Re: A review of "The Selfish Meme"

From: Kate Distin (
Date: Mon 06 Jun 2005 - 08:33:59 GMT

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    Kenneth Van Oost wrote:
    > ----- Original Message -----
    > From: Kate Distin <>
    >>Kenneth - I'm struggling to get hold of the distinction you're making
    >>between objectification and representation. Could you say a bit more
    >>about it?
    > You got me good !
    > Well, it all got to do with words.
    > At first glance it is very obvious that words are in a certain sense
    > arbitrary_ that they, even we all accept their meaning, don 't possess
    > any reality; no guarantee for any objective truth_ where thus objective
    > stands for a kind of truth which surpasses that what most people are
    > agreed about. No questions asked !
    > A pencil is just that because we gave it such a name, it could be named
    > completely different, and it holds our attention because we gave it a
    > special function:- it can 't be something else than the thing we invented
    > it for. We can be sure if people talk in good faith about things that the
    > words used mean for all parties the same.

    The particular word we pick for each entity or concept is arbitrary, in that there's nothing "stopping" us from picking a different one (as the existence of alternative languages shows). But in picking the word we assign meaning to it, and in that sense it is no longer arbitrary. There is now an agreed meaning for that word: someone who perversely insisted on using the word "turtle", to refer to what everyone else calls a dog, would just be wrong.

    > But to get a real hold of what
    > is a stick you must have ' objectified ' the very thing in your mind.
    > Representation of the thing is schematic, symbolic.
    > Objectification is more detailted, more substantial.

    In what way more substantial?

    > Not sure I 'm making a distinction some how or fusing them together.
    > Neither I suppose, it is more that one ( the objectification) is part of
    > the other ( representation), more a completion of what you sees as a
    > solely representation.
    > I haven 't read your book, I ought to I know, so can 't be sure what you
    > really mean by representation, although you refer to them as mental concepts
    > of specific terms. And it is with this I got, no real a problem, but it
    > seems
    > somewhat fuzzy.

    At its most basic level a representation is just a piece of mental furniture that carries information about the world. I'm interested in how we know which bits of information are carried by each representation. It turns out that each individual representation gets its meaning - the information that it carries - from its place within a representational system. This ties in to your point, above, about arbitrariness. E.g. there is nothing intrinsic to the word "dog" that fixes its meaning: it gets that from its place in the English language.
      Symbols can also have can have one meaning in one context (e.g. English language) and quite another meaning in a different context (e.g. Roman Numerals): I, V, X, etc.

    > Damasio, refers to it as synonym for ' mental image ' as for ' neural
    > pattern '.
    > His mental image of a specific face is a representation, and the same can be
    > said about the neural patterns which come into being when the brain
    > processes
    > the perceptual- motoric input.
    > Maybe I got more of a problem with the word itself, again Damasio, " the im-
    > plication of its use is not so much its ambiguity but that it suggest that
    > the neural
    > patterns of the mind of the brain " represent " any object in one way of
    > another
    > as it IS_ thus a literal reliability, thus like the structure of the object
    > is copied
    > within the representation."
    > There is no such thing !!

    This seems to be a separate point: it reads to me as though Damasio is talking here about the limitations of human perceptual systems. Of course the ways in which we perceive the world are in many ways limited and distorted. But I don't think this is relevant to the point about how representations carry meaning.

    > So in a way I think you should be careful in how you use the term_ do you
    > comprehend that although we are all biological the same; and any given
    > object
    > can drag certain characteristics out of us and we can assume that our
    > manners
    > of reaction/ respons to it are likely quite the same, that the
    > representation of the
    > artifact we have is then the right one? Although that it isn 't !?

    We may very well all be mistaken about the "true" nature of the thing that we are representing. But again this seems to me tangential to memetics. Memes are units of human culture, which is itself a product of human minds, and so the nature of memetic evolution is bound to be influenced by human limitations.

    E.g. in culture one product may do best because everyone believes it to be superior in a certain way, even though the reality is that it is no better than its rivals (through clever marketing, or whatever). This is analogous to the biological fact that evolution cannot have foresight. Characteristics may be eliminated because they are harmful now, even though they may have had massive benefits in the long run. To put this another way: there is the same gap between "the truth" and the workings of natural selection, as there is between "the truth" and the workings of cultural selection.

    > There is a bunch of correlations by which an internal integrated picture is
    > re-
    > constructed. We reconstruct a sufficient like image about stick to
    > understand
    > eachother. But that doens 't mean that what we ' represent ' points to a
    > reality
    > or is a guarantee for accuracy.
    > That is where ' objectification ' comes in, I suppose_ when we talk about
    > stick
    > in the context of baseball we all know what a kind of object we' re talking
    > about.
    > And that is the only way we even can ' think ' about the object called stick
    > !
    > Without the nominalition, the term that Scott uses, without mastering the
    > nuances
    > and the stratification of our language we can 't come to a descent
    > definition, more-
    > over we wouldn 't understand what stick all can stand for.
    > Thus whatever we can recall/ represent about stick depends upon which kind
    > of
    > linguistic toolbox we have access to. Although, for the most of us stick is
    > quite
    > the same object, but it can be different/ more difficult for someone who is
    > less
    > fluent to get his message across.

    Right - representations get their meaning from their place within a representational system (in this case a language) and you need to grasp the system before you can extract the individual representations' meanings with competence.

    > You need inevitable a certain kind of objectification to uberhaupt represent
    > anything_ I don 't know if the next is the kind of nominalisation where
    > Scott
    > talks about, but giving it a name isn 't sufficient_ we need/ we MUST agree
    > about any possible couched in meaning.
    > You need all of the complex of experiences/ ecpectations/ descriptions/ etc
    > which are never near the truth, which never can/ will pin point down what
    > you really mean_ only tactful/ useful descriptions are possible.
    > Representations!!
    > Is this of some help !?
    > Regards,
    > Kenneth

    Words may have different conotations, or different meanings in different contexts, but this doesn't imply that they have no meaning at all, or that it is impossible to use them to say exactly what you mean.

    Well - I hope not!


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