Re: reading a book

From: Scott Chase (
Date: Sat 23 Apr 2005 - 15:10:23 GMT

  • Next message: Scott Chase: "the neural Aunger"

    --- Kate Distin <> wrote:

    > Scott Chase wrote:
    > >
    > > --- Kate Distin <> wrote:
    > >
    > >
    > >>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?
    > >
    > I'd hesitate to describe myself as a purist of any
    > sort, but I certainly
    > don't see any threat to meme theory from the claim
    > that some cultural
    > information may not be memetic. After all many
    > people would want to
    > describe many animals as having culture, without
    > being willing to label
    > it as memetic. Similarly human culture, if it is
    > memetic now, must have
    > evolved from a point at which it was not memetic.
    > More generally the challenge to memetics is to be
    > able to present a
    > convincing account of any given instance of cultural
    > tranmission, in a
    > way that is both consistent with meme theory
    > (including talk about
    > replication) and also trumps alternative,
    > non-replicative accounts in
    > explanatory utility. I haven't yet come across an
    > element of culture
    > that has defied description in a way that's
    > consistent with meme theory;
    > it's the explanatory superiority that has yet to be
    > proved I think.
    > >>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?
    > >
    > Well, the example was about information contained in
    > a text, which a
    > parrot would struggle with . . . but yes of course
    > there is a difference
    > between knowing the formula and understanding its
    > meaning. These are
    > two different pieces of information, and the child
    > has proved herself to
    > have grasped one of those pieces of information even
    > though she may
    > never grasp the other. Even though she doesn't
    > understand what it
    > means, she has adequately grasped the information
    > that "Einstein's
    > famous equation is E=mc2". *This* piece of
    > information has been
    > replicated in her mind, even if the other
    > information (about its
    > meaning) has not.
    Ironically, I just turned the corner where Aunger belabors the point of behavioral versus neural memetics using the parrot example. He talks about Einstein walking around his apartment babbling on about the famous equation and his parrot starts mimicking the phrase. He then goes on to compare examples where another parrot, non-physicist people and another physicist, Planck, are exposed to the phrase. Planck would have the background to give the phrase meaning, unlike the other examples. But in having passed through the parrot before reaching Planck, there is a difficulty in memetic theory introduced. So I think it's likely that a previous reading of Aunger's book may have set up a Hebbian cell assembly organization for the example and in my recall in reply to you, at the time, I remember to fire back with the notion of parrot, but had source amnesia for having read it in Aunger's book, until after I replied to your post. This points to the difference between memory of content, which diverged in my case from Aunger quite a bit for my reply to you, and memory for source.

    Yes a parrot couldn't read Einstein's equation out of a book, but I've heard people being said to "parrot" ideas that they don't quite understand.
    > > 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?
    > Or is this a case in which a novel context enables
    > some of the potential
    > effects of that piece of information to be
    > implemented?
    > >
    > > 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.
    > >
    > Malthus's ideas were replicated in Darwin's mind,
    > but when recombined
    > with what was already there (and/or what came to be
    > there later) they
    > produced new ideas. Novel memes.
    > > 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.
    > >
    > He metarepresented them! He saw a pattern in the
    > information and
    > examined it in a novel context.
    Have you done detailed analyses of the neural states of both Darwin and Dawkins ;-)
    > > 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?
    > >
    > Again, I'd say that it's a form of
    > metarepresentation. We see a pattern
    > in one context and use that pattern to help us to
    > examine something in a
    > different area.
    Fair enough.
    > >>(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.
    > >
    > Or, to put it memetically, how often is cultural
    > replication 100%
    > accurate and how often is mutation involved? Don't
    > know.
    I think that you present the memetic alternative well, but I'm still not convinced.

    Yahoo mail has truncated the rest of the message. I guess this is a good argument for snipping and replying to smaller fragments :-)

    Aunger does raise some points prior to the parrot example I co-opted without remembering where it came from. He argues in his replicator chapter (where he botches biology again by goofing up on base pairing) for substrate specificity (vs. substrate neutrality) and for structural equivalence (vs. functional equivalence). I'm reminded of Keith Henson's frequent refrain about how a gene can exist in a cell or "on paper" since Aunger addresses this too. I think Aunger is trying to diverge from the standard memetic assumption that memes can be represented as mental states, behaviors and artefacts. If memory serves, he will start arguing for the neuromeme pretty soon, making his preferred memetic substrate quite obvious and putting the challenge to "behaviorists" like Benzon or Gatherer and the substrate neutral folks.

    Though not predisposed towards Aunger's view I can see where he's going with it anyway...

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