Re: memetics-digest V1 #1552

From: Dace (
Date: Wed 04 May 2005 - 21:20:32 GMT

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    > Lashley even
    > made a vague comparison between the way the memory
    > trace is reduplicated and how the chomosomal
    > mechanisms in the cells of the body are equivalent
    > across cells. That's as close to a genetic analogy for
    > memory as I could find in Lashley, but no cigar. It
    > was too vague. He also refers to the reverberatory
    > circuit closed loop cortical thingies that Hebb was so
    > smitten with (Lorente de No's concept) as resonators.
    > Ted might like that one, but alas the resonance
    > Lashley was getting at was confined to the
    > intracranial kind and not the intercranial kind.

    I assume you're refering to Sheldrake. "Morphic resonance" is strictly a theory of memory. As an embryo your development is guided by resonance with previous embryos of your species. As an adult your morphology is stabilized in part by resonance with yourself in the past. Resonance is a temporal concept. You don't resonate across space; you resonate over time. To be connected with someone across space entails a field. So if your dog senses when you're on your way home, this is because you and your dog are embraced within a single field. There's no resonance involved except that the field itself resonates with past, similar fields. That's the theory, anyway.

    > > It's not enough to have reflexive mentality. Only
    > > when the locus of
    > > self-existence shifts from body to mind does a
    > > self-contained realm of
    > > culture open up, a mental environment in which memes
    > > may compete for
    > > dominance much as animals do in the physical
    > > environment.
    > >
    > I think Blackmore talked
    > about how the tits opening milk bottles was more a
    > case of local enhancement or facilitation, where an
    > animal might see that another is doing something and
    > thus have a greater chance of being in the same area
    > and sort of learning how to do a similar act pretty
    > much on its own, versus using the other animal's
    > actions as a model to imitate. I think this is a valid
    > critical point to reflect on when we attribute
    > culture, cultural transmission and/or replication of
    > behavior to non-humans.

    As you know, Sheldrake has a lot to say about the blue tits. Here's an excerpt from The Presence of the Past (1988) pp 177-178:

    "The best-documented example of the spontaneous spread of a new habit concerns the opening of milk bottles in Britain by birds...

    "The first record of this habit was from Southampton in 1921, and its spread was recorded at regular intervals from 1930 to 1947. It has been observed in eleven species, but most frequently in great tits, coal tits, and blue tits. Once discovered in any paticular place, the habit spread locally, presumably by imitation.

    "Tits do not usually venture more than a few miles from their breeding place, and a movement of as much as fifteen miles is exceptional. Hence new appreances of the habit more than fifteen miles from where it had previously been recorded probably represented new discoveries by individual birds. A detailed analysis of the records showed that the spread of the habit accelerated as time went on, and that it was independently discovered by individual tits at least 89 times in the British Isles.

    "The habit also appeared in Sweden, Denmark, and Holland. The Dutch records are particularly interesting. Milk bottles practically disappeared during the war and became reasonably common again only in 1947 or 1948. Few if any tits that had learned the habit before the war could have survived to this date, but nevertheless attacks on bottles began again rapidly, and it seems certain that the habit was started in many different places by many individuals."

    What's interesting is first that the independent discovery of the bottle-opening method accelerated over time and second that it picked up again so quickly after being eliminated due to an absence of milk bottles. Unlike the apocryphal story of the "100th monkey," this is a documented example of widespread adoption of a new habit once it had spread to enough members of that species. Without a field concept, there's no way of explaining the acceleration of the tendency. Why doesn't it spread at roughly the same rate over time? And why should it be taken up the second time around so much more rapidly than the first?

    This greatly complicates memetics. A cultural tendency could spread as a result of imitation, or it might spread as a result of the members of a species being embraced within a single Jungian-like field. This field would of course be an extension of standard developmental fields. The field concept, which is so important in explaining the development of individual organisms, can also be applied to groups of organisms. That termites build mounds is really no different than cells building lungs. Termite mounds are, after all, essentially lungs, conveying oxygen to individual termites and releasing carbon dioxide as waste. There seems to be no means for termites, which are blind, to be able to construct their complex mounds without being guided by a developmental field. If termites why not birds? And if birds why not humans?


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