Re: Mutant swarms and copying fidelity

From: Scott Chase (
Date: Fri 06 May 2005 - 19:56:09 GMT

  • Next message: Kenneth Van Oost: "Re: Christianity Redux?"

    --- Bill Spight <> wrote:

    > 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.
    Give me a break. Lee Haney blew his door in number of Mr. Olympia commpetitions won. There are other names like Ronnie Colemen and Dorian Yates that can't be ignored if we use the Mr Olympia contest as a measuring stick. Albert Beck'es didn't win a Mr O, but he competed at 53 years old. Compare his longetivity in competitive bodybuilding to Anrold's. Arnold married into the Kennedy clan and cultivated a movie career, though his acting (versus action) skills are debatable :-) Arnold is more memorable, not only for his bodybuilding caeer and success, but also for marrying into American royalty, making successful movies based somewhat on his physical appearance and somehow making a political career out of his previous successes. Lou Ferrigno was relatively successful for a time as the Hulk and thought not of Arnold's stature, still memoroable, because of his green clad TV role more so than his bodybuilding career.

    But as far as bodybuilding itself goes, it's arguable if Arnold was any better than Lee Haney at least and one must give Beckles credit for being competitive into his 50's. If we were to compare Beckle's physique with Arnold's at age 50 on, how would Arnold fare?

    One could argue that Arnold's legendary stature has been eclipsed by more recent Mr. O champions besides Haney.
    > 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. :-) )
    It's partly a case of runaway (or runway?) selection in hyperextension (pun sort of intended when one considers bodybuilding injuries) of features that indicate a certain robustness or abilty to be competitive and procure food, fend off predators and attract women in the EEA (Gould is screaming at me from the majestic beyond). It's kinda like the peacock's tail. The image the bodybuilding cultivates has a possible primordial basis, so can't be toally based on cultural stuff. The sport of bodybuilding though has many social and mental aspects to it. It also has its artifacts (bench's, cable machines, weight plates etc. and nutrtional artifacts). The nutritional supplement market itself could be a focus of cultural research.Look at the proliferation of places to buy weight gain powder and other supposedly efficacious supplements. And let's not forget the illicit stuff like steroids.
    > 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.
    True, but had anybody thought to do a FMRI or PET scan on Arnold during his development as a bodybuilder ;-)? Brain changes, yes. What exactly are we talking about though?
    > 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.
    I think there's a reverse case at play here body image wise compared to people with eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia. One's sense of proprtion might get skewed out of kilter. When the people you see everyday look at you they might be impressed and say:
    "My have you gotten bigger. Do you workout?" Yet when the aspirng bodybuilder looks in the mirror they are still not satisfied and see themselves as that proverbial pencil necked geek that gets sand kicked in their face at the beach in front of their girlfriend. It's this distortion of body image that can lead to spending tons of cash on protein powder and carbloading stuff and the illicit stuff too.

    In that the popular image of bodybuilding has changed from the days of Charles Atlas you have a point to make. Could we call Joe Weider a successful memetic engineer?

    There are parallel cases here, especially relevant to those in their high school years. When I was in high school the lowered pickup craze had just started taking off in Florida (it might have already hit Cali). After I graduated I bought a pickup myself and lowered it and added some killer rims and low profile tyres. The lowering job I had down wasn't too bad on my factory suspension geometry, undercarriage or kidneys and lower back. The truck looked cool, given what I thought it should look like. But I saw other trucks that took lowering to a more radical degree. These trucks would barely clear speedbumps and a good pothole would jar your spine. This is a case of runaway selection.

