Re: Mutant swarms and copying fidelity

From: Kate Distin (
Date: Thu 05 May 2005 - 11:59:33 GMT

  • Next message: Derek Gatherer: "Re: Mutant swarms and copying fidelity"

    Scott Chase wrote:

    > --- Keith Henson <> wrote:
    >>At 08:18 PM 04/05/05 -0700, Scott Chase wrote:
    >>>How much of culture is actually in printed form?
    >>Most of it I would say.
    > Really? I'd say that dancing and music are both parts
    > of culture. There's probably a certain *je ne sais
    > quoi* in both dancing and music that ccan't be
    > conveyed in printed form, especially for the former.
    > You might read a book about dancing tht show
    > representations of dance steps. But, couldn't an
    > illetrate person who takes dance lessons or grows up
    > exposed to dance routines do just as well without
    > reading about it? I'd hazard that you would be better
    > off watching a video or watching someone at a club
    > than reading a book to learn a dance move. Music is
    > printed in shhet music or scores or tablature, but
    > someone could learn to play by ear. Isn't it a
    > Wesstern bias to think of music in printed form?
    > Non-literate societies did pretty good without scores
    > didn't they? That's two parts of culture that don't
    > seem to need printing.
    > Blind people can survive withhout reading print. Even
    > if they don't learn braille I'd assume that they could
    > have stuff transmitted into their noggins.
    > These days more and more "boooks" are available in
    > audio format. Much of culture is transmitted via TV,
    > radio, and movies. There's a printed aspect to these
    > media behind the scenes, but what the listeners and
    > viewers receive are mostly non-print.
    > Fathers can teach sons to fish, a popular past-time
    > without much recourse to print, aside from the
    > brandname on the rod and reel and the bait shop
    > receipt. You can read about better ways to fish and
    > rig bait, ut you can also learn this from very
    > knowledgable people who are functionally illiterate.
    > You don't need to be a high school graduate to know
    > where the good fishing holes are. Same goes for
    > hunting. It might be good to read the box to know what
    > caliber the ammo is, but the rest is pretty much
    > sitting in a tree stand and waiting to aim and click
    > when the hapless deer shows up.

    I think there are a couple of different things going on here. One is the fact that we can convey information to each other without the benefit of the printed media. Audio tapes, videos, etc. all show this.
      The spoken word is the most obvious format. When you learn skills from functionally illiterate people they will nonetheless help the process along by conveying spoken information to you.

    And then there's the difference between learning a skill and picking up information. I've been thinking a lot about this lately and not yet come to any firm conclusions. I suspect that there are aspects of human culture that are essentially behavioural rather than memetic. We can pick up skills by imitation (which can work at different levels, as Byrne & Russon point out: copying the details or actually picking up on the structure of the activity, at which level you can then also vary the details within that overall pattern) - and I suspect that at this level what's going on is not strictly speaking memetic, in that there is no information being conveyed, just a new behaviour being learned.

    Of course you can then reflect on what you've learned, form representations of it and convey that information to others. So I have a relative who's a skilled dry-stone-waller and he is quite capable of giving a running commentary on his actions and reasons for them, as he builds a wall, although that's not necessarily how he picked up his skills in the first place. Certainly not by book learning as he is functionally illiterate. But in the first place I suspect that he learned his skills by copying others (admittedly with the help of some verbal information).

    But the point is that walling, like driving or playing a musical instrument, is a physical skill which cannot be learned purely from conveyed information, whether printed or otherwise. Physical practice is the only thing that works.

    Perhaps there's an important distinction between complex activities that can't be learned without the help of information as well as practice, and those that can be copied without any aids.

    Now I'm just burbling . . .

    >>In fact, if it is
    >>*not* shared it isn't an
    >>element of culture or a meme anyway. So the byte
    >>count of human culture(s)
    >>in minds would at most be a human memory increased
    >>by some factor to
    >>account for the cultural element that are not
    >>universal x the number of
    >>cultures depreciated by the high overlap between
    >>them (there are only so
    >>many ways of starting a fire for example.)
    >>Of course virtually all current cultural information
    >>is in print not to
    >>mention all the cultural information from the past
    >>that has not been
    >>accessed for so long that it is no longer in human
    > There might be books out there that talk about the
    > best wrist technique to use when turning a faucet on,
    > but who needs to read that? Blocch uses driving as an
    > example of non-linguistic (or procedural) aspects of
    > culture. You probably better consult the driver's
    > manual of your state for rules and regulations to get
    > your license, but when the parents are actually
    > helping the adolescent learn the stick shift and
    > clutch, there's not much writing that's gonna help
    > here. Clutch technique is a matter of coordination.
    > Did the best race car drivers learn their craft from
    > books or scientific journals? Much of NASCAR's roots
    > was probably "off the books" so to speak. Taking a
    > spin around the dirt strack doesn't involve reading a
    > how to manual. It might have started with go karts
    > before the kid had gotten beyond Dick and Jane
    > readers. Racing culture has a printed aspect. One can
    > read books about NASCAR or newspaper articles
    > summarizing the latst race, but there's much that's
    > unwritten.

    Right - again there are behavioural skills to be learned which cannot be conveyed by information in any format. You can be advised how to proceed but you can't say you have the skill until you've given it a go.
      I can tell you all sorts of things about walling techniques but I've never had a go myself so it would be accurate to say I cannot build a dry-stone-wall; any more than I could if I didn't have any of those bits of information.

    Again I suspect there's an important distinction to be made between memetic information and physical skills.

    Actually here's a thought: physical skills are not transferable between people so they can't be memetic. You can share the information about best practice but you can't share the ability to put it into practice.

    >>In support of your view re verbal, it turned out
    >>that it didn't make much
    >>difference if you talked or not showing someone how
    >>to chip spear heads out
    >>of rock.
    > There's much in modern culture that's off the books.
    > An illiterate person will definitely face obstacles,
    > but they will imbibe some culture as much as anyone
    > else as would a blind person without the benefit of
    > braille, though I'd hope that the former tke literacy
    > classes and the latter learn braille.

    The obstacles faced by illiterate people are very great, though, in a culture like ours that it so print-based. Everything from road navigation to ordering food in a restaurant is a nightmare. It curtails access to so much culture to which we as readers never give a second thought, quite apart from the devasting effects on self-esteem.

    On the other hand my relative (above) - who would tell you that I'm the
    "clever" one - can mend anything he sees, is a gifted mechanic and has mastered just about every rural/farming craft you can name, all to a very high level. Clearly skills can be acquired without the help of the printed media. It's access to *information* that is the primary blockage created by illiteracy. And this means access to memes, if what I've speculated above is right.


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