence of some central mind-virus which has a powerful influence over you. It isn't the individual performances, from this perspective, but the model itself which you are advocating.

    If one points towards the Moon, only a fool looks at the finger.

    Anyway, that is how I would use the mind-meme model to describe how the same information can be translated and expressed in a number of different forms and media. In fact, it is the variety of ways that the same information can be expressed that leads me to infer that there is some collection of mind-memes in the brain generating these expressions.

    OK, one can argue that there is no "information" in a performance at all. It just is a performance-meme. You can argue that nothing is transmitted from one brain to another, depending on how rigorously or loosely you wish to define the word "transmitted". I've read Saussure, and am familiar with semiotics and that general kind of thinking so, OK, those are stands that make sense.

    What I don't get, and what I keep asking about is this: If a performance-meme just is, itself, the unit of cultural evolution...why does it appear that there are performances that mirror each other? If they contain no inherent information and don't transmit anything other than themselves from one place to another, how are performances translated into completely different media with what often seems to be excellent fidelity? How does a performance-meme maintain existence during the period that it isn't being performed?

    I've read the stuff about "cultural venue" but I still find it to be a very vague and abstract term. When I ask "where do the performances go?" the answer is "they are maintained in the cultural venue." That doesn't clarify things for me. I suppose I'm asking where the things are physically located. My natural assumption would be to say that the most important part of the "cultural venue" is in the brains of the humans making up the culture. For instance, all you need to have a performance of Macbeth is two people and a space. Theaters, props, full cast and stage hands, audiences and handbills, box offices and web sites...all that stuff is part of the
    "cultural venue" but without the human brains none of it can actually maintain a pre-performance-meme. On the other hand, a single human brain is a sufficient cultural venue to maintain the pre-performance-meme, even if the meme can't actually...I can't think of a good word here...materialize? potentate?...until there is at least one other person to provide the audience.

    I would have a tendency to call that pre-performance-meme that is being maintained in the portion of the cultural venue composed of human brains
    (probably the most significant part) a mind-meme.

    You seem to be arguing that there are two theories: performance-memes and mind-memes. You hold that since performance memes are measurable and mind-memes aren't, there isn't any reason to think of there as being two different kinds of units of cultural selection. You would say that there is only one: the performance-meme. Your arguments seem to center around this key: mind-memes are abstract, vague, redundant, and they don't uniquely explain anything.

    The fact that I must infer the existence of something I can't see or measure doesn't strike me as a reason to disregard a theory, so I'm not inclined to say something is bad because it is abstract. Of the two concepts:
    "mind-memes" or "cultural venue" I find the latter to be more vague. I think the concept of mind-memes and mind-viruses provides an elegant explanation for how there can be many performances in a variety of media that are all "about the same thing".

    Of course, I'm not trying to keep you from your life. I'm just trying to think these things out. Any answers or corrections you could give me would be appreciated.



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