Re: meme as catalytic indexical

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Fri 23 Jan 2004 - 02:44:03 GMT

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    At 11:05 PM 21/01/04 -0800, M Lissack wrote:
    >thought experiments with "obvious results" (your words Keith) are not
    >demonstrable ways for a "science" to illustrate how it makes a pragmatic

    That's not always the case. The most famous thought experiment of all time is Shrodinger's Cat (1935), Not only is quantum mechanics science par excellence but it underlies all of the pragmatic solid state engineering of the last half of the 20th century. (This happens to be my professional field.)

    >Bruce's challenges are about the role of memetics as a useful science

    I am not so certain that memetics is a large enough topic to *be* a useful science by itself. The best analogy is probably genetics, where we are concerned with two aspects, the effects variations in genes have at the level of an organism and the rate of growth or decline in a population of various genes as a result of selection (population genetics). By analogy, memetics would be concerned with what a meme does to make a difference in an organism's behavior and how (or why) the meme behind that behavior becomes more or less common in a population. Population memetics if you will.

    The answer to how and why a meme becomes more common requires a deep understanding of human psychological traits. Since those psychological traits were selected during our evolutionary history, evolutionary psychology is key to understanding the differential selection of memes. Memetics not just Darwin applied to ideas, but Darwin applied twice!

    The math behind both genetics and memetics generates S curves where the early part of the S curve is exponential. The exact same math describes epidemics.

    Memetic models predict that potato washing by monkeys would be adopted on an S curve. (Anyone have the numbers?) There is little chance of resolving it in the geologic record, but I would assume the hand ax (killer Frisbee) was adopted by our remote ancestors on an initial exponential curve which then flattened out for the next million years before declining to few or zero practitioners (the discus might be a non-functional-for-hunting remnant).

    We do have historical records for the adoption of life insurance. I researched this while looking into the adoption of cryonics before I started writing on memetics and found that the curves for England, France and the US were parallel on semi-log paper with the US following England by about 20 years and France trailing England by almost 70 years. (If memory serves, it has been a very long time.)

    Of course, genetic effects are embedded in the whole of biology and behavior variations are embedded in biology and its extensions into the psychology of social primates. Thus I have found a memetic model to be of use in stating and understanding problems from evolutionary psychology.

    If someone wanted data to support memetic models of infectious behavior, you could probably find it in the records for the major sports--particularly basketball which is not much over 100 years old. There is a thumbnail sketch here:

    >rather than as a philosphical school of belief

    >Your example is great for the latter and useless for the former

    I find this amusing for reasons that will be obvious to most list readers.

    Keith Henson

    PS I have a copy of Bruce's paper now, but will probably hold off on commenting for a bit.

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