Re: Mutant swarms and copying fidelity

From: Bill Spight (
Date: Fri 06 May 2005 - 17:24:23 GMT

  • Next message: Scott Chase: "Re: Mutant swarms and copying fidelity"

    Dear Kate,

    >>> So maybe there are phenomena that we think of as being a part of
    >>> culture (like dancing and playing music), which are actually
    >>> not memes but individual responses to memes.
    >> Is it either/or?
    > It is either/or in the sense that something either is a meme or it is
    > not. But of course there is a memetic element to dance, music and
    > comparable bits of culture. I'm just wondering whether there's any
    > explanatory mileage in noticing that there is also a non-memetic,
    > non-social element to them: an element that is due to individual
    > learning and response.

    Well, any memetic transfer to a human requires both competence and learning on the human's part. (Referring to your earlier example, recognizing that your performance is not correct requires a kind of competence.)

    Now, anything that requires rehearsal, practice, or training to learn is arguably not a meme, because it is not transferred as a unit. At the same time, there may be a meme that is transferred that allows us to recognize it when we see it. I think that it is important to note the distinction, however we regard the other learning.

    >>> Where I was going with my suggestion (which is only that - a
    >>> thought I had while composing the message) was that, while the
    >>> how-to knowledge is a transmissible bit of information, the
    >>> physical ability is not transmissible.
    >> We largely agree there, too. But the physical ability is trainable
    >> and the training is social.
    > The training is social in so far as it involves conversations and
    > other interactions with the trainer: that's the process by which s/he
    > conveys the how-to knowledge. But in the end the physical ability
    > has to be learned individually.

    Arnold Schwarzenegger ("The Governator") once ruled the world of body building. But he did not just build his body. He sculpted it in accord with certain (memetic) ideals, and he did so better than anybody else. Back in Charles Atlas's day, the ideal memes were different, as we can see from pictures of Charles Atlas, and from Greek sculpture, which was taken as a model. (The question of models, i.e., prototypes, vs. schemata is one I have touched on before.) Arnold's body itself (back then) has served as a prototype for many body builders. We might even say that it embodied certain memes. (I guess you would not, however. :-) )

    Let's ignore Arnold's musculature and just look at his brain. As Arnold trained, his brain changed as well. And these changes were not simply reflections of the changes in his musculature and body image, as they would be for most non-body builders. They were directly and essentially connected to the ideals Arnold had already learned. There was probably some feedback involved, as these ideals were continually reinterpreted in terms of Arnold's current body image during training.

    What do we say of the structure of bodybuilding memes in Arnold's brain at the time? Do we confine it to the recognition of bodybuilding ideals, as we might for a fan of bodybuilding? To do so would ignore the strong neural connections to his body image, which to a great extent exemplifies the ideals. Not only that, but, since the ideals are to some degree vague, his body image provided definition to those ideals.

    Memes in the brain (and in the external culture) are part of a network. There is thus a question of boundaries. Where do we draw the line? In Arnold's case, as with any practice or training, strong connections were built that extended beyond mere recognition. Not including these connections seems arbitrary.

    If it were merely a question of recognition plus individual practice and training, there would be a good case for restricting memes to recognition. However, Arnold's additional connections built by training enabled him to train others. (Along with other training know-how.) These additional connections are culturally transferred, but not primarily through recognition. (Imitation may play a role in training.)

    Now, everyone's body is different, so everyone's body image is different, so these connections will be different for everybody. Are they similar enough to talk about replication?

    But everybody's brain is different, too. So when we talk about memes in brains, we are talking about similarity. We are not talking about identical copies.

    If we talk about external aspects of memes, we may have identical copies. But often we are talking similarity there, as well. And that is particularly so with ideals and prototypes, which are seldom, if ever, manifested perfectly.

    Whew! :-)

    Best regards,


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