Re: RS

From: Dace (
Date: Wed 26 Apr 2006 - 21:13:42 GMT

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    > From: Kate Distin <>
    > Subject: Re: RS string
    > Dace wrote:
    > >
    > > As Katie would point out,

    Whoops. I was thinking of Katie Couric. Two reasons: she's in the news here because she's taking over Tom Brokaw's slot at NBC, the first woman ever to anchor for a major US network, and second, because I've been swamped at work in the last week with interviews conducted by Couric and other Today Show staff from the late 90s. (This is for a TV show about serial killers, iincluding Andrew Cunanan and the Columbine killers from that era). So I'm constantly hearing the name Katie as I transcribe the interviews. Hence the mutant meme.

    > > only the rules, taken as an abstraction outside
    > > the context of any given game, would constitute an RS. If you learn
    > > baseball from a rulebook, then the baseball meme has been transferred.
    > I'm not convinced that baseball rules do constitute an RS.

    Nor am I claiming they do. The RS in question is natural language. It's via language that the rules of baseball are expressed. I agree with your thesis, as expressed in *The Selfish Meme* (Distin, CUP, 2005) that memes exist only in the context of an RS. But the fundamental RS is not language or musical or mathematical notation, etc., but conceptual thought itself. It's because we share a conceptual RS that the baseball meme can be imparted by watching baseball games and reflecting on what we're seeing rather than consulting a rulebook that imparts the meme on the basis of the RS of natural language. So long as musician and listener share roughly the same aesthetic RS, the meme for a tune can can come across just as easily by hearing it as reading a score. The difference, of course, is that conceptual or aesthetic thought cannot be directly expressed outside the mind. Instead, a subsidiary RS, such as natural language or musical notation, must be employed. This gives the impression that the text or the score is essential to the passage of the meme. It is not.

    > I'm finding it hard, I have to confess, to get a grip on your
    > understanding of information. On the one hand, of course I agree with
    > you that information is purely the product of the human mind. Without
    > the mind, without understanding and interpretation, information is
    > lost. I see ball over fence, because I don't have the baseball
    > information. You see home run, because you do.

    Note that both of us see the ball go over the fence.

    > I see some words on a
    > page, because I can read English. A monolingual Punjabi-speaker, or a
    > pre-literate child, sees bits of ink arranged in a particular order.

    You and the child both see ink arranged in a particular order. Only with the mental background you bring to your sensory experience is the arrangement of ink translated into "words."

    > BUT the words do also exist on the page. There has to be something for
    > me to interpret.

    Of course. And that something is ink.

    > I don't just make up what I see.

    Well, naturally. The ink is, after all, physically real. Physics is about matter and energy. When you claim that the words exist on the page, you're saying these are elements of the physical world, that physics includes
    "word" and "representation" as quantifiable concepts. Certainly, this is not any kind of physics that Galileo, Newton or Einstein would have recognized.

    > The words hold the
    > information until the next person comes along and interprets them.
    > Extracts the information from them, if you like.

    It's precisely because it's only ink and not a word that it must be
    *interpreted* as such. Rather than extract information from the ink, the reader generates the information appropriate to that arrangement of ink in the context of the shared RS (language) of writer and reader. Rather than literally conveying the information, the arrangement of ink merely facilitates its reproduction from one mind to another. At no point is the information physical. At no point does it materialize in the form of an artifact, such as a book of rules or a musical score, in its passage from mind to mind. Yet the information still gets across. So too, the fundamental RS of conceptual thought enables memes to transmit without even the appearance of material conveyence. Thus the baseball meme is transmitted without recourse to a rulebook, and (on the basis of aesthetic thought) the tune meme transmits without recourse to a musical score. Like memes themselves, the relevant RS is always mental, even if it happens in some cases to appear to be materialized.


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