RE: meme as catalytic indexical

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Tue 20 Jan 2004 - 07:25:12 GMT

  • Next message: M Lissack: "Re: meme as catalytic indexical"

    At 09:22 PM 19/01/04 -0500, portal wrote:

    >You said:
    >"Memes/memetics is a very simple concept, that Darwinian evolution applies
    >to elements of culture. It so simple it is verified a thousand times over
    >just from common knowledge and trivial thought experiments. There is no
    >need to make it more complicated, not even much need to test it. You just
    >apply it as a tool to help understand the part of the world where memetics
    >Perhaps it is not a question of making something more complicated, but in
    >making things complex in a specific fashion.
    >In doing this, if we might do this correctly, then perhaps the part of the
    >world where memetics applies will include new parts. I believe that this
    >will be found to be so.
    >The core concept that Michael Lissack has communicated about is directed at
    >shifting the notion of cause from the meme (where is misplaced) to the
    >environmental niches where the cause is not localized in a fashion that is
    >amenable to logical reduction in the classical sense.

    Even with your examples below, this makes no sense to me. Apparently we don't share enough concepts in common for me to pick up the reason you and Michael want to make this change.

    Take "cause" above. To me memes are just information, though like all information they must be in a material form. Does the information in its genome cause the HIV virus to kill people? Well, yes, in a round about way that exploits particular evolved molecular characteristics of large numbers of the victim's T-cells. Did information cause the memes of the Heaven's Gate cult to kill people? Well, yes, in a round about way that exploited various characteristics of social primate brains shaped by millions of years of evolution for successful reproduction in tribes.

    So I would say that "cause" in this sense is a property of the information making up a meme (or a virus). (Meme A causes effect B, without meme A no effect B.) Now if you want to say that environment C is needed for this cause to occur, I won't disagree, but environment C might well be the environment for a thousand other memes, just as the cell environment is required for flu, polio, rabies or any one of a thousand other viruses.

    >The "meme" would then
    >be very different from the "gene", all through still having the notion of
    >pattern and replication.

    In _Society of Mind_, Dr. Minsky remarks that reasoning by analogy lies at the very heart of our abilities to solve complex problems or extend human knowledge. We make progress by comparing new problems with problems that we can already understand. The concept of memes is an analogy that spit off from Dr. Dawkin's deep understanding of the evolving replicator class of genes. You lose the very useful reasoning by analogy if you change meme to be very different from gene.

    >With this shift, we find the notion of indexical token, and the notion of

    Do you really *have* to hijack Richard Dawkin's widely understood term
    "meme" to get into "indexical token, and the notion of frames"? Is there no other term that might serve? Would it help if we made one up a new term from Greek roots?

    > But the change in language is radical, since memes are no longer
    >things that live in people and social systems in an undefined way; but

    This is very strange terminology to use. Memes are not "things," they don't "live" in people or social systems except in a loose metaphorical sense.

    >things that exist (function) in a more completely defined way where
    >objective science (a new science) might help society be less fearful.

    You got me here. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has no entry for
    "objective science." Google finds which has a number of really interesting articles but no obvious information that helps understand "a new science" or why it would "help society to be less fearful." (May I suggest that "society" is not an entity that can feel fear and rephrasing this to something like "help reduce the amount of fear people feel in society X" would make more sense?)

    >One might, for example help children prepare for the type of memtic war
    >conducted by commerical television as a means to sell products.

    This is not clear. Prepare kids to resist the influence of commercials or do you mean to make them better at selling products?

    >One might,
    >for example, help our intelligence and military understand that other
    >cultures have other ways of thinking and that acts of war might be
    >profitably avoided if we learn to interact well with memetic expression.

    If you dig back a few months on this list, you will find that I have been talking about the (relatively minor) role memes play in the chain of events leading to human groups making war on each other. (Starting with the perception of looming privation turning on evolved human psychological traits that lead people to wars.) I have no idea what you might mean by
    "interact well with memetic expression." If you mean tolerance, I have written extensively about origin of the meta-meme of tolerance.

    >can understand the many and varied forms of widely accepted memetic
    >disorders experienced without our own society and in the other social system
    >around the world. (You may agree with me, I do not know you as yet.)

    What do you consider to be a "memetic disorder"? Suicide cults? Religions? Driving on the left?


    If I get more time I might try to respond to the last part of your posting.

    Keith Henson

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