Re: New Memes Book

From: Kate Distin (
Date: Mon 21 Mar 2005 - 16:35:22 GMT

  • Next message: Kate Distin: "Re: New Memes Book"

    Chris Taylor wrote:

    > Anyway, allow me to unpack this. Point is that there are no memes in
    > the way that there are genes -- genes are (more or less) discrete
    > units that exist independently in the world. I could track particular
    > sequences through generations (even, to a point, in terms of the
    > actual individual physical nucleotides, give or take a few exchanged
    > hydrogens). There is no direct analogue in memetics. Not one idea
    > anyone has stored in their head is _exactly_ the same (in all but the
    > physical stuff) as anyone else's; whereas that is not true of genes --
    > there is sequence variation (within known, measurable limits) but
    > there is also a lot of invariant sequence which is literally, exactly,
    > demonstrably the same.

    Chris - as I'm new to the list I may have missed some of your arguments here. Sorry if I'm asking you to go over old ground, but why do you say that "not one idea anyone has stored in their head is _exactly_ the same as anyone else's"?

    > Scott was bang on on the examples anyway so I won't do more than
    > precis that here; I can make a surface copy of a behaviour; I can try
    > to assign intent; that is all. Your meme being created/lost whatever
    > is inappropriate at any but the coarsest level; it may be the case
    > that, given my internal state, I interpret an artefact in an
    > _apparently_ similar way (in terms of observables), but no
    > 'informational soul' existed in that thing to be preserved or lost.
    > What if I only thought I saw something that wasn't really there --
    > what then? Why should someone else's intent govern the role of an
    > artefact anyway (PC = doorstop)?

    But you don't have to see this sort of artefact as a meme in order to be a bit more of a realist about memes than you are. I'm with Keith on his memes-as-information view, and (as I've said elsewhere in this thread) I don't think artefacts contain information - but that doesn't mean information doesn't exist.

    > We all learn to use our hands by having hands that are connected in
    > the same sort of generic way, and develop discrete behaviours around
    > our hands (artefact makes 'meme' -- see Karl Sims' sims), but even
    > then they are not going to be _exactly_ the same. Surface similarity
    > is all that matters at the end of the day. It is once we get around
    > the idea that we _literally_ share stuff when 'copying', rather than
    > converging on a perceived phenotype, that we can for example very
    > simply explain the vertical transmission of familial abuse, or the
    > difference between flaky free thinkers (including me -- although as a
    > long-time cat owner I may just have toxoplasmosis) and bookish
    > dullards with total recall, or why a 'small' loss of ability in
    > Asperger's seems so often to result in such disproportionate gains in
    > specific areas.

    A couple of points here. First, I don't think anyone's saying we
    "literally" share things when copying, any more than I "literally" share my parents' genes. I have copies of them. This isn't just pedantry about language use: I think that there is sometimes a tendency in memetics to picture memes flying through the air from one head to another (Dennett in particular can give this impression, even if he doesn't intend to), and this doesn't help the hypothesis's credibility. Secondly, again I may be asking you to revisit old territory, but how does the "converging on a perceived phenotype" model explain cultural transmission better than the replicator model?


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