Re: reading a book

From: Kate Distin (
Date: Mon 25 Apr 2005 - 07:13:29 GMT

  • Next message: Kate Distin: "Re: reading a book"

    Bill Spight wrote:
    > Dear Kate,
    >>> 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?
    > Bill

    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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