RE: transmission

From: Scott Chase (
Date: Wed 21 May 2003 - 05:41:29 GMT

  • Next message: Wade T. Smith: "cats in a box"

    >From: Keith Henson <>
    >Subject: RE: transmission
    >Date: Fri, 16 May 2003 09:27:39 -0400
    >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
    >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
    >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
    >>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
    >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
    >>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
    >>>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
    >English *does* have a use for highly inclusive words.
    When there's merit in the usage of course. You may not have realized but the varieties of dogs are connected by common ancestry and all can more or less interbreed (except for possible trouble between Great Danes and Chihuahas) quite easily. These dog breeds are a result of evolution and these dogs are related to wolves and coyotes. I see no trouble using the word dog to refer to the various breeds.

    Memory, rule, idea and performance OTOH are words referring to somewhat different things. The usage of these terms convey something in each case that doesn't seem to me to be captured well under the umbrella of the
    "meme". The "meme" is a term coined by Dawkins that IMO doesn't have the same status as the term "dog".

    There are dogs that can easily be pointed to ostensively as examples and no one but the ardent nominalist would raise an eyebrow. The word meme does not share this ostensive ease. If one pointed to memories and performances as examples, outside of this little discussion list, eyebrows might raise. It is your contention that the word meme applies to these quite different words. You might get a pat on the back from someone who agrees with you like Phil (also on the "meme" team), but don't take this as scoring a spike on the volleyball court, because you might just overextend your shoulder and get caught in the net as the ball whizzes right by your head into the sand on your side of the court.

    To cap off, meme does NOT enjoy the status as a word accorded to dog and it does not easily apply across variant terms like dog would to variant breeds stemming from common ancestry. You would have to convince Wade and William Benzon of the veracity of your argument (and perhaps Derek Gatherer too wherever he's lurking). Joe and Richard might be playing on your side but ya'll ain't quite the American Kennel Association now are you.

    I'd be more of someone on the sidelines in the internal/external war, though I'm not sure I'd root for either side. Don't get too sandy now diving for those spikes, that William and Wade are setting up against you.

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