Re: A review of "The Selfish Meme"

From: Kate Distin (
Date: Thu 26 May 2005 - 09:31:28 GMT

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    Ray Recchia wrote:
    > A review in parts
    > (I haven't posted in over a year, so for those of you who don't know me,
    > I'm an attorney living in the rural northeastern United States. I have
    > an undergraduate degree in biochemistry, and I have been subscribed to
    > this mailing list for over six years)
    > Distin does a good job of skewering critics of memetics, pointing out
    > misconceptions and logical errors on their part. I was also pleased to
    > see her attack Dawkin's characterization of religion as a parasite.
    > Memetics should ultimately be about the properties and characteristics
    > of ideas and their transmission, not about the truth or accuracy of a
    > particular set of beliefs. I would say that "The Selfish Meme" is
    > probably closer to my own thinking than prior works about memetics.
    > Distin starts and keeps her focus on mental processes, a welcome relief
    > from the half decade distraction following Susan Blackmore's effort in
    > "The Meme Machine" to make memetics a behavior only field. As I've
    > discussed previously, a purely behavior focused memetics leaves us
    > unable to examine the transmission of abstract ideas unassociated with
    > any particular type of behavior.
    > Abstract ideas and abstractions in general are the central focus of
    > Distin's book. Distin refers to them as "meta-representations".
    > "Representations", according to Distin are our mental concepts of
    > specific items. So for example, I might have representation of a a
    > stick. A meta-representation is an awareness of a property about the
    > stick that can be applied to a variety of situations and sticks. So
    > for example, recognizing that the stick can be used as a lever, and that
    > levers can be used in a variety of situations. Another example of a
    > meta-representation might be the notion of "color" or "quantity",
    > specific abstracted qualities of the stick or sticks that can be applied
    > to any number of different objects.
    > Memes in Distin's theory are meta-representations that are replicated
    > between humans. Humans use representation systems to replicate memes
    > (meta-representations). Language is representation system that humans
    > are naturally pre-disposed towards, but we are also capable of other
    > developing other representation systems, such as mathematics and musical
    > notation, that are distinct from language but are somehow offshoots.
    > I like the notion of meta-representations, and I think that she is
    > correct in characterizing representation systems as the major way in
    > which meta-represenations are replicated. Overall, I think her book is
    > an important one that refocuses memetics on thought processes.
    > Ray Recchia
    > (more in part II and possible III whenever I get around to it.)

    Thanks for this, Ray. I really appreciate the positive feedback.


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