Re: Information

From: wilkins (wilkins@wehi.EDU.AU)
Date: Thu May 03 2001 - 04:20:04 BST

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    From: wilkins <wilkins@wehi.EDU.AU>
    Organization: The Walter & Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research
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    Subject: Re: Information
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    > On 2 May 2001, at 21:13, wrote:
    > > On 3 May 2001, at 11:11, wilkins wrote:
    > >
    > > > 4. the semiotic or intentional account of the Peircians, Meinongians
    > > > and other representationalists.
    > > >
    > > > So far as memetics is concerned, only the first three are relevant
    > > > (it matters not a whit is the information being transmitted is true,
    > > > coherent or in any way of significance to any audience, so long as
    > > > it spreads through a population).
    > > >
    > > > If something is a measurement of some state distinct from the
    > > > observer, then that information (ie, the error implicit in the
    > > > measurement) is a physical mapping of what's in the head to what's
    > > > in the world. However, it fails to be memetic information until it
    > > > is transmitted, and then senses 2 and 3 come into play, so we can
    > > > ignore the two extremes: "objective" information in the sense of
    > > > accuracy of measurement, and "subjective" information in terms of
    > > > what something means within the head of a semantically or
    > > > semiotically capable system (ie, some person) and concentrate
    > > > instead on the dynamics of information transmission and the
    > > > evolution of the signals so transmitted.
    > >
    > I forgot to add that the way we have supposed that we tell that two
    > memes are different is that they inspire different behavors and/or
    > possess different meanings, but behavior alone might not be
    > sufficient to distinguish between memes. Imagine two cults; one
    > believes that if you dance you will assure yourself of heaven, and
    > the other believes that if you dance you will assure your fellow
    > beings of heaven. The actions of both will be indistinguishable until
    > the speak about what motivates their dancing, selfishness or
    > altruism, a difference between the meanings motivating the
    > behavior, not the behavior itself.
    > > >
    > > Actually, #4 is VERY important, for it is significance, or meaning,
    > > that comprises a meme; that is what is propagated. Behaviors and
    > > discourse, the engines of imitation, MEAN something to those doing or
    > > saying them. A meme is the selfsame meme regardless of whether it is
    > > performed, spoken or written; it is not the code or carrier which
    > > matter (although one kind or another must obtain, which is of no
    > > consequence), but the content; that is, memetic identity is a matter
    > > of semantics and pragmatics, not syntactics.

    This is what I call the Intentional Fallacy (in reverse homage to
    Dennett). What matters is not whether or not something is significant or
    meaningful, only how it is transmitted relatively to other messages. In
    short, what counts is the "fitness" of a meme/message. This is not to
    say that meaning is not intrinsically interesting, or that it is
    non-existent - it clearly isn't. But what is the *memetic* take on a
    message? In short, just its relative frequency in a population and the
    dynamics of how it is being spread.

    I would ask, apropos of the dancing example (nice counterexample, BTW) -
    how can *you* the memeticist distinguish between the two behaviours if
    there is no (linguistic or other behavioural) difference discernable? So
    far as you the memeticist are concerned, there's just the dancing
    behaviour. And if it does have this semantic difference, won't it
    exhibit that in other behaviours? What we examine from the perspective
    of memetics (or as I call it, cultural Darwinism, for reasons that
    aren't relevant here), are the ways in which different cultural items of
    some kind are differentially spread, and so the overall
    population/cultural structure evolves.

    The *least* important thing about even the most significant meme or idea
    is what it actually means, from a cultural Darwinian perspective.
    Meaning is not sitting there nicely tagged on each actor's ID badge to
    be inspected. All you have are observables.

    John Wilkins, Head, Communication Services, The Walter and Eliza Hall 
    Institute of Medical Research, Melbourne, Australia
    Homo homini aut deus aut lupus - Erasmus of Rotterdam

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