Re: reading a book

From: Scott Chase (
Date: Sat 23 Apr 2005 - 00:43:52 GMT

  • Next message: Scott Chase: "Re: reading a book"

    --- Kate Distin <> wrote:

    > Scott Chase wrote:
    > > In his 1958 paper "Cerebral organization and
    > behavior"
    > > here's an interesting quote from Karl Lashley to
    > > ruminate upon, given the tension that exists
    > between
    > > notions of replication, transformation and
    > > re-creation.
    > >
    > > Lashley writes (found in Orbach, p 371):
    > >
    > > [KL] "We remember the content of a book, not in
    > the
    > > author's words but in meanings which fit into
    > previous
    > > knowledge of the subject. During the reading the
    > > meanings are not necessarily formulated clearly in
    > > verbal or other thought forms, but they may be so
    > > formulated later. That is, associations may be
    > formed
    > > during reading with traces in the system which are
    > not
    > > activated above tonic levels during learning."
    > >
    > > Would this passage support replication,
    > transformation
    > > or recreation? Words are supposedly "digital" and
    > we'd
    > > thus assume a replication based on transmission of
    > > language content, yet Lashley's saying we don't
    > recall
    > > the author's words but meanings. Previous
    > knowledge
    > > may influence how what we read fits into our
    > mnemic
    > > trace system (or engram store). If we're not
    > actually
    > > replicating the author's words in our knowledge
    > base,
    > > maybe we are transforming them based on our
    > personal
    > > history or we recreate them later? I'll need to
    > digest
    > > Sperber and Bloch for more on these tangents.
    > >
    > Isn't this description also true of any cultural
    > input? If I report the
    > content of a telephone conversation then I
    > paraphrase it according to my
    > interepretation, rather than repeating it verbatim -
    > just as I would do
    > if asked to recall the content of a book.
    > This is partly due to memory constraints: not having
    > a photographic
    > memory I cannot recall the author's words. But if
    > he has expressed
    > himself clearly enough then I can remember what he
    > was trying to say
    > through those words. Any information needs a medium
    > for transmission -
    > but what gets tranmitted is the information itself.
    The "information" could be corrupted or augmented in the process. I'm not opposed to transmission of cultural stuff. I think the alternatives of replication, transformation and/or re-creation should be fully explored before rushing to judgement.
    > As you know I regard Sperber and Bloch as both much
    > too pessimistic
    > about the possibility of cultural replication.
    Others like Adam Kuper, Frans de Waal and Paul Ehrlich aren't too smitten with memes. Sperber and Bloch present alternatives.
    > When
    > we read a text of
    > course we bring our existing memes to it. >
    We bring our existing knowledge bases into the mix. I'm not convinced that memes are included or that they outnumber cases where transmission has happened but not replication.

    If a meme purist recognized a case where transmission occurred without replication, could they still label this fragment a "meme"? If so could they be considered consistent? At what point are we departing from the truly memetic?
    > The
    > content of the text may
    > be recombined with these existing memes to produce
    > new memes - which we
    > then incorrectly assign to the text. (And then when
    > we go back to the
    > text later we are surprised and a little humbled to
    > find that our
    > recollection is not justified by the text!) But
    > this doesn't mean that
    > it's not *possible* for the information contained in
    > the text to be
    > replicated in our minds. If a child wanted to know
    > what his teacher had
    > meant by "Einstein's famous equation", and her
    > parent showed her a book
    > in which was written "E=mc2" - and if later she
    > proudly tells her
    > grandparent that she knows what Einstein's famous
    > equation is, and
    > repeats it correctly - then in what sense has the
    > information in the
    > text not "really" been replicated in her mind?
    Would she be doing any better than a parrot? At what point does what Einstein *meant* by this formula or what the formula entails become grasped? By a high school physics student? By an undergrad physics student? By a PhD in physics?

    In the grasping of the implications is there true replication? If someone notices a new way of applying a scietific theory not previously recognized is this replication, since it was based upon application of the theory itself?

    Darwin based some of his thinking on Malthus. Did he replicate Malthus's thinking patterns? Maybe he transformed them instead, given his background in natural history.

    Dawkins based some of his thinking on Darwin. Did he, in his hyperextension of Darwinian principles beyond realms imagined by Darwin, replicate Darwin's pre-Mendelian thinking patterns? Maybe he transformed them instead, given his background in ethology.

    Isn't an analogy itself, like the infamous gene and contagion analogies for memes, a transformation as it take place when notions are transferred across realms of thought?
    > (We
    > can argue about her
    > understanding of what the equation means, but she is
    > now able to repeat,
    > write down, convey to others the symbols that she
    > read in the text.)
    I think this is an example where memeticists tend to cling to clearcut examples and try to extrapolate these to cover the rest of culture. As Gould would argue for spandrels, it's not a matter of a simple case scenario, but relative frequency. Would replication wind up being the exception to the norm of transformation or recreation? That's a lot more difficult to assess.
    > How much the information in a text "sticks and
    > spreads" - how much of an
    > effect it is able to produce on the reader's
    > behaviour - will also be
    > influenced by the reader's existing memes. But
    > again this is not to do
    > with transformation, but with the affects of context
    > on a replicator's
    > selection and effectiveness.
    Being a meme agnostic I think it's better to look at alternative hypotheses, including transformation and recreation.

    When reading a text our encoding into memory could introduce an element of transformation and when we try to recall the text later we are re-creating it. Memory is prone to distortion and we like to fill in gaps for consistency. Some memories are just plain false and subject to bad cues or leading questions. Anything that fits into our noggin-space has been subjected to filtering and biasing. It may not as tidy as memeticists would like it to be in most cases, but replication could occur sometimes.

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