    At the same time bass music (electrobass coming from places like South Florida and Detroit) was starting to increase in popularity. Even though this was music that was inspired and often made by African American youth in the scene, this stuff managed to spread into cultures that were rather bigoted towards minorities to say the least. Anyway along with this music came the popularity of music systems in cars that relied on high wattage amplifiers driving various size subwoofers. These woofers could range from 8 to 15 or so inches and were arraged in specially designed boxes to increase their driving abilities to thuder powerful sound waves shaking the foundations of every building the car or truck passed. I oo bought into this trend, but to a relatively modest level. I had friends who built massive sound systems that would be heard for block away. This became another case of runaway (or at least extreme directional) selection. As the competition increased, peoople kept buying more powerful amps, bigger subwoofers and more of them. It got a little out of hand, and I think some municipalities started cracking down on what they saw as excessive noise.

    One could look at breast augmentation surgery in a similar light (though I never had this done on myself and it's a case more like bodybuilding than lowering trucks or subwoofers in that it probably has some evolved cognitive basis behind its popularity).
    > Not only that, but, since
    > the ideals are to some
    > degree vague, his body image provided definition to
    > those ideals.
    But, all though he's a legend the sport of competitive bodybuilding has moved on. So have action movies.
    > 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.
    Well one needs to start with genetic potential. It's arguable that Arnol'ds success in bodybuilding was facilitated by genes that influenced his metabolism and muscuar development and compared to other people he might have had an edge in this department. Plus we need to consider, as I say above, the role genes play in how people perceive the body image of others. And self-perception is important here (as it may be in certain eating disorders).

    Sure Arnold learned stuff that got him into bodybuilding and info was transmitted to him and through him that not only impacted him, but also the sport of bodybuilding, action movies and the future of California ;-)

    Not sure we can identify specific synaptic states for these phenomena though. It might be better to look at these primarily at the cultural level with some augmenting discussions of genetic causal factors and neural correlates.
    > 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.)
    He's got a book on bodybuilding doesn't he? Chalk one up for Keith's book learning biases ;-)
    > These
    > additional connections are culturally transferred,
    > but not primarily
    > through recognition. (Imitation may play a role in
    > training.)
    True, but everybody modifies what hey learn to suit their own situation paying attention to feedback from their body. In my case I found that I couldn't keep my hands at the same width on the bench press as a friend with shorter stature. My bone geometry is different. That same friend had good physical potential and was able to make more gains than most of the rest of us. At one time a friend coned the phrase "wandering workout" in reference to the way the more gifted guy was able to workout as he felt without holding to a strict specified regime.
    > 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?
    At some level there's a poosibility of replication, if nothing more than basic concepts of bench press, repetitions, sets, warmup, cooldown and rest etc. There might be variations on the theme that themselves get replicated. Look at the incline press or look at doing incline with barbells versus dumbells. These phenomena are best explored at the level people like Gatherer and Benzon prefer. OK, there's probably a neural basis. Duh! But how much more can we get out of a reduction to neural states and what's actually possible in this regard. Maybe we can hook gym goers up to fMRI while they work out, but this might not be advisable with so much metal lying around. Benchpress woould take on a new form of resistance in an MRI machine. Scary.
    > 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.
    Delius talks about functional equivalnce, which might be something to ponder versus structural equivalence, but still where does this leave us? We have some theoretical aspects of cultural stuff we can think of as based upon neural activity, but what about the practical considerations?
    > If we talk about external aspects of memes, we may
    > have identical
    > copies. But often we are talking similarity there,
    > as well.
    And chalk one up for the behaviorists with the overt versus covert dichotomy.
    > And that is
    > particularly so with ideals and prototypes, which
    > are seldom, if ever,
    > manifested perfectly.
    > Whew! :-)
    Good points, but we might best approach Arnold at the cultural level. "I'll be back!" may have started somehere in his nogigin and maybe Broca's area took part in the expression. Wernicke's area in our cortices may have played a role in the comprehension during that scene of Terminator. But where are your neural correlates versus mine in our respective engram stores? This could get messy. It might be better to use the overt expression of this phrase as an indicator that neural correlates (Calvin's hexagonal tiles?) exist and focus on the spread and cultural impact of the phrase itself.

    I'll be back.

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