Re: legend of Greyfriar's Bobby

From: Chris Taylor (
Date: Thu 26 Jan 2006 - 14:18:09 GMT

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    So this taps into (good cat gag btw) a couple of linked deep deep questions, on a par almost with consciousness:

    Why do we laugh, and why do we cry?

    To follow the line from some recent posts of mine, to some extent this is about the interface between the biological human and the memetic human. Laughing, crying (yawning, red-faced embarrassment, micturition maybe) seem to be there as ways to expose the undissembled deep truth from a person -- it is _very_ hard and takes practice for our memetic teleo selves to be able to cover/prevent these reactions, especially when caught off-guard, so in that sense I see these sorts of things as ways to bypass the problem of easy lying in a social situation. And as before I see some sort of resonance-based trigger here. A strong component of triggering laughter is surprise or unusualness (the same thing really); this could be assessed for a ~meme in a generic manner (i.e. there must be things about surprising newness that can be detected without knowing the specifics). Probably this is learned though in a sense; the laughter response prolly has a big midbrain component, but I bet the association with particular memes comes from reuse/integration of some baby-era memes that picked up the original association more frequently than someting wiring into that resource anew.

    Crying too, at the noble acts of another, or at tragedy, or even in joy is very confusing. There is obvious value to a hard-to-fake social signal that says 'I'm really upset' but what is upsetting and why broadcast it? Is it as simple as a 'busy' hourglass icon on a computer screen that informs the user that the computer is rather absorbed with something and won't be as responsive as you'd have hoped (so go get someone else to help skin the damned mammoth *sniff*). Maybe the empathy-style modelling of the situation you are confronted with is either so
    'charged' or so complex in its ramifications (i.e. thorugh its resonances with things already in your head -- I know once I had kids any images of distressed kids immediately hit me a thousand times harder than before) as to render one's brain 'full' for a time?

    And why empathise with animals? Natural to anthropmorphise I suppose, as we disussed recently (and generally the person you pretend they might be, especially dogs, is more a kid than not, which probably just accentuates it). And the loyalty of dogs is legendary; we're almost a lichen (dogs and humans); certainly they are credited by some as the reason for us having a very poor sense of smell (we relied on dogs so heavily that ours became pointless). We must have become very very coadapted
    (memetically and biologically) over the tens of thousands of years we have been acquainted; the epistasis/fixedness idea that came out through various analogies a few days ago. Many of our cultural features (many not directly 'dog-related') will favour the continuing partnership, and presumably dogs have become ever more adapted to our needs (latterly as pets). Behaviour can be bred in; and what about dog memes from parents, litter mates and doggy friends?

    Parting thought: Maybe there's something about our condition that means that we like others who we perceive to be aspiring to be like us (not to demean/degrade us but...)? This would be a good fundamental meme rule as it has two practical benefits: 1) like minds = fertile soil 2) like minds are easier have more easily predicted behaviour.

    Cheers, Chris.

    Scott Chase wrote:
    > I was watching a show called "A Dog's Life" on the cable channel Science
    > Channel this morning and one segment introduced the Scottish legend of a
    > Skye terrier named Bobby that was so devoted to its master that after he
    > died of tuberculosis, the dog kept a graveside vigil for many years
    > until its own death. The story was a basis for a 1961 film.
    > The legend itself could be construed as memetic. But, beyond that, what
    > is it about such stories that have an emotional impact upon people. I
    > admit to geting choked up as I watched the depiction of the terrier's
    > behavior on TV. There's gotta be something innate in this phenomonon,
    > that such altruistic acts can result in a deeply felt emotional
    > reaction. We are affected by stories of selfless bravery, such as that
    > of former US Cavalry soldier Rick Rescorla who died saving the people
    > working for his company in the World Trade Center on September 11th.
    > Being emotionally impacted by accounts of human bravery shows some
    > innate response to acts of altruism, but why are we so afftacted by
    > selflessness in animals too. And what about the other side of the
    > terrier's story. What is it in a dog that would cause it to be so
    > devoted that it stays put long after its master has passed away? Is this
    > due to the innate aspects of pack behavior, where a dog will look up to
    > the alpha of the pack? Would a dog stay by the death spot of a fellow
    > pack member for such a long time? I've heard something of how elephants
    > return to bones of their deceased, but what about dogs? Surely the
    > legend of Greyfriar's Bobby falls outside the norm for typical dog
    > behavior.
    > I do recall a comedian who said something to the effect that upon an
    > owners death a dog would feel upset as the coroner takes the body away,
    > but a cat would play with the toe tag.
    > The bottom line is that despite an innate predilection for self-centered
    > behavior, both humans and dogs seem to have a sense of devotion that
    > crosses species boundaries. Stories about dogs are very popular and seem
    > to hit us somewhere deep within our psyche, such as the tragedy of "Old
    > Yeller". Does the supposedly neotenic cuteness of dogs impact us like
    > that of babies? Does a relationship with a dog dupe us into entering
    > some sort of pseudo-parental response, not too far removed from the
    > explanation of why people care for adopted and foster children not
    > related to them. Are we merely a pack leader in the dog's eyes, the
    > latter possibly regressing to innate patterns if it becomes a stray and
    > meets up with a pack of feral dogs, following the alpha of that pack and
    > forgetting its owner?
    > ===============================================================
    > This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the
    > Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
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    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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