Re: "Abstract" Memes?

From: Scott Chase (
Date: Sat 03 Dec 2005 - 15:37:42 GMT

  • Next message: Ben Dawson: "Re: "Abstract" Memes?"

    >From: Kate Distin <>
    >Subject: Re: "Abstract" Memes?
    >Date: Sat, 03 Dec 2005 12:12:30 +0000
    >Ben Dawson wrote:
    >>On Wed, 30 Nov 2005 11:52:51 +0000, you wrote:
    >>>Davi Johnson wrote:
    >>>>Things like songs, making shoes and chipping rock (or hanging Xmas trees
    >>>>upside down--just read about this in the AJC and it screamed "meme" to
    >>>>me) seem to me to be more "material" than abstract concepts or ideas,
    >>>>easier to understand as concrete practices. For the abstract ideas, I am
    >>>>stuck on how to identify what might define them as "meme." (They
    >>>>definitely influence behavior, and they do seem to replicate).
    >>>There isn't any essential difference between the memes in all of these
    >>>cases - all are portions of information - but some have more concrete
    >>>phenotypic effects than others. Memes like equality have their 'essence'
    >>>pinpointed by dictionaries, which carefully delineate these memes'
    >>>varying usages and content across time and context.
    >>>What defines them, and any other meme, as 'meme' is that they are
    >>>portions of representational content. In other words they are
    >>>representions of a particular chunk of information.
    >>>Information can be complex as well as simple. This is reflected in the
    >>>varying lengths of definition of words in dictionaries; in the density of
    >>>notes on a stave; in the number of symbols in a mathematical or chemical
    >>>equation; etc.
    >>Kate -
    >>I am interested in this "representational content" you frequently
    >>refer to. This is the one of the parts of your book I found the most
    >>difficult to grasp, although I think I now understand it correctly.
    >>I'm going to include a section on your viewpoints in my presentation
    >>next week, but can I check that I have in fact understood you
    >>correctly. This is my take on what I've read so far:
    >>A meme consists of some representational content; that is, information
    >>which can be represented. A meme is simply a representation of a
    >>portion of information, which may be realised internally within the
    >>mind, or externally.
    >>(Q: in it's internal realisation, am I correct in thinking that you
    >>mean that it is realised, as Dawkins puts it "as a structure in the
    >>nervous systems of individual men the world over"? ie as an actual
    >>physical structure inside the human brain, albeit in a form that is
    >>unknown to us?)
    >I'm not a neurophysiologist so I don't know what goes on, physically
    >speaking, inside the human brain. I can see how my words are represented
    >on paper or a screen, and hear how they are represented when I say them,
    >but I've no idea how they are actually represented inside my head. What
    >happens is physical, yes, I'd agree. I'm not a dualist. But that's about
    >as far as I'm qualified to go.
    I'm no neurophysiologist either so this is pretty much just an historically relevant hobby horse of mine, but when Dawkins et al verge upon the territory of memory research they need to be more cautious. There is a definite history to the search for memory traces that existed well before Dawkins's book where he coined the term meme. Juan Delius adds some speculation of his own, even titling a subsection of one of his papers
    "Mnemobiology and memes", yet commits a bit of historic injustice. Dawkins finally addresses Semon's priority in _A Devil's Chaplain_, but probably muddles the picture by attributing Semon's coinage to Hering (see my previous posts on this).

    If memeticists start treading upon the territory of memory researchers they need to realize there's already been work done, just as there had been in cultural anthropology well before 1976.

    And if memeticists really want to see the novelty wear off they should read Julian Huxley's ruminations on his coinage of noogenetics. There should be some priority established with Huxley's views, especially given his stature.

    =============================================================== 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 : Sat 03 Dec 2005 - 15:56:07 GMT