Re: Memetic trapping and wars.

Date: Fri 18 Jul 2003 - 05:47:38 GMT

  • Next message: Richard Brodie: "RE: Silent memes"

    In a message dated 7/16/2003 11:04:21 PM Central Daylight Time, Keith Henson <> writes:

    > At 05:09 PM 13/07/03 -0400, Aaron wrote:
    > snip
    > >Actually, although the definition of "thought contagion" as
    > >given above is wordy, it is not conceptually complicated.
    > >It is equivalent to the phrase "homoderivative mnemon" used
    > >in my 1998 JOM paper and my 1991 JOI paper. But I have more
    > >recently been relying less on neologisms, which seem to be
    > >very distracting even to intelligent readers. The neologism
    > >"homoderivative" can also give an impression of needlessly
    > >stilted prose, while the neologism "mnemon" can give a
    > >misimpression that I am claiming to have discovered some
    > >new kind of entity -- one whose existence would need to be
    > >tested with a microscope, for instance. All I really did
    > >with the term "homoderivative mnemon" was to label a
    > >specific subset of memory items already widely considered
    > >to exist by people who are not hard-core behaviorists.
    > >Avoiding neologisms leads to a wordy definition, but the
    > >core element of theory remains fairly simple.
    > >
    > >When using the less formal term "self-propagating idea," I
    > >never mean to conjure a notion of something whose formation
    > >depends solely upon its own prior instances. That is, I am
    > >not saying that there exists any such thing as a purely
    > >self-replicating idea, or a purely self-replicating entity
    > >of any other kind either. Rather, I am saying that one or
    > >more prior instances played a critical role in causing the
    > >new instantiation.
    > I.e., a causal loop.

    Yes, that's a good way to put it. A loop or a cycle. Or vast chain reactions of similar causal events, such as the events of natural selection Cloak discussed in his 1973 paper or the memory item transition events that I have discussed in my technical papers. (Links on web page below.)

    > >For a given phenomenon (self-replicating
    > >or not), one can usually make a long list of causal
    > >precursors -- some of them distant or very abstractly
    > >defined. For instance, one can (for what it's worth) list
    > >the electron rest mass, supersymmetries, etc. as causal
    > >factors for a war. A defining issue in deciding whether
    > >something should be classified as self-replicating or not
    > >is whether the potentially very long list of causal
    > >precursor factors includes some prior instance of the same
    > >thing.
    > Defined *that* weakly the only thing required of a meme [long form,
    > self-replicating information pattern where the locus of action is a
    > brain/mind] is that there be a previous instance that is "copied,"
    > imitated, whatever. It even matches my distinction that a never
    > communicated idea falls short of being a meme, although any such idea is a
    > *potential* meme. ("Self" doesn't add much to "replicating" in the weak
    > causal requirement, "there was an earlier one.")
    > I can certainly go along with that.

    Right. A similar minimalist, parsimonious definition of
    "meme" is what I was explaining in my 1991 and 1998 papers. Corresponding definitions of "thought contagion" are in my more recent technical papers. The resulting parsimonious causal analysis does not strictly depend upon demonstrating isomorphisms to viruses, genes, plasmids, metastable U-236, etc. The analogies are interesting, inspiring, and good pedagogy, but need not be claimed as underlying tenets of replicator theory.

    The word "self" may help to clarify to some readers that we are not simply talking about proliferation in general. Water droplets may proliferate when fog forms, and some lay readers and novices might see this as "replication." For them, the specific term "self-replication" should clarify the distinction.

