Re: Origin of memes

From: Wade T. Smith (
Date: Wed 18 Jun 2003 - 18:41:49 GMT

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    On Wednesday, June 18, 2003, at 01:07 PM, Chris wrote:

    > So performances (i.e. phenotypic-level copying) will vary, and the
    > memes
    > in our minds will also differ (in all cases) to some degree because we
    > try to knock up things that replicate a phenotype, with no real idea of
    > (or hope of replicating) internal structure.

    Yup. (However, here in the US of A, we don't say 'knock up things', as here this is a slang phrase for sexual intercourse. Even 'bang together' is approaching the ribald, but acceptable. Ah, venue....)

    > I prefer to think of memes (maybe I need a better word) as fundamental
    > to all but our basest animal stuff (face recognition, fear, the stuff
    > you can't lie about because it is part of the hard-wired honesty
    > required for social living).

    This is absolutely a valid point of view. I've always seen this POV as one of the hidden axioms in any memeinthemind model, because such a meme in a mind also needs to be directly tied to conscious and unconscious thought processes, as you say, fundamental. Thus, any memeinthemind theory is also a theory of consciousness, a la Dennett, and can lead to memetic theories where animals are also memetic agents, a la Blackmore and Reader & Laland in the journal we all know and love.

    Once one has adopted this view, however, one is led (AFAIK) into the realm of sociobiological processes leading to language and society and then to cultures, where even cultures can be merely instinctual societal groupings, like ape clans. And, well, this is also a valid point of view.

    > Now the reason I mention this is to ask the question how did memes come
    > into existence - how did we move from programmed behaviour to acquired?

    Ah, but, have we...?

    The problem with the sociobiologic explanation of memes and culture is, and I know Joe and Kenneth follow this thought, it gives no agency to self-consciousness, and we know, don't we?, that we have that. Joe holds, and I concur, that self-consciousness is a requisite of culture. Joe sees a cultural agent in the mind, and I see a cultural process in a society inhabited by self-conscious creatures, but we both do not see culture or memetic activity in bird song. Well, I'll speak for myself only- I don't see cultural activity in bird song, and I view culture as a memetic activity involving external agents, not just an intrinsic one.

    But, this is also to speak of a meme arising, like the universe, from a non-causal event. Not that I'm against such paradoxes, but, since we have things here that were here before culture, it's a wonderfully mystical origin theory, but groundless. First, a self-conscious being, and its society, and, yes, language, which we have seen the origins of in rhythm and music and self-consciousness and society, are the causes of culture. Put them all together, and there you are. I'll return to St Dawkins- just extend his discussion of intelligence to culture-

    ****Skeptic: How likely do you think it is that "intelligent" life exists somewhere else in the universe? Dawkins: At first glance, one might think that the really difficult step is getting life at all. Then once natural selection has gotten going (since the origin of life is really the origin of natural selection), you can proceed by an orderly progressive sequence through the evolution of some kind of information processing apparatus on to intelligence. On the other hand, if you look at what's actually happened on this planet, it probably took less than a billion years from the origin of the planet, under fairly unfavorable initial conditions, to produce life. But intelligence of a high order has only come about in the last couple of million years, perhaps. So it does seem that on this planet at least there has been a rather short interval from the origin of the planet to the origin of life and then a very, very long interval between the origin of life and the origin of intelligence.****

    - Wade

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