Re: story-telling

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Sun 17 Apr 2005 - 14:52:05 GMT

  • Next message: Bill Spight: "Re: story-telling"

    At 09:09 AM 17/04/05 +0100, Kate wrote:
    >Price, Ilfryn wrote:
    >>Dear Bill
    >>>>Making a better story suggests an increase in memetic fitness. Also, it
    >>seems not to be uncommon. How many times are tales and accounts enhanced
    >>in the retelling to make a better story? (Whether consciously or
    >>unconsciously.) How does that happen? What does it imply for memetics?
    >>Best regards,
    >>It implies, or is at least consistent with the argument that the story is
    >>a meme (or a small memeplex). Enhancement increase
    >>replication. This assumes you take, or consider for the sake of argument,
    >>the view that memes are replicating stories or
    >>discourses. They exist in language.
    >It also ties into the question about how active human minds are in meme
    >replication, mutation, selection, etc.

    With meme replication it is possible for unrelated memes to be copied (at least on paper) without purposeful involvement of the human mind in the meme. I.e., the process of printing an encyclopedia does not much depend on one meme more or less.

    But for mutation and selection . . . where *else* could they happen?

    >As Bill says, stories can be enhanced for increased memetic fitness (i.e.
    >better able to gain and/or retain human attention) either consciously or
    >unconsciously - and this implies that the mind is something separate from
    >the memes that it manipulates and responds to. We have an interesting
    >experience, but when we represent it in anecdote form (language, as you
    >say, If) we also reshape it into the best form to grab others' attention.

    There is a visual example of this in a book called Rumor, a page full of drawings copied one from the other. It started as a drawing of an own and mutated into a cat which was stable for the rest of the series.

    >This gives me a couple of extra thoughts. The first is to wonder whether
    >this reshaping is itself a form of metarepresentation: we represent the
    >story to ourselves and then think about how it could better be represented.
    >The second is that one thing I like about Blackmore's approach is her
    >emphasis on the "memes' eye view" - the possibility of seeing the world
    >from different perspectives, including the memetic pov.

    Using the "meme's eye view" (or the gene's) is a wonderful semantic trick that allows us to use the language of purpose as a shortcut to the same conclusion that we would get to by using the passive replication and selection concepts from Darwinian evolution. (Genes/memes become more or less common over the passage of time.) Richard Dawkin's popularized this trick if he didn't invent it.

    But it is *just a semantic trick/shortcut.* For all the value of it, there are so many people who take it literally that I am not sure the speed up in reaching conclusions is worth the misunderstanding it causes.

    In any case, if you use the "memes' eye view" you definitely need to put in a disclaimer.

    >It makes me think there may be a two-level thing going on when we reshape
    >our experiences into catchy anecdotes. From a genetic perspective (I mean
    >in terms of gaining social advantages of the sort that enhance power or
    >sexual attractiveness) it may be that we have an innate understanding of
    >the sorts of reshaping that will get more attention/kudos for *us* as a
    >result of the stories we tell.

    The one-who-got-away fish story would be an example that has been around so long that there is a memetic armor against it.

    A storyteller in a tribe was at least moderately respected. Attention over time is what builds status, and in primitive societies, nothing has a higher correlation to reproductive success (at least for men). This leads to the modern day where so many people want to be actors. Actors in general are driven by being highly rewarded by attention. (Which may be why they seem to be more vulnerable to being sucked into cults.)

    >Or at least an innate ability to acquire this information along with the
    >other social knowledge we gain as we grow.
    >But then from a memetic persepctive this innate understanding can be
    >hijacked by individual memes (stories) in order to increase their memetic
    >fitness. And of course we do know that good story-tellers, and the
    >socially advantaged, get more attention for their memes than others, less
    >articulate or powerful, do.
    >Is this an admission that for these memes their fitness is dependent on
    >any genetic advantages that they confer on their "owners"? I don't think
    >so - just that from their pov here is a mechanism (which may happen to be
    >partly genetic in origin) that they can exploit. Often their success may
    >coincide with genetic (social) advantage - but often it won't, I guess: I
    >can tell a story that gets your attention by apalling you or horrifying
    >you, at no advantage to myself.
    >Sorry - rather a ramble.

    You are putting your finger on the co-evolution of memes and genes. Without evolved genes that build brains in which memes can operate, most memes would not have a chance. But those genes have been selected for a *long* time by an environment that included memes, back to memes for breaking rocks to make sharp edges and before.

    Mutualistic effects. But whenever you get a happy mutualistic thing going parasites show up at the picnic. So you get memes that are no help to the genes and sometimes ones that are deadly.

    *Lots* of examples.

    Then you have memes that are good or bad for people's genes depending on the environment. That's my current big interest.

    Keith Henson

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