From: Kate Distin (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Date: Mon 25 Apr 2005 - 07:13:29 GMT
Bill Spight wrote:
> Dear Kate,
>> Because there is a qualitative difference between human and (most?)
>> animal culture which even the most ardent anti-speciesist wouldn't
>> deny . . .
> Well, there certainly are differences, enough so that many people deny
> that other animals have culture. But, as we agree that some other
> animals have culture, what do you think makes animal cultures
> non-memetic? If anything, the relative simplicity of animal culture
> should make the memetic structure more apparent.
You know how I obsess about representation, so rather predictably I'm
going to answer in terms of different *levels* of representation.
I'm sure that some (many?) types of animal are capable of representing,
in some form or another, the world around them. What distinguishes
humans, I'd say, is our ability to *meta-represent*: to form
representations of our representations themselves. It is this (probably
unique) ability which has enabled us to free our representations from
their original context, to think about things in abstract terms, and
ultimately even to free our representations from their original
representational system and choose *how* to represent them (if I want to
give you directions to my house, should I talk them through with you,
write them down in English or give you a map?).
>> . . . and this - together with emerging evidence about the potential
>> cultural sophistication of at least some individual animals - leads
>> me to believe in a continuum between non-human and human culture,
>> with memes evolving from more primitive mental/cultural replicators
>> (or insert alternative word here if you prefer.
> What do you mean by these primitive replicators, and why don't you call
> them memes?
So (continuing from my answer above) animals obviously are able to copy
each other's behaviour - to engage in a some kind of transmission of
cultural information - but what I mean by "primitive replicators" is
that they are limited to exchanging simple, context-bound
representations and do not have access to the abstract complexities that
abound in human culture as a result of our meta-representational abilities.
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Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
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