Re: the meme/brain problem

From: Dace (
Date: Sat 31 Jan 2004 - 22:06:40 GMT

  • Next message: M Lissack: "Re: the meme/brain problem"

    > From: Keith Henson <>
    > At 09:31 PM 30/01/04 -0500, jeremy wrote:
    > snip
    > > Lashley's (1950)
    > >thirty-year research agenda suggests that memes cannot be "a [distinct]
    > >pattern
    > >in the brain". Lashley found that the brain is a learning machine, with
    > >areas acting as worthy substitutes for any other area; lesions reduce
    > >learning
    > >in proportional amounts (i.e., more destruction of brain, greater
    > >complexity of
    > >task --> more disruption).
    > I am familiar with this work. It does not present any problems for memes
    > being patterns, even distinct patterns in the brain. I could use
    > as an example, or better, Stego. A friend of mine, Romano Mochado, wrote
    > this program which distributes the bits of a message into the lowest bits
    > of a large graphic image. The fact that you can't see a text file
    > distributed into the low bits of an image does not prevent it from being
    > there.
    > Same way with memories or learning. They certainly are distributed widely
    > in the brain. There is also no doubt whatsoever that they are there.

    An idea, whether remembered or just now learned, cannot exist in physical form. The problem is that atoms and molecules, no matter how they're arranged, consist only of themselves. The rule for matter is simple: A = A. Ideas, on the other hand, involve "symbol" or "sign" or "representation." The rule for representation is quite different: A = B.

    You will never get a set of atoms, regardless of how complex the pattern into which they're arranged, to represent another set of atoms. The pattern of atoms is simply itself, nothing more, nothing less. This is the cruel lesson of physics, and there are no exceptions.

    We apply our naturalistic understanding to the farthest-flung reaches of the universe, but when it comes to the contents of our own heads, we toss out everything we know, finding in brains a mystical property that exempts them from otherwise ironclad rules. Everywhere else A = A. But peer inside the skull, and suddenly A = B.

    When we look at ourselves from the external point of view-- the way a chemist would examine us-- we find no ideas and no memes, only atoms and chemicals arranged in patterns. It's only when we reflect on ourselves directly, from our own point of view, that we find minds and ideas and memes.

    What gets us into trouble is our linguistic-based tendency to posit separate identities for "mind" and "brain." We think we're dealing with two things here, one of which is necessarily illusory and therefore reducible to the other. In fact, neither is reducible to the other because there's only one thing to begin with. "Brain" is "mind" from the external point of view, while "mind" is "brain" from the internal point of view.

    Memetics requires the internal point of view and cannot ever be reconciled with a strictly external, physicalist understanding. It will never be a
    "hard" science in the sense of physics and chemistry. Its role as a social science is to help clarify the mechanics of cultural evolution.


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