Re: reading a book

From: Scott Chase (
Date: Sun 24 Apr 2005 - 00:43:53 GMT

  • Next message: Scott Chase: "Re: Aunger vs. Pinker on Galton"

    --- William Benzon <> wrote:

    > on 4/23/05 2:56 PM, Scott Chase at
    > wrote:
    > [snip]
    > >>
    > >> The substrate is clearly significant: information
    > >> will be transmitted
    > >> more/less effectively depending on the medium in
    > >> which it's realized; it
    > >> will also be more/less powerful in exerting its
    > >> potential effects. But
    > >> Aunger doesn't convince me that this means the
    > same
    > >> information (meme)
    > >> cannnot "really" be realized across different
    > media.
    > >>
    > > Well when he's discussing abstract stuff about
    > memes
    > > he's not causing me as much grief as when he
    > starts
    > > goofing on molecular biology and now, it seems,
    > basic
    > > zoology (head-desk, head-desk, repeat 10 times). I
    > had
    > > cleaned the slate and he goes and does it again.
    > Get used to it. You might consider some thick
    > padding on the top of your
    > desk. OTOH, if you put a bunch of rocks on your desk
    > top the constant
    > beating might be sufficient to render you
    > insensitive to Aunger's lapses of
    > fact, common sense, and internal consistency.
    > But I'll give you a little preview. In his first
    > chapter on the neural
    > theory he announces his Big Discovery, that the
    > neural meme is not a
    > physical structure in the nervous system, but the
    > state of a physical
    > structure he calls a node. In one of the later
    > chapters he suggests that
    > memes can be modeled with stick and ball structures.
    > Doh!
    Well he has his flashes of brilliance. I think his section on redundancy of neural coding from page 211-3 isn't so bad. He even uses this as a chance to present an alternative to Blackmore's memetic drive theory. He does point out that duplication of neural states allows for a diffuse nature, but then I see his casual dismissal of Lashlley's engram as an error of ommission since Lashley entertained a concept of reduplication that seems to dovetail with how Aunger is getting at his form if distributed representaion. Aunger points to a redundnacy of the genetic code, but I think he could have benefitted from incorpoaryion of Susumu Ohno's theories on duplication and divergence here.

    I may be off my rocker on this, but I'm intuiting that both Lashley's reduplication concept and Ohno's evolution by gene duplication concept are both relevant to what Aunger is arguing. He fails to address Lashley sufficiently beyond casually dismissing him and he doesn't even mention Ohno that I can tell. Redundancy is an important concept to ponder and I will give Aunger credit where it's due.

    This section "Reasons for replicating" does stand out as one of the better parts of his book. The rival hypothesis he posits to Blackmore's theory is also provocative here and shouldn't be overlooked.

    He has many errors of commission in this book, but yes there are some gems, even if they come with their own Persian flaws of omission.
    > > When
    > > he's talking about the molecular bases of memory,
    > > which in itself is an important topic I need
    > seriously
    > > to remediate myself on, he totally fries my brain
    > with
    > > a category error of serious proportions in
    > zoology. He
    > > equates the genus *Aplysia* which is a model
    > organism
    > > for memory research with the nematode. He says (p.
    > > 190): "A number of studies, involving animals as
    > > varied as the fruit fly (*Drosophila*), nematode
    > worm
    > > (*Aplysia*), and mouse...".
    > Details, details, great minds working on great
    > theories don't sweat the
    > details. As long as it sounds good . . . >
    If a non-anthropologist were to write a book about anthopology that states that Tasmanians had TV sets but lost these after they migrated to Tasmania from Australia on jet skis (which they also lost in their tool box) or if someone were to discuss an out of America hypothesis that reverses the human trajectory across the land bridge into Asia, Europe and Africa, that would be a howler right? That's just about as bad as what he said about ribosomes and base pairing, especially given that he was presenting DNA replication as an example of his larger general view. His mistakes on *Aplysia* and Galton's relation to Darwin aren't quite that bad but add up.

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