Re: Review of The Selfish Meme

From: Kate Distin (
Date: Thu 07 Jul 2005 - 14:13:59 GMT

  • Next message: William Benzon: "Evolution of Norms"

    Kenneth Van Oost wrote:
    > ----- Original Message -----
    > From: Kate Distin <>
    >>>Kate wrote,
    >>>There are several different issues here. First there are questions of
    >>truth: if truth is roughly-speaking a mapping to reality, and you're
    >>claiming that this is never possible, then there's a kind of circular
    >>argument going on which undermines itself - because if we can never
    >>attain the truth then how can we know that the statement "we can never
    >>attain the truth" is true? This taps into a vast philosophical debate
    >>about the nature of truth, of course . . . thankfully rather off-topic.
    >>Secondly, there's the question what precisely we are meant to be trying
    >>to say, which language can't quite manage. Are you claiming that our
    >>"real" thoughts are in some sort of mentalese, to which natural
    >>languages only approximate? In which case again I'm getting the
    >>sensation of being on thin ice over deep philosophical waters (off-topic
    >>also I'm hoping).
    > <<< Yes, oh so true (sic), we' re getting too deep into philosophical
    > arguments if we keep followin ' this road, but yes I do think that language
    > can only approximate what we claim to be the real truth of what we' re
    > saying.
    > But not only of what we want to express vocally_ there are times we
    > ain 't got the proper words to express what we feel:- getting older can
    > for some be a very painful experience. Loosing your children, the loss
    > of social/ economical status; the physical/ psychological distress; the
    > sense of knowing death awaits; the loss of friends and of those close
    > to you- are part of a normal/ natural process, but how will you express
    > all of these deep emotional discourses !? With words !? Into language !?
    > What words, which language can/ will be sufficient to say what you
    > really feel on the day your son/ daughter leaves home to start a life of
    > his/ her own !?
    > You can say it with so many words possible, in such a way that all its very
    > understandable for the ones close to you, but is it the truth, the whole tru
    > th
    > and nothing but the truth !? Is what you said, in the real sense, that
    > exactly
    > what you wanted to express !? I doubt that !
    > The notion that inevitable you can 't say what you exactly wanted to
    > express,
    > leads in the end to a kind of depressive- like- suffering, a lonely place
    > where
    > we all end up someday, or have been in the past.
    > What you wrote in your book, made sense to you and although it did too for
    > all of us, we' re all left with questions; we interpretate, represent things
    > where
    > in the first place ( your place) there was no need to.
    > Ain 't you getting ' sick', frustrated of all of my off- topic or not
    > questions,
    > ain 't you getting a little bit deprest realizing that the words you used
    > aren 't
    > making the intented sense to me or to one other !?
    > That is what I claim language can 't manage !
    > Words have such power that if someone masters language an alternative
    > construction of experiences can that be convincing as the event itself.
    > We can only reflect on our experience with linguistic tools_ we can only
    > ' think ' about what we experience with the help of words_ and in such
    > a way that we become victims of our own mastering of language.
    > It can seem that we ( you) tell everything what can be told, that what
    > we tell ourselves about reality IS the reality !!
    >>I share your sense that when somebody tells us something they can only
    >>possibly give us their own idiosyncratic version of events or theories,
    >>and that when we absorb that information and re-express it for ourselves
    >>there is an inevitble risk of distortion. Siblings' recollections of
    >>shared childhood events can be startlingly diverse and even
    >>contradictory. But this isn't about language failing to capture
    >>meaning, is it? Rather, it seems to me that it's about the limits on
    >>memory, and how we as individuals always filter experiences through our
    >>own self-interest, prejudices and limited powers of understanding and
    > <<< Language doesn 't fail to capture meaning no, it doesn ' can 't
    > capture enough !
    > The word ' hurt ' like in your example, can 't convey what you think
    > my kid did to yours and can 't convey the meaning/ consequentions to
    > and for me !
    > Memory have nothing to do with this, memory just works well if we
    > want to recall/ represent what hurting a kid means for both parties
    > involved. Interesting would be to look into something like a meme-
    > act; following Austins speech- acts, and try to figure out why you and
    > I filter different things out regarding the hurting of your kid.
    > That is where ' the meme ' is, IMO !!
    > Regards,
    > Kenneth

    Leo Tolstoy, "War and Peace", Book 2, Part 3, Chapter 7, penultimate paragraph:
    "At that meeting he was struck for the first time by the endless variety of men's minds, which prevents a truth from ever presenting itself identically to two persons. Even those members who seemed to be on his side understood him in their own way, with limitations and alterations he could not agree to, as what he always wanted most was to convey his thought to others just as he himself understood it."
    [Translation by Louise and Alymer Maude]

    I'm with Tolstoy on this - and indeed with a much earlier story-teller, Author of the parable of the sower . . . One of the key reasons why meaning gets lost or twisted is not the memes but the minds that deal with them. Memetic context is vital, and this will vary from mind to mind, as will the sort of emotional response that individual memes provoke in each person's mind.

    I don't think this really contradicts what you say - I suspect that we just look at it from different angles.


    =============================================================== This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing) see:

    This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Thu 07 Jul 2005 - 14:31:48 GMT