    > It is analogous to the way viruses replicate by hijacking the DNA/RNA
    > replication machinery of a cell where they don't have a hand in creating
    > the replication machinery (or certainly not all of it).
    > Prions (mad cow, BSE, CJD, variant CJD) are another class of
    > "self-replicating" in this sense. They are tightly folded proteins that
    > cause a particular nerve cell protein in contact with a prion to fold into
    > the same tightly folded form. They are, of course, parasites requiring
    > normal protein as "feed stock." There is no complete causal loop to make
    > more normal protein since replicating prions kill the organism by
    > destroying its brain. [Incidentally, prion cases arise spontaneously in
    > brains on rare occasions. So do new memes. :-) ]

    Indeed. Prions may bear some resemblance to that metastable state of the U-236 isotope. The nuclide has a half life of only 121 nanoseconds before decaying by fission with release of neutrons. So when surrounded by moles of U-235, it replicates by turning U-235 nuclides into new instances of metastable U-236. Slight quantum variations, however, are not retained in this replication process, making it uninteresting from an evolutionary standpoint. The prion is apparently a biological chain reaction, but I don't know if any variations are replicated.

    > Memes infesting humans that induce suicide, or celibacy, or whacking off
    > gonads are in this class of deadly parasitic replicators (or
    > self-replicators in this weak sense). They thrive--to the limited extent
    > they do--by hijacking the mental machinery built by genes to be receptive
    > to the large class of rock-chipping, pot making memes, i.e., the survival
    > enhancing memes that enabled humans to become the most successful animal
    > for our size in the history of the planet.
    > There *is* a strong (though long and complicated) causal loop for survival
    > enhancing memes which includes selecting genes that build brains/minds
    > better able to propagate the survival enhancing memes. (Just as there is
    > short causal loop for genes that make DNA replication machinery and a much
    > longer causal loop for animal genes enhancing brain traits that lead to
    > behaviors that improve reproductive success.)

    I agree that the causal loops/cycles can range from low numbers of simple stages to complicated ones with many stages. The length of the loop can also be measured in time, as well as in stages. When the time is short, as in bacteria and viruses, evolution becomes accordingly accelerated. In humans, the genetic reproduction cycle for the organism (as distinct from the cells) takes a long time. The time can be longer than the cycle time for replication of ideas, which can lead to more elaboration and evolutionary "fine-tuning" in the ideas. But ideas can become constrained to replicating on the same time scale as organism reproduction, as when most non-adherents are already exposed to an evangelical religion and retransmission must therefore wait for the arrival of new people into persuadable stages or episodes of life. For many cultural phenomena, the relative roles of idea replication cycles or the longer cycles involving both genes and ideas has yet to be empirically established. I do, however, think that some researchers have by default explained phenomena through evolution in the longer loops/cycles of the gene-idea causal process because they did not give enough consideration to evolution through the potentially shorter loops/cycles of the idea (or meme, depending on definition) replication process. I share the view that natural selection through long causal loops of genes interacting with ideas or memes has indeed had a central influence on the evolution of the human brain and our psychology. But there remain many specific and widespread psychological phenomena for which the presence or extent of specialized genetic adaptations is not yet, in my opinion, clearly established. This would include the human tendency toward large scale war, since recruitment seems to be intrinsic to the idea of warfare, and since other idea propagation processes also contribute to the phenomenon.

    > It seems to be a law of nature that any success gets parasitized. Viruses
    > do it to cells, computers have them, and some memes parasitize human minds.
    > It has been my opinion for many years that investigating the spectrum from
    > deadly self-replicating information parasites to essential memes like
    > agriculture is where the most "survival enhancing" progress in memetics
    > could be made.
    > Perhaps in discussing memes we need a little ASCII graphic to denote where
    > we think a particular meme lies on this spectrum from deadly parasite (Jim
    > Jones), neutral fad (songs?), and essential symbiote (agriculture).
    > For example, |-^--------| (scientology)

    Yes, the range of parasitic to symbiotic possibilities does need to be emphasized.

    > >Thanks for your interesting comments.
    > Thank you for inducing me clear up the way I present this material.

    Glad to help. And thanks for causing me to express some finer points as well. It felt just like a real event.

    > Keith Henson
    --Aaron Lynch

    Thought Contagion Science Page:

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