Re: RS

From: Kate Distin (
Date: Thu 11 May 2006 - 14:01:51 GMT

  • Next message: Price, Ilfryn: "RE: RS"

    Dace wrote:

    >> I agree with your interpretation (below) of what's going on when
    >> watching a game or listening to a piece of music; but I think that there
    >> is something fundamentally different going on when we get our cultural
    >> information via RSs. I think that then there is genuine replication
    >> going on.
    > The problem with this view is that the meme for a piece of music comes
    > across when reading the score but not when listening to it played. It's
    > just not convincing. Clearly, a theory of memetics should explain how the
    > meme gets across either way. So too, a theory of memetics that replaces
    > consciousness with a memeplex is unconvincing. After all, consciousness is
    > self-evident. A theory of memetics that finds memes in the minds of birds
    > is also unconvincing, as it attempts to explain phenomena that can already
    > be handled from a strictly biological standpoint. If memetics is redundant
    > when it comes to birds, why not humans as well? By emphasizing the RS, you
    > establish both a role for reflective consciousness, from which RSs emerge,
    > and a boundary between memetics and biology. For this reason, The Selfish
    > Meme is essential reading, particularly for those who've been led astray by
    > Dennett and Blackmore.
    > I think you've taken two steps forward, but in materializing the RS, you've
    > taken one step back. Such is life!
    > ted

    Well, thank you for the vote of confidence in the book. I think that we're going to continue to disagree about representational systems, because I remain quite comfortable with the idea of their being physical.

    But I think that you raise a good point about music. You're right, of course: it is totally counterintuitive to say that musica doesn't come across when heard. I transcribe simple pieces for my son all the time, on the basis of my retained memory of hearing them in the past, not of seeing their scores. Had I seen and memorised the written music then I'd be able to replicate it for him. As it is, what he gets is an approximation of the tune he wants, which he can play in C major with his thumbs centred on the piano's middle C. But nonetheless he does get the basics of the tune.

    So now I am puzzling about this. One option is that music as hummed, sung or played must also be an RS, just as language can be either spoken or written. But I'm not entirely comfortable with this account, because when I hum a note, e.g. middle C, it does not feel intuitively as if I am representing information /about/ middle C. It feels like what I'm humming simply /is/ Middle C. And you have reminded me, quite rightly, that once we start constructing theories which completely undermine/deny the phenomena we set out to explain, we're onto a loser.

    Another option - which I'm tending towards - is that played/sung music is not representational at all. It is behavioural - by which I mean it's just something that we do, not something that we say. When I copy the tune you have just played or sung, I am imitating your behaviour - it's no different from when I copy your way of rolling out pastry or the way you wear your baseball cap. There are of course different levels of imitation, and on this view the imitation of a tune is on pretty much the same level as the imitation of clapping or waving. Strictly speaking we don't really need memetics to account for it, although it is part of a bigger picture in which there are also more complex elements for which memetics is a useful explanation. I think that memetics does leave room for elements of human culture that are non-memetic (in the sense of being just low-level behavioural imitation). Non-representational things in which there is no distinction between information and its effects because they're not 'about' anything, they just /are/.

    And maybe there are elements of baseball games that are like this too. I mean that even I could probably try to copy how a bat is swung or a ball is caught/thrown. But I wouldn't do it with any level of understanding. I'd be pretty much a bluetit pecking at the milk. But in order to start to understand what was going on, information has to come in from somewhere. And at this point I still want to maintain that observers bring it into the game rather than getting it from the game. For one thing, I don't think that the reproduction is as predictable as Richard suggests. I personally could watch almost any sport for as long as you'd like me to, without gaining any inkling of the rules (or the point). Hence Richard's comment about how most people have never read the rule book - people's interpretation of what's going on will vary, even when they play the game. Any similarity between their understanding of the rules, and the rules as written in the rule book, comes from what they bring to the game and reconstruct for themselves, rather than from the game itself.

    Now, we humans are so good at doing this - at reconstructing and inferring - that in a sense it doesn't matter whether we call it 'real' replication or not. Much of the same information gets across, whatever the mechanism. Where I maintain that it /does/ matter, is at the level of a theoretical analysis of what's going on here. Because unless you keep the replicator-phenotype distinction sharp then memetics will flounder.

    I think.


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