Re: New Memes Book

From: Kate Distin (
Date: Mon 21 Mar 2005 - 20:46:37 GMT

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    Bill Spight wrote:

    > Dear Kate,
    >>> How do you deal with the fact that a spoked wheel, say, for a
    >>> horse-drawn cart circa 1500, was sufficiently simple and manifest to
    >>> serve as a blueprint?
    >> By "serve as a blueprint", presumably you mean that someone could
    >> make a copy of it without the benefit of any written instructions?
    > Well, 'copy' is a little strong, isn't it? And we don't just mean
    > someone, since skill is involved. Besides, they were probably
    > illiterate. ;-)
    >> This is certainly true, but not - on my account - because the wheel
    >> is a meme. I'd say that the wheel itself does not contain any
    >> information about which of its characteristics is significant -
    >> information that would be contained in an actual blueprint.
    > Or inferable from it.
    >> If someone who knows about wheels, or at least about how to build
    >> other things from the materials involved, brings his existing memes
    >> to the situation, then he could use them to construct a new
    >> representation of that wheel, with information about the wheel's
    >> materials, construction, size, etc.
    > The new representation being a drawing or blueprint, or such?
    Possibly, but not necessarily. It might just be a mental representation. If the wheel was quite a lot like ones he'd built before then there may not be very much new information for him to represent, and he could manage to carry the meme(s) for this wheel in his head.

    >> But that information is not intrinsic to the wheel. I could look at
    >> it and see, for instance, that the wood's grain runs parallel to the
    >> spokes, but have no idea whether that fact is structurally
    >> significant. It could be coincidence. If a row of screwheads, say
    >> in the hinges of a door, are lined up neatly with each other, does
    >> this matter or was it just something that mattered to the very neat
    >> person who hung the door? You've no way of telling, just by looking
    >> at the artefact. You need to have existing knowledge and
    >> understanding in order to work it out.
    >> On this basis I'd say that a wheelwright who represented the wheel
    >> and thus copied it would not have simultaneously *copied* the meme of
    >> which that wheel was an effect in the first place. Rather, he'd have
    >> constructed his own novel meme (which may or may not exactly
    >> correspond to the original) with the help of his existing memes.
    > What meme? If the meme is representational (such as a blueprint), what
    > are you talking about?

    Sorry - I've used the word too many times in that paragraph, referring to different things. My assumption is that the wheel being copied was itself the result of a meme (whether written or held mentally). Then I'm using the word "meme" again to refer to the wheelwright's new representation of the wheel he's copying.

    It occurs to me that again we may be using vocabulary at slight cross-purposes here. As I've said above, I'm happy for representations to be mental as well as physical (in the form of blueprints or whatever).


    >> Was the "parallel grain" bit of information in the original meme?
    >> He'll never know. But of course history matters to memes as much as
    >> to genes, and even if he's managed to construct an identical meme to
    >> the original this doesn't count as copying if, historically, it
    >> originated in his mind not in the original meme.
    > There is more to talk about here, but I am still unsure what you mean
    > by 'meme'.
    > Thanks,
    > Bill

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