RE: Silent memes

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Tue 08 Jul 2003 - 14:10:25 GMT

  • Next message: Wade T. Smith: "Re: Silent memes"

    At 10:27 AM 08/07/03 +0100, you wrote:
    >Very interesting, although it strikes me that there's a difference between
    >skills that can be conveyed as easily non-verbally as verbally (or indeed
    >even better non-verbally). Whilst making a flint axe can be learnt through
    >demonstration, copying and practice, it seems that things like the laws,
    >religion, history etc of a social group cannot be easily transmitted without

    When people devised methods to store information, they used two approaches, non-verbal and verbal or pictures and sounds. Chinese and Egyptian hieroglyphs are the outcome of the picture approach. Writing systems descended from Cuneiform went to sounds. Both methods worked.

    When you get to transmitting "laws, religion, history etc." I think "stored information" in some form is more of a factor. Really primitive tribes don't really have laws, religion is a local matter subject to change, and history goes back not much further than the oldest witness.

    Your main point is, of course, correct, but I can imagine an alien race without language where all meme transmission was by pictures or demonstration. An entire world of mimes! (Shudder)

    >I wouldn't dispute the notion of stone tools as memes (as regular
    >list members will know from my position on memes, effectively, as

    As list members know I consider the *information itself* to be the meme, independent of the media. And indeed memes *may be* encoded in an artifact so they are easy to read out.

    A piece of paper folded into an airplane is more "information rich" than a never folded sheet. It can be "read out" by a person unfolding and learning the folding steps. A brain that has just learned to make this paper airplane either by watching one made or "reverse engineering" a sample airplane is that much more information rich. The same information would exist in a series of drawings or a text description of how to fold up this particular paper airplane. The only common element (besides paper) in a variety of ways leading to a paper airplane flying about is the information on how to make one.

    Information, of course, must be encoded in matter. In the paper airplane example it is in an object (a sample), on paper (drawings, text) or in brains. There is no particular reason not to class drawings, text and brains as "artifacts" I suppose so in that sense memes would always be encoded in "artifacts." But the only common element for the paper airplane across these "artifacts" is the information on how to fold one.

    >or their social significance, but do we define a culture by its
    >artefacts or tools, or by the communicative meaning that those artefacts
    >convey to members of that culture?
    >I guess it's a bit of both. We talk historically of ages of stone, bronze,
    >iron, agriculture, industry etc. which are rooted in the technology of the
    >time, but once historical records appear we add in all sorts of cultural
    >tropes, like myths, religions, rituals, etc. etc.

    Good points.

    Keith Henson

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