Re: meme definition

From: Chris Taylor (
Date: Mon 23 Jun 2003 - 00:32:44 GMT

  • Next message: Richard Brodie: "RE: Cultural Imperialism as Idea & Meme"

    > Muller's ratchet is indeed only a marginal fit into memetics- but, it
    > does show that if there is no variation, and an asexual recombination,
    > then extinction is a distinct possibility, as you say, variation is an
    > engine, and with cultures being as fast moving evolutionarily speaking
    > as we contend they are, variation at a high degree would be needed, and,
    > sexual reproduction serves both the need for variation and the need for
    > non-100% replication the best of all the engines we know. And, as I've
    > often said, I have never seen a sexual analog in any memeinthemind
    > model, especially one that demands 100% replication. In fact, the better
    > the transmission abilities in such a model, the more probable the death
    > of the culture. That would seem to fly in the face of cultural traits
    > that have endured for generations, such as song as celebratory act and
    > not individual song as continuing stable act.

    I don't think there can be a precise analogue of sexual reproduction, I think the assemblages of memes (of all levels of granularity, which I will return to below) are much more usefully analogised as players in an ecoweb-type arrangement (we should unashamedly raid, where appropriate, from evolution at all levels of the biosphere). This also allows a nice niche-vacation/refilling analogy for the 'copying' of a meme (as others define it) from one mind-ecology to another, through a performance which sets up the internal selection criteria in another, nicely embodying the imprecise nature of it and all the other aspects we have recently discussed - convergent evolution is another casting of this that I would be happy to fire up.

    Ecological analogies are much better than genetic in many places, but the buzz has all been about genes for > a decade now in the pulp science genre (along with chaos/complexity and cosmology). To follow up on the sociological points made about fitness peaks versus basins of attraction; ecology is seen as the province of lefty hairy types so is less sought as a source of 'cross-fertilisation' although, of coure, I should say niche invasion :)

    > IMHO, we don't. We need memes to explain cultural evolution in any
    > memetic model, but we don't need them in a creative mind, which is quite
    > happy thinking up creative things without a meme in the way, thank yew
    > veddy much. In fact, if a model speaks of memebots, then creativity is
    > being denied by the meme presence in the mind, is it not?
    > And yet, Chris and others will say, there is a good reason to drop the
    > meme into a discussion of cognition, as we have culture-like behaviors
    > amid many animals, so, let them have memes as well. The problem with
    > this is, these animals lack so many other things that we obviously
    > possess, namely language and writing, (and more specifically, the venue
    > in the performance model), that we really should not be linking mental
    > processes other than genetic ones, since writing is an absolute line of
    > demarcation between homo sapiens and other species. And birds don't
    > write, even though they sing effectively.

    You see I've made a rod for my own back here. I use meme to mean any
    (internally only is therefore fine) pattern (even the innate ones are just slower evolving versions - they are qualitatively no different but very slow to change) which is copied/iterated? by some process, with variation. These memes, in the tiniest case, are the atoms of the world in which other memes are the ecological top predators; multi-neuron assemblages firing simple patterns. Like the components of a big turing machine in Conway's Life [there is some experimental support for this sort of activity - recruitment somethings (areas?) I forget], these patterns would be like the logic gates at the root of a PC or the proteins in a cell. In between there are many other interleaved layers of organisation through analogues of disciplined multicellularity to governments of humans. Meme is a very stretched word under this scheme!

    Ergo: No two memes can ever be the same, and they don't exist outside of minds (although they can create artifacts that pseudo-recreate them through convergent ecological and genetic evolution), and can be created de novo by non-meant objects and occurrences - say Charles Schultz saw what would become Charlie Brown's face in a cloud one day and just drew it down). Additionally culture is just what you get when you go to yet another layer of structuring - the effect of memebots on each other. We are memebots, but I don't see how that should rock anyone's world any more than being any other sort of meat machine (and beyond that you're either on for quantum shamanism or religion). All free will is an illusion, you just can't always (ever?) know your full motivation.

    Anyway. Fundamentally memes started in their proto-state as wiggles in the responsiveness of (otherwise) hard-wired neural structures. Simply cast as behavioural phenotypic plasticity, this can soon (as with all these sorts of things) become a scenario where progressively more complex functional units are built up from simpler components.

    Eventually you get us. Just don't ask why it feels of something - all I can offer is that the linearisation provided by stream of consciousness reflects the oneness of being (to abuse the phrase), and therefore better suits planning, where, like chess or whatever, the combinatorial possibilities are endless and require heuristic pruning. Reaction to events, I would assert, is better suited by massively parallel processing with absolute threat assessments (bolt in the most obvious direction at the time, for example). I never could get my head around the prey (fish are a good e.g.) approach to wide-angle info gathering, but probably they don't try to linearise it - to them it is all going on at once, and that is no problem because they are more or less robotic, but the moment they tried to look forwards in time their heads would explode (not like in Scanners though). Same with compound eyes I suppose, or lateral line organs in fish. Consciousness' direct benefit is the ability to plan. That requires a sense of self. Functionally it will be a collating of many streams (not necessarily in a physical place, but pre-frontal is as good as any, esp. given that Phineas Gage(?) the Navi guy). We should be studying the effects of flaws in long distance connections across (intra/inter) the cortices too, which is probably being done I suppose. Anyway I think feeling pain or betrayal is an animal thing and needs explaining for most 'higher' creatures. However sense of self in a meaningful sense (i.e. beyond 'my leg/mate' to 'my future/pride') needs explaing from the top down because I think few but us have it.

    > To return to the experimental arena- I will ask again- is there an
    > experiment actually available which will in any way determine if a meme
    > is in a mind? I continue to declare that such an experiment would be so
    > unethical as to be inhuman, since the only way to examine a mind without
    > memes (if they are in there), is to deny a mind all culture, which is,
    > in this world we live in, to deny it all development. We are tied to a
    > social development as we are tied to a genetic development- we cannot
    > acquire a language without being in the presence of one, and if we
    > aren't, we never learn to speak. This is so purely an external
    > phenomenon of acquisition, that requires a continuing venue, that I see
    > no other model to use other than the performance model for even the
    > acquisition of language, and, certainly, there is no acquisition of
    > acceptable cultural behavior without training from the venue. Culture,
    > like language, fills holes opened by genetic activity. That we have such
    > large holes to fill is a developmental genetic evolutionary fact- that
    > culture fills them is a developmental social fact- that we have
    > continuing variances of _fill_ material is memetics, not the fact that
    > the holes are there.

    Some of those experiments have been done n'est ce pas? I don't think they discriminate between Performance and MITM. Neither do Dennet's suggestions. I think until someone clever has a go at this, we'll have to settle for explaining everything more neatly than anyone else. Occam to the rescue.

    > I was more thinking school of hard knocks, or even 'fool me once....'

    Shit that's before folklorist isn't it? Damn.

    Cheers, Chris.

      Chris Taylor ( »people»chris

    =============================================================== 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 archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Mon 23 Jun 2003 - 00:41:08 GMT