Re: "Abstract" Memes?

From: Ben Dawson (
Date: Sat 03 Dec 2005 - 18:34:59 GMT

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    On Sat, 03 Dec 2005 12:12:30 +0000, you wrote:

    >Ben Dawson wrote:
    >> 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.
    >> It's external realisation is in the form of books and blueprints.
    >> These two types of representation support each other. A meme could not
    >> easily spread from passive copies of itself alone. A tune, represented
    >> in a book as a musical score would not spread if the book was never
    >> read and nobody was familiar with the tune. On the other hand, if
    >> memes only existed internally, with no external representations, memes
    >> in their present cultural environment would not be as fecund. To use
    >> your words, "external representations play an essential role in
    >> memetic replication".
    >> A meme has a phenotypic effect, in the same way as the gene has a
    >> phenotypic effect in the body which it builds. A meme’s phenotypic
    >> effects are internal and external.
    >> The internal phenotypic effect is in the thoughts and behaviour of the
    >> person. For example, the meme for Santa Claus could affect the child's
    >> mind by making the child feel happy or excited.
    >> The external phenotypic effect is realised on the environment. You
    >> give the examples of bridges, forms of poetry, methods of central
    >> heating, models of the double helix...
    >> Would you say this is an accurate summary?
    >> Ben
    >Yes, I'd say that is very accurate. If this is your level of
    >understanding of your subject then I'd say you have nothing to worry
    >about in the question-and-answer session after your talk. You know a
    >lot more about your topic than your audience does and if any of them
    >does ask you a question that really makes you rethink something then
    >that's very valuable in the long run (increasing your understanding);
    >and I'd imagine that in the short run it can only improve how you're
    >assessed if you can enter into an open-minded discussion about that
    >particular point. It certainly won't serve to undermine your overall
    >credibility, as you clearly have a good grasp of your subject.
    >Hope it goes well!

    Thanks, Kate - that's really helpful.

    I share your physicalist viewpoint on the nature of memes. In my view, for an idea to be present, it must surely, at some level, in some form, be physically contained in a person's brain, even if the current level of knowledge of the brain is not at the stage where we know exactly how such ideas are realised. Interestingly though - and you're probably aware of this already - I came across a guy named Juan Delius earlier. He's a neurophysiologist who has in fact hypothesised what a meme would actually look like in a person's brain.

    I think the book is excellent by the way, and striking in the clarity of logic. I find your arguments against Dennett and Blackmore particularly convincing.


    >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)

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