From: Reed Konsler (
Date: Fri 23 May 2003 - 06:52:43 GMT

  • Next message: Van oost Kenneth: "Re: definition of meme"

    > At best you could say it favors certain kinds of
    > expression as geographical conformations favor certain paths for a
    > river.

    Wade: I think that is more than best, I think that is enough.

    If that is the level of agency you are looking for, I would be a fool not to agree. It is true that our thoughts and performances are confined (at present) to the form and shape of the human body. For example, you can only dance within the confines of your anatomy.

    [shrug] That's obvious. If you want to call it a "requirement", OK. But, it isn't sufficient to explain *why* people dance in the first place.

    If, in saying you want to study cultural evolution, you want to create a model that answers the questions 'what?', 'where?' and 'when' then I could ignore what is going on in the brain. Only, I should add, if you were only interested in looking at the performances and nothing else.

    What I don't think you can answer, without thinking about the mind, is
    "who?", "how?" and "why?"

    Who dances? Why do I dance? How do I dance?

    Wade: I do not refute myself. The Tlingit artifact did not work properly, and the cargo cults could not operate their totems properly.

    'properly'? From the perspective of semiotics, is there such a thing as a
    'proper' interpretation of a signifier? The cargoes are just things, without any agency or inherent purpose *and* they are signifiers. In either case, it is the present owners that use them and give them meaning.

    "The venue for proper operation is not present in either case"

    Of course it is, it's right there in the minds of the tribe. It might not be venue in your mind, but that doesn't mean that it isn't a 'proper' one. It's just a different set of memes.

    "in the absence of the venue, cultural evolution is not possible."

    That's obvious. You need brains and you need stuff. It is the brains that use the stuff, not the reverse. The use is a phenotypic expression of something else, the memes. You could, I suppose, imagine that the memes are in some abstract 'cultural space'. I'm not against's just that
    'platonic ideal' gets spit out around here like some kind of insult. And, despite what I percieve as your periodic incivility, I don't wish to insult you.

    If there are memes, they must be physically located somewhere.

    > But there is no such thing as a 'fact' that a
    > physical object must serve a specific purpose.

    "I totally agree. The only fact about a physical object is its physicality. But the only meaning attached to it is from culture, which gives it a purpose..."

    Agreed with the caveat that there is no 'proper' meaning for any physical object. Just becuase a set of atoms are rearranged in one culture as a signifier for something does not mean that the arrangement of atoms has a
    'proper' meaning. No physical objects have 'proper' meanings. If they did, they couldn't be signifers and wouldn't be particularly useful as elements of cultural developemnt.

    All of the physical objects surrounding people are just a collection of signifiers, without inherent meaning or agency. It is only when they are interpreted as signifers of something, inside a mind, located in a brain, that there is the generation of meaning. I'm not arguing that there isn't a venue of expectations that influence this. But this venue isn't located in the signifiers.

    Therefore, if you have a model of cultural evolution that doesn't address the mind directly, the theory cannot address 'meaning'. The model might address something, I suppose. I'm just not sure what that is, or if it's very interesting.

    > "I suspect you'll still have a door, though."

    "What I meant was- I suspect there will still be a door (a means of ingress and egress) in your house that you will use and call a 'door' even though a very similar slab of wood is now a table in your living room."

    What if I just hung a piece of cloth over the opening and called it a door? The meaning is in my head, not the object. A 'door' doesn't have to be any certian shape or substance. The wood slab doesn't expect to be a door, the opening doesn't expect to have a slab of anything inside of it and the house doesn't expect to have a hole in it.

    All the expectations are in my head.

    "Without the cultural venue of the house and the is just a slab of wood.

    Agreed. I'm not arguing with you about the *existence* of what you call the
    'cultural venue'. I hold that the 'cultural venue' is a collection of memes located in the mind. I'm not ignoring or explaining away the 'cultural venue'. I agree it is incredibly important, even the most important thing to understand culture. I'm just trying to establish where it is located. I don't think it is located outside the mind, which is in the brain.

    "No-one can keep a door in their mind and let another know there is a means of ingress and egress to a house using it. The thing that makes it a door is not simply the fact that someone thinks such a thing as a door exists..."

