Re: Polichak on memetics

Date: Wed 28 May 2003 - 22:24:05 GMT

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    Since I cannot acces this article, I would greatly appreciate its being posted in its entirety.

    > > From: Ray Recchia <>
    > > Subject: Re: never wanting to grow up
    > >
    > > Ted wrote:
    > >
    > > >It's not the least bit arbitrary. Not all information flows
    > > >memetically. Much of it flows according to standard models of
    > > >information transfer, developed and refined over many years by
    > > >social scientists. To claim
    > that
    > > >all [transmitted] ideas are memes is to defy conventional science.
    > >
    > > Which views are those? Don't social scientists have views on how
    > > subconscious habits are passed at all? That surprises me.
    > >
    > > Ray Recchia
    > My source is SUNY cognitive psychologist James W. Polichak. I'll just
    > quote from his 1998 article in Skeptic (Vol. 6, No. 3):
    > >>>
    > What is notably absent from [Aaron] Lynch's review [Thought Contagion,
    > 1996] and from the analyses of most memeticists is any mention of the
    > research that has been done in two fields that are directly concerned
    > with human information processing and the behaviors that result from
    > the intake of information-- cognitive and social psychology.
    > Researchers in these fields have been systematically investigating how
    > humans receive, process, and transfer information (Hunt, 1993). A
    > cursory examination of some of the basic findings in these fields will
    > show that, rather than unifying the study of the human brain and
    > culture, memetic theory is based on an inaccurate model of information
    > processing, is incapable of accounting for much of the activity of the
    > human brain, and can only consider human thought in an extremely
    > limited way.
    > Meme theory is concerned with the way information is transferred. To
    > examine these issues, memeticists have chosen to focus on the
    > information itself, treating humans as hosts who may be active to a
    > greater or lesser extent in transmitting the information. It is the
    > lack of emphasis on the actual activity of the human being with the
    > information that dooms memetics to failure. Memeticists have adopted
    > the view that information is independent of either its source or of
    > its receiver, and can be effectively examined with little regard for
    > either. The idea that one can examine the transfer of information
    > without regard for the systems sending and receiving it has been
    > challenged on a number of levels. Shuy (1993) argues, based on his
    > linguistic training and experience as an expert linguistic witness at
    > a number of trials, that such a position is a common misunderstanding
    > jurors have about the way language works. Using examples from real
    > criminal trials, Shuy demonstrates that people have the mistaken
    > belief that they can examine verbal testimony in the absence of
    > context because all of the necessary information is contained in the
    > words spoken. This belief, Shuy argues, has led to wrongful
    > convictions a number of times. Reddy (1979) argues that this
    > inaccurate belief is based on the way the English language has
    > developed, and refers to the mistaken idea that information is sent
    > and received unaltered by the acts of sending and receiving as the
    > *conduit metaphor.*
    > [...]
    > Examining research on false memories will effectively demonstrate the
    > difficulties of separating information from information processing.
    > Roediger and McDermott (1995) presented participants with study lists
    > of words that were associates of one nonpresented word. For example,
    > one list contained the words "bed," "rest," "awake," and nine other
    > sleep-associated words, but the word "sleep" was never presented.
    > During later free recall tests, participants recalled the nonpresented
    > words (e.g., "sleep") 40% and 55% of the time, in Experiments 1 and 2,
    > respectively. Similar results were found using word recognition
    > tests, and participants were highly confident that the words they had
    > recalled were on the study lists. This finding of false memories
    > using word lists has been replicated and extended by a number of
    > researchers. Similar false memory data have been obtained using
    > memory for sentences, eyewitness testimony, and childhood events.
    > Experimental research on human memory has shown that people "remember"
    > information that they never saw and events that never happened under a
    > wide number of conditions and with a variety of testing methods.
    > Payne et al. (1997) summarize their theoretical position on human
    > memory: "the act of remembering involves the reperception of internal
    > representations that are created from experiences with the world...
    > these internal representations frequently are not separate and
    > distinct from the sensory and perceptual processes that give rise to
    > them."
    > This description of human memory, while echoing that of Kolers and
    > Roediger (1984) is clearly inconsistent with memetic ideas about
    > information processing. People do not receive information and
    > transmit it to others without processing and altering it in a way that
    > is both highly sensitive to the environmental conditions at both the
    > time the information is received and the time it is remembered, and
    > highly dependent on the perceptual, attentional, and cognitive
    > capabilities of those involved at both times. Given the memory
