Re: the meme/brain problem

From: Dace (
Date: Thu 05 Feb 2004 - 22:24:19 GMT

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    > From: Keith Henson <>
    > > > I don't understand this argument at all. Ideas, memes, culturgens or
    > > > whatever are all information, *abstract* information, you measure it
    > > > bits and it is independent of the material form it takes but it must
    > > > in a material form. Now there is physical substance to a telephone
    > > > (information) written on a slip of paper.
    > >
    > >This is dualism. The mind is not an abstraction that must take material
    > >form to exist.
    > No, of course not. But unless you are going to argue for disembodied
    > spirits, minds are utterly dependent on brains.

    Take a look at what you're saying here. You've got mind, and you've got brain. That makes two, right? Yet you somehow have to fit these two things back into one. Far better to avoid creating the two things in the first place.

    > The situation is identical
    > to the OS of a computer. It absolutely has to be running on hardware for
    > you to interact with it.

    If we're going to talk in metaphors, a more accurate one would be a coin. That we distinguish "heads" from "tails" doesn't mean we've got two coins. It's one coin viewed from two angles.

    > >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
    > >chemicals. While it's true that the electro-chemical pattern established
    > >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.
    > That the detailed pattern is different from brain to brain is not enough
    > prevent us from saying brain A and brain B contain the same meme for (say)
    > baseball.

    This is true on insofar as memes are not contained in brains. The important thing is not what's in the brain but what we find when we "flip it over" and view it, from within, as mind. While every brain shows something different, every mind reveals the same meme. Unfortunately, there's no objective way of viewing a mind. Hence the inevitability of subjectivity and imprecision in memetics and all other human sciences.

    > >Are you saying that to recall a phone number, you have to somehow "read"
    > >synaptic patterns in your brain?
    > Yes.
    > >This would entail knowing the language
    > >your brain uses, so you would have to know not only English but brainese.
    > No because the brain's deep hardware does this far below the level of our
    > conscious awareness.

    While this is purely fanciful, even if it were true, it would only push the question back a step. How, then, do you communicate with your brain's deep hardware? Now you have to know deep brainese.

    The point is that there's only one of you. You don't have to communicate with your brain because you are your brain. Or rather, your brain is you when you're viewed from outside of yourself. Your mind is you when viewed from within yourself. The reason we can perceive each other subjectively is that we intuit each others' minds on the basis of our own self-perception
    (no different from chimps).

    > > > Do you say
    > > > the same thing about computer viruses in a computer being mystical
    > >you
    > > > do about memes?
    > >
    > >Not at all. The virus exists in the computer circuitry. However,
    > >in a computer-- viral or otherwise-- has any meaning except in the mind
    > >the person who interprets its activities.
    > This is the tree in the forest argument. Some computer viruses, the ones
    > not dependant on humans clicking to activate them, would continue to
    > as long as the power stayed up even if every human vanished.

    Sure. But the virus has no meaning except to the human observer. Only in the human mind is the virus "bad." The computer could care less whether it's following the commands of a person or a virus. Its actions have no meaning or significance except in the mind of the person interpreting them.

    > >Unlike a brain/mind, the matter
    > >comprising a computer is not simply one perspective onto a greater whole.
    > >It *is* the computer.
    > I am a hard line materialist.

    And yet you're an evolutionist, both natural and cultural. Consider the following passage from Alfred North Whitehead:

    "A thoroughgoing evolutionary philosophy is inconsistent with materialism. The aboriginal stuff, or material, from which a materialistic philosophy starts is incapable of evolution... Evolution, on the materialistic theory, is reduced to the role of being another word for the description of changes of the external relations between portions of matter. There is nothing to evolve, because one set of external relations is as good as any other set... There can merely be change, purposeless and unprogressive. But the whole point of the modern doctrine is the evolution of the complex organisms from antecendent states of less complex organisms. The doctrine cries aloud for a conception of organism as fundamental for nature." (*Science and the Modern World,* ch. 6).

    It's not matter that evolves but form. Instead of reducing form to matter, as in the case of machines, we must recognize that living matter is subservient to its form. What the matter of your body does is to maintain its form. Ultimately, evolution is a holistic concept.


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