    Agreed, I must make some set of performances that another person interprets. If they use the door and then call it a 'door' the meme has successfully replicated. It is only after they do these things that I can know the meme has been replicated. Unless, I suppose, I had some way of opening their brain and finding evidence of the memes. But, then, in finding this evidence I am observing a performance.

    Becuase I hold that memes are located in the brain doesn't mean I hold that they get telepathically transmitted. Also, I don't hold that performances aren't important. Performances are part of the mechanism of replication.

    DNA doesn't just replicate itself magically. It requires a very specific environment of enzymes, water, ions, and other molecules. All of those things are part of the mechanism of replication. But, we don't say that the genes are recorded in the pieces of the mechanism.

    I can perform polymerase chain reaction in a small plastic vial. That is a different environment, but the same genes. I can use a gene sequencer to assemble DNA. That is a very different environment. A specific environment is not neccesary for replication of genes.

    I can remove the DNA from a fertilized egg and microinject the DNA from another animal. The result is a close of the donor of the DNA, not the donor of the cell. I can splice DNA encoding human insulin into plasmids and transfect bacteria with them. The result is protein expressed from the donor gene. Without the gene, the bacteria would never make human insulin. An environment is not necessary for replication of genes.

    I can use a computer at home and at work. In either case, the computer works exactly the same, presuming I have electricity. Where the electricity comes from is irrelevant. A specific environment isn't necessary to use or build a computer or to copy programs from one to another.

    If I turn my computer off and leave it at work, I can't it even if I have electricity. I can't copy programs from it despite the floppys or connecting cables I might have. If a friend loans me his computer, then I can use and copy the progams on his computer, not mine. An environment is not sufficient for replication.

    Yes, replication requires an environment. But the memes, genes, and programs, are recorded in specific general locations. The memes are in the brain, the genes are in the DNA, programs are in the computer.

    A specific environment is not neccesary for replication. Any environement in not, itself sufficient for replication.

    However, brains are necessary for replication. Presuming there is some environment, and there always will be some environment, the brains are sufficient for replication.

    "but that the venue of the house has been conformed to the culture that calls this egress a door."

    The culture cannot give a signifier a 'proper' meaning. There is no 'door' save as it is interpreted within the mind of the members of the culture. The house has been built, but it is the memes within the mind of the participants that have conformed to recognize and use it.

    Another culture might give the same object a radically different meaning. In that case the memes within their minds have conformed to recognize the structure as something different.

    All the conformation, correlation, interpretation...whatever you want to call it...occurs in the minds of the participants. The signifiers cannot have a 'proper' meaning.

    "Putting a slab of wood on hinges and attaching it to a wall and calling this means of ingress and egress a 'door' is a cultural command."

    Agreed. It is a command by memes in the mind. That is where the culture is located.

    "That someone follows this command is selection."


    "That someone observes and uses the door is replication."

    Yes, of the mind-meme. I can infer this if that someone cuts a hole in the wall, hangs a cloth over it and calls that a 'door'. I can infer it if that someone enters through what I think is the window and calls that a 'door'. I can infer it if the person refers to a particular book as 'the door through which I entered literature'. All these lead me to beleive that it isn't the act of using the door, but something in the mind, that has replicated

    "That someone puts a knob on it is a mutation of the venue which will also be observed and perchance selected and, perchance, replicated."

    Agreed, with the caveat that the venue is in the mind and any particular doorknob is just an expression of the meme.

    "As all these thoughts of the door are, as you say, pre-cursors of the performance and the selection..."


    "...and the mutation..."

    I would say that mutation of a meme occurs when the interpreting person generates a different meme in their mind than the expressing person holds. Mutation in genetics occurs when the complementary strand that is generated is different than the original. It occurs in the process of transcription, but the transcription enzymes don't mutate as transcription occurs. The genes mutate.

    "...saying that just this _thought_ is all that is required for this evolution is, well, not even wrong. The brain still has to put them somewhere."

    Agreed. The brain must have an environment, and it always will. But a specific environment is not necessary and the environment without those -thoughts- is not sufficient.



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