Back to basics

From: Chris Taylor (
Date: Fri 30 Jan 2004 - 11:19:25 GMT

  • Next message: Keith Henson: "Re: Adapted Mind--where memetics fits in knowledge space"

    I think you're labouring under the misapprehension that we think that memes really are entities that somehow jump brains by some mechanism, like an organism migrating between environments. That is certainly not the case for me and many others on here. Perhaps the use of shorthand phrases is the problem here (this is common in evolutionary discussion).

    Basically the scheme is that the phenotype of the particular meme (idea, whatever), i.e. that which is observable, passively or through investigation, is copied (shorthand again...) in whatever detail can (a) be established and (b) is 'desired', and that copy is made of the bits that are available in the other mind.

    So if I think of the world in terms of a deity, I have to rationalise acts of god as literally being such; if I think that people are always self-serving I must model the charitable as having ulterior motives; if I don't really care, I may be happy with a black box with a couple of associated behaviours, where someone else will have a fully functional multipart model (e.g. of a car, computer, houseplant, government, cat, person -- cf. people waaay down the Asperger's spectrum, who cannot model other people in detail cos their brains can't quite manage the full simulation, although that frees up lots of processing power to count matches on the floor, or list all the tuesdays in the year 840BC). However, where ideas are formed from precepts that most share, you can expect a meme to be similar in composition at least on _some_ levels
    (although then you have to look at the composition of the precepts -- this is why fault lines, in the form of self-doubt ro whatever, can sometimes suddenly appear in apparently solid opinions / conclusions / mental models).

    Tangent... there is a fundamental difference, I think, between people who always want to know how something works, and those who are happy to have a big bag of instances to refer to. I for one am crap at storing instances and so rely heavily on a working model to regenerate them through impromptu simulation when required. This puts me in mind of different shapes of food webs/pyramids.

    And as you say context has a huge influence, because the effect of a meme is unavoidably embedded in a context. If I believe that martyrdom is honourable, because I saw someone whom I had respect for martyred without flinching, I'd be disappointed to find out that the 'martyr' was unaware of the danger they were in. And of course shouting 'Fire!' in a gun battery would have a very different consequence than shouting it in an armaments factory.

    Memes are more like a species than an individual -- each is a succession of generations, with an extremely dodgy copying process (unless checks are put in place, or details examined); more akin to forgery than anything.

    Cheers, Chris.

    M Lissack wrote:

    > Keith:
    > Thank you. I actually think we are beginning to
    > communicate.
    > If codes or signs have an established/fixed meaning
    > which does not depend upon the environment into which
    > it is being projected or upon the interpretive history
    > of the user/reader then indeed transmission fidelity
    > has much to do with loss of meaning.
    > However once you acknowledge that the code or sign
    > being transmitted is insufficent to convey only the
    > one intended meaning (with environment, context, and
    > interpretive histories all bringing part of the
    > information necessary for meaning to be conveyed) then
    > the relationship between the fidelity of transmission
    > and the ability to have a given meaning reproduced
    > becomes very suspect. A bad transmission to the right
    > context could trigger a faithful reproduction of
    > meaning (many of us have played parlor games based on
    > this idea) -- a perfect transmission to the wrong
    > context could produce very different meanings.
    > The correlation is weak and the causation unclear.
    > E.g. usually a telegraphed s.o.s. means help but it
    > could mean a type of steel wool scouring pad if
    > transmitted to a harried husband shopping in a store.
    > It could be the customer's initials if sent to an
    > engraver. It could be a reference to Colin Powell
    > (Sec of State). etc
    > --- Keith Henson <> wrote:
    >>At 06:23 AM 29/01/04 -0800, you wrote:
    >>>please try a little bit of sounding like an
    >>>or a scientist
    >>Why should I? I am neither. I am a free speech
    >>advocate influenced by
    >>Robert Heinlein's libertarian viewpoint and an
    >>engineer who appreciates
    >>science. I have done a bit of popularizing of parts
    >>of it, but my main
    >>contributions (the observations in Sex Drugs and
    >>Cults) are on the level of
    >>a guy who fell in a cesspool and is reporting that
    >>shit stinks.
    >>>you believe or are of the opinion that the
    >>>is correct
    >>>the attribution is the pdf Danny asked us to read
    >>Thanks. It wasn't clear.
    >>>copying fidelity has NOTHING to do with meaning
    >>We truly speak different languages. Because in
    >>*engineering* language if
    >>the copying fidelity of a transmission path gets too
    >>bad no meaning gets
    >>through at all. Someone could be telling me I won
    >>the lotto, but if all I
    >>hear on my cell phone is _SCRAWWWK_ the meaning
    >>failed in transmission
    >>because of poor fidelity.
    >>>if it did then signs could always be mapped in a
    >>>functional way to meaning -- as any semiotician
    >>>tell you -- it just ain't so
    >>I have no idea how this statement connects with
    >>copying fidelity. Perhaps
    >>this exchange itself is an example that "signs
    >>[can't be] mapped in a
    >>functional way to meaning," at least not across this
    >>discipline gap. It
    >>demonstrates the utter divergence of sign (word)
    >>meaning between social
    >>science and engineering.
    >>Keith Henson
    > ===============================================================
    >>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.
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    > ===============================================================
    > 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:

      Chris Taylor (
      MIAPE Project --
    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)

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