Re: the meme/brain problem

From: M Lissack (
Date: Tue 03 Feb 2004 - 20:38:55 GMT

  • Next message: derek gatherer: "RE: groupthink gauntlet: MacArthur's ill-fated drive toward the Yalu"

    too loose ted and not definable enough nor measurable

    how does the idea spread and does the how matter

    how do you know its the same idea? and not just similar word tokens?

    the issue my article raises is actually a stark one:

    will memetics be a field of study or just some pop culture explanatory concept

    answers like yours, keith's, richard's etc are based on the idea that pop culture is "good enough"

    Bruce's challenges are posed in the opposite belief.

    It is highly unlikely that the pop culture people will win over the field of study people or vice versa.

    At a minimum the discourses are passing like ships in the night.

    I am no longer going to bother responding to most of the pop culture posts. They have their place, but they are not academic or scientific -- and do little to extend any serious learning.

    --- Dace <> wrote:
    > > From: M Lissack <>
    > >
    > > Ted writes:
    > > "Its [memetics]role as a social science is to help
    > > clarify the mechanics of cultural evolution."
    > >
    > > if this is the case then memetics has to have a
    > unit
    > > of analysis which can have a describable and
    > > observable mechanics
    > >
    > > if all we have is "black box" mechanics we have
    > > clarified nothing
    > The unit of analysis is any belief or idea that
    > spreads across a group.
    > Let's take an example. I subscribe to a list
    > devoted to the creation of a
    > "standard upper ontology." For years the members of
    > this list have talked
    > about nothing but the creation of an ontology that
    > can provide a common
    > language for researchers in diverse fields. While
    > they often drift somewhat
    > into related philosophical discussion, one thing
    > they've never done is to
    > start talking politics.
    > Until now. All of a sudden, they've been swept up
    > in a discussion of Bush
    > and the environment. It started when the first Mars
    > rover landed. Someone
    > thought it was neat and posted something about
    > solving our population
    > problem by colonizing Mars. Naturally, numerous
    > people on the list were
    > astounded that anyone could be so naive.
    > Predictably, someone else remarked
    > that we could hardly expect to terraform other
    > planets when we can't even
    > maintain a livable environment on this one. Pretty
    > soon we were getting
    > lessons on global warming. What happened?
    > A meme is what happened. When the first person
    > posted on a political
    > matter, it reflected his private belief that this
    > was acceptable behavior on
    > a list devoted to ontology. By the time a few
    > others had posted on
    > politics, a shift in attitude had occurred, and this
    > behavior was deemed
    > acceptable. One person's belief had spread across
    > the list, thereby
    > becoming a meme. Along the way, the culture of the
    > list had evolved.
    > Why was this meme successful? Because it was
    > selected by its environment,
    > which in this case happens to be the minds of the
    > participants. This
    > notion, that it's okay to post on politics, appealed
    > to listmembers at that
    > moment. Note that the people who took up the
    > discussion may not have
    > consciously thought to themselves, "It's okay to
    > post on politics." They
    > were just thinking, "Someone's got to respond to
    > this rubbish." But in the
    > process, the meme dug itself in.
    > To repeat, environmental selection can act as a
    > mechanism of cultural
    > evolution. The environment in this case is the
    > mind. We can indeed observe
    > the mind. As self-conscious entities, we do so
    > routinely.
    > > From: Keith Henson <>
    > >
    > > At 02:06 PM 31/01/04 -0800, Ted wrote:
    > >
    > > snip
    > >
    > > >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.
    > >
    > > I don't understand this argument at all. Ideas,
    > memes, culturgens or
    > > whatever are all information, *abstract*
    > information, you measure it in
    > > bits and it is independent of the material form it
    > takes but it must *be*
    > > in a material form. Now there is physical
    > substance to a telephone number
    > > (information) written on a slip of paper.
    > This is dualism. The mind is not an abstraction
    > that must take material
    > form to exist. The information and the brain matter
    > do not exist
    > independently. There is only one thing, and we can
    > view it internally,
    > through reflective thought, or externally, by
    > examining our brains. Only
    > when we look at it interally do we find memes or
    > ideas. Otherwise it's just
    > chemicals. While it's true that the
    > electro-chemical pattern established in
    > a brain should (theoretically) correspond to a
    > particular idea that a
    > particular individual is currently considering, this
    > is not the case with
    > memes, as memes exist in many different minds, and
    > the neural pattern
    > established in one brain can be totally different
    > from the pattern
    > established in another brain for the same meme.
    > > If you had a molecular scan of every molecule in a
    > person's brain before
    > > and after they memorized the number (not
    > theoretically impossible) I am
    > > sure you would find differences that are dependent
    > on the structural
    > > changes memorizing the number made. From what we
    > do know about brain
    > > tissue I would expect to find the differences in
    > synapses because that's
    > > where the physical changes conditioning brings
    > about has been located in
    > > sea slugs and evolution is really conservative
    > about these things.
    > Are you saying that to recall a phone number, you
    > have to somehow "read" the
    > synaptic patterns in your brain? This would entail
    > knowing the language
    > your brain uses, so you would have to know not only
    > English but brainese.
    > Fortunately, the mind doesn't have to read the
    > brain. What the brain does
    > is simply the external perspective onto what the
    > mind is doing.
    > > >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.
    > >
    > > I don't know if you are a computer person,
    > No, I'm a human person.
    > > >Memetics requires the internal point of view and
    > cannot ever be
    > reconciled
    > > >with a strictly external, physicalist
    > understanding. It will never be a
    === message truncated ===

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