Re: Durkheim redux

From: Kate Distin (
Date: Sun 10 Apr 2005 - 11:36:15 GMT

  • Next message: Kenneth Van Oost: "Re: Durkheim redux"

    Scott Chase wrote:
    > Regardless of whether your notions of what to expect
    > derive from innate schemes or memes, it's gonna take
    > some personal gumption and elbow grease to get
    > yourself over the hump. You gotta know how to use what
    > you got. You may have gotten it from imitating others
    > or from making personal observations, but without
    > initiative it ain't goona amount to a hill of beans.

    Right - you need to be able to reflect on it and think about your thoughts - or in other words to meta-represent your mental representations. I don't mean to be too evangelical about this (ok, maybe I do: book sales are at a very early stage after all!) but I do enjoy the fact that this aspect of memetics ties in so well with what I've learned with my other hat on, as a former counsellor to gifted children and their families.

    What I mean is this. I've suggested that memes are a certain type of representation. In particular, humans are distinguished by our ability to meta-represent, or in other words to represent our representations: to think about and reflect on how they are represented, and to change the representational system if necessary. So we can talk about the fact that numbers can be represented via roman numeral, arabic place-convention, spoken languages, etc. and ask questions about which system is the most useful for a given purpose. When we do this we are talking about (representing) not only the information contained in those systems, but also the systems themselves. Meta-representing.

    If this is the case - that meta-representation is one of human beings' unique characteristics - then we should be able to see evidence for variation in this tendency, and I believe that in the minds of gifted individuals this is exactly what we can observe: a greater tendency, ability, whatever you want to call it, to meta-represent. Gifted children and adults are noted for their ability to reflect on information presented to them, to ask questions about it, to make connections that others have not seen. (Indeed they are sometimes tormented by an inability *not* to do this.)

    This also ties in with Chris's point about the source of novelty, which I'd agree (contra Blackmore, Dennett, etc.) lies in the human mind. Thought experiments, the recombination of ideas, are all enhanced by an ability to reflect on the way in which information is represented, as well as on the information itself. Innovation is almost bound to be nourished by this tendency.

    Just climbing down from my hobby-horse now . . .


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