Re: Definition of meme

From: Scott Chase (
Date: Wed 21 May 2003 - 05:08:01 GMT

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

    >From: Keith Henson <>
    >Subject: Re: Definition of meme
    >Date: Mon, 19 May 2003 13:26:01 -0400
    >At 11:17 AM 19/05/03 -0400, Bill Benzon wrote:
    >>It seems to me that this is a quibble. The notion of a replicator is
    >>certainly a more general one than that of a gene or a meme, but it really
    >>isn't any more precise. Nor does it change my basic point.
    >>OK, so a meme is a mental replicator: Find one. No one has actually
    >>mental entities within brains that replicate from one brain to another.
    >>Richard Aunger has written an incoherent attempt to find such things in
    >>brain. I don't see any reason to believe that they will ever be found.
    >Do you have any doubt that the physical representation of a meme in a brain
    >(where memes exist as a class of memory) can be found? (Given fine enough
    >tools of course.) Here is a thought experiment on how to do it:
    >Take a snapshot of the places and states of every atom in a brain.
    >Immediately have the brain learn a new a new phone number, snapshot again.
    >Subtract. Ignoring the (eventually solvable) engineering problems, what is
    >left is the physical representation of the encoded phone number or meme or
    >whatever. Might be hard to figure out how it is encoded, but that's just
    >We know enough about how sea slugs form memory (with only a few giant
    >neurons) to strongly suspect this physical/chemical change encoding
    >memories will be in synapses. (I am ignoring the possibility that memory
    >may be in circulating electrical patterns for a while before it gets
    >committed to physical structure, but we *know* long term memory is retained
    >over complete electrical shutdown of brains--much like a computer disk
    >retains information when the power is off.)
    >If you don't buy this model, then are you making a claim that memory has no
    >physical encoding or that it is outside the physical world?
    First off you are hijacking memory research and claiming it for memetics by merely embedding the term "meme" into a discussion of memory. Your presumption is that memes are a class of memories. Why must William or anyone buy into this presumption? If the premiss runs afoul, what can we say for the conclusion, though leaving memory research unscathed.

    Alluding to memory research sounds alluring just as alluding to genetics terminology does, but what point is driven home at the end of the day sans independent confirmation that such things as memes exist.

    One can accept that memory has a neural basis, yet be quite skeptical that memes have any basis.

    I've seen Jungians use the arguents for sociobiolgy or evolutionary psychology as a buttress for archetypes, were archetypes would be genetically encoded and selected for *a priori* instead of Platonic *a priori*. How much does this strategy differ from using arguments based on the search for the elusive engram (such as LTP research) as buttresses for internal memes? Could both instances be cloaking in the garb of science?

    Been there done that both times.
    >>These mentalist memes are purely hypothetical entities. Now, if these
    >>hypothetical entities had given rise to a good research program with
    >>substantial empirical results, that would be a different matter. But that
    >>research program has not come into being. Memetics doesn't have a Gregor
    >I don't think that's the problem with research on memetics. The problem is
    >like the baseball-island experiment, the outcome of such experiments are
    >just *too* obvious to get funding.
    >The universe is just full of things we can't see because they are too
    >small, too far away, or deep in the past or future. That doesn't keep them
    >from being of great interest to science. Darwin had to infer evolution
    >from rather indirect evidence. We know about ice ages without having been
    >there. Mendel couldn't see genes, but he could see their effects. We can't
    >see them (yet) but memes-in-the-brain can be detected by the effects they
    >have in experiments such as baseball-island.
    >Keith Henson
    >This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the
    >Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
    >For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing)

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