    > research, it is far from clear to what extent we can meaningfully
    > discuss information independently of the activities of the people
    > involved in the process of transmitting it. Memeticists must
    > demonstrate that they can account for the sensitivity of memory to the
    > factors identified by experimental psychologists. They must also
    > adequately deal with the numerous false memory phenomena, which are a
    > powerful challenge to meme theory. Presumably the word "sleep" fits
    > the vague criterion for memehood, given that, in this experimental
    > paradigm, words are presented to participants one at a time, and
    > participants are expected to recall and rate their confidence in each
    > individual word. Yet this word, recalled by about half of all people,
    > was never seen. It does not seem that we can reasonably view this
    > information as having been transmitted-- who could have done so? In
    > these and the other cases, it is better to view the memory as having
    > been created. It is up to memeticists to challenge the dominant
    > theory in experimental psychology-- that all memories are created in a
    > similar manner to the false memories through active reconstruction of
    > past experiences that are heavily dependent on environmental,
    > perceptual, and cognitive factors whose impact varies at different
    > times. Cognitive psychologists have developed powerful models of
    > human memory that challenge memetic theory; it is up to memeticists to
    > show that the experimental data have been misinterpreted.
    > [...]
    > For the past 50 years, social psychologists have studied specifically
    > how people form and change attitudes and beliefs. Hundreds of
    > carefully controlled experiments have been performed examining the
    > factors that affect whether a person will be persuaded by information
    > (or "infected" to use memetic terminology), how lasting that
    > persuasion might be, and whether the person will actually act in
    > response to the information to which they have been exposed (Eagly &
    > Chaiken, 1993). One would think that this large body of research
    > would form a much stronger starting point for memetic analyses than
    > would an analogy to epidemiology. Yet, aside from a brief mention by
    > Blackmore (1997), this work has been ignored by memeticists.
    > Memeticists have neglected to consider virtually all of the
    > experimental data, from both social and cognitive psychology,
    > concerning information processing, and the behaviors based on this
    > information processing, in favor of an inaccurate model of information
    > transmission (the conduit metaphor) and an untested and underdeveloped
    > analogy to the distantly related field of epidemiology.
    > [...]
    > With regard to how information is transmitted with potential mutation
    > and is subject to selective forces leading to differential survival,
    > the writings of memeticists are about as vague as their attempts to
    > define the meme. It is also not clear to what extent we can
    > meaningfully discuss transmission of information (as opposed to
    > reconstruction of information). Memeticists have also not done enough
    > to differentiate memetic transmission of information from non-memetic
    > transmission. It is known that humans can transmit information to
    > each other that could not reasonably be considered memetic. For
    > example, Russell, Switz, and Thompson (1980) showed that human
    > menstrual cycles become synchronized through olfactory cues.
    > Presumably there is some variance in the degree to which people's
    > menstrual cycles become synchronized, but we would probably not want
    > to say that this variability is evidence for mutation and differential
    > survival of any particular menstrual cycle. It is up to memeticists
    > to demonstrate that the information that they deal with is different,
    > and this will prove difficult. Cognitive psychologists have
    > demonstrated that learning and remembering are sensitive to
    > environmental and perceptual factors, which are not considered in
    > memetic analyses, and that most human thought is not likely to be
    > memetic. They have also shown evidence for the recall of information
    > never transmitted. Memeticists must show that, after accounting for
    > these pieces of evidence and the psychological theories based on them,
    > there is some form of discrete information left over that is subject
    > to mutation (not merely variability) and differential selection (not
    > based on perception, attention, or mental reconstruction of
    > experience). In other words, they must demonstrate that, contrary to
    > current psychological models, not all forms of information in the
    > human brain are like the information discussed above before they can
    > develop meaningful predictions and models of memetic transmission. >>>
    > I think Polichak makes a strong case that not all transmitted
    > information consists of memes. To be successful, memetics must
    > clearly demarcate memetic transmission of information from ordinary
    > communication. When does human agency give way to memetic agency?
    > When does the information become a thing-in-itself, capable of
    > self-replication, as opposed to a passive element in human mentality?
    > Ted
    > ===============================================================
    > 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)
    > see:

    =============================================================== 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) see:

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