Re: New Memes Book

From: Scott Chase (
Date: Sat 19 Mar 2005 - 00:49:43 GMT

  • Next message: Keith Henson: "Re: A time for war."

    --- Chris Taylor <> wrote:

    > This talk of memes as more than thumbnail metaphors
    > for what is really
    > going on is limiting discussion. There are no memes
    > in the sense that
    > there are genes. There is not even an approximately
    > analogous thing.
    > Biologists have long employed shorthand, such as
    > 'evolved to do
    > suchandsuch', to avoid having to always say that the
    > chance occurrence
    > of a thing in an individual happened to result in
    > the greater 'fitness'
    > (more shorthand) of that individual (or something
    > along those lines).
    > But the danger is in trying to treat such shorthand
    > characterisations as
    > more than they are.
    > There cannot be memes that are transmitted. There is
    > no mechanism for
    > their propagation. The only 'things' that are even
    > things at all are the
    > little self-sustaining modules of thought that occur
    > within a mind, but
    > to try to assert that these (ill-defined at best)
    > informational chunks
    > can jump minds, or be 'embedded' in artefacts, is at
    > best nonsense.
    > What meme 'transmission' should be shorthand for is
    > a mix of phenotypic
    > copying and convergent evolution; e.g. I learn a
    > behaviour or
    > internalise a thought, but in doing so I try (ahem)
    > to construct an
    > internal copy that works like the thing I have seen,
    > from my own
    > internal stuff, i.e. the sum of my experiences and
    > internal interactions
    > to date.
    When I learned topics in school the concepts might have been cubbyholed as to how they fit into my particular personal history. Maybe your mindbrain cubbyholes things differently, although at a certain level we could come to a similar unnderstanding of the same material. Performance wise, we could extract info from our cubbyholes (yours with the Union Jack and mine with Stars and Stripes) and have similar overt results.
    > If we both see an artefact it will produce
    > superficially
    > similar (on testing) representaitons of it in our
    > minds (not dissimilar
    > to a jelly mould). But to imagine that there is
    > anything remotely
    > similar in an absolute sense is ridiculous.
    I wonder how we might go from looking at something that's overtly similar, ie- people behaving in similar ways, and then make an assumption that there's a covert similarity at the root (similarity of discrete neurally encoded and Darwinianian selected units). A behaviorist could look at the situation and say: "Yeah we see similarity in behavior, but how can we infer a replication at the mental level?" Then again, Skinnerian behaviorists are allergic to mentalism. It gives them hives and wheezes. Still behavior, being overt, is an *observable*. Synaptically weighted neural units are an abstraction of cognitivism, albeit a more interesting one than a radical behaviorist would give it credit for.

    What's on your mind right now? With all those British notions of Manchester United hooliganism floating around would it be even remotely similar to what's going on in my NASCAR infested mind?
    > There are no memes, but that does not preclude a
    > memetics.
    > Sorry this wasn't a direct response to the previous
    > mail, just ranting.
    I can't be too critical of such well spoken criticism. We need more of the same. When I first encountered the meme meme, I was smitten. Why? Maybe it appealed to my uncritical love for biological analogy and evolutionizing cognition. Are memes a good idea or just a good meme?

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