Re: Fwd: Familiar images make false impressions

From: Philip Jonkers (
Date: Thu Jun 21 2001 - 15:31:00 BST

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    Subject: Re: Fwd: Familiar images make false impressions
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    Interesting stuff Wade,

    The main question that popped into my mind was:
    Why images, which turned out to be so inappropriate, oversimplified
    and erroneous, prevailed so gloriously among the masses even until now?

    Let's try and tackle this question by analyzing two examples
    you came to mention in the story you forwarded.

    The first example is the one about the archetypical conception of
    the caveman. One has to realize that the caveman-image
    saw the light only shortly after Darwin's evolutionary theory began
    to gain ground by the popular masses. Prior to Darwin, the conception
    of early man was without hairy and animal-like appearance, the fashionable
    images of early humans were more like clean biblical figures.
    Embracing a theory advocating humans and apes to have had a
    common ancestor conjured up images of early humans having animal-like
    or ape-like looks. Any image, be it singular
    and premature, produced to portray early humans consistent with this
    ape-like preconception had no trouble in finding broad acceptance.
    As soon as Darwin's theory became popular this is exactly what happened, the
    general acceptance of a raw ape-like image of humans substituted the clean
    biblical alternative. In memetic terms, the raw human image
    is a meme which fitted perfectly in the advancing Darwin-evolutionary theory
    memeplex. The caveman image meme, being perfectly compatible with the Darwin
    memeplex, was therefore readily absorbed into the Darwin memeplex.
    Consequently, the success of the Darwin memeplex correlated highly with
    the success of the, albeit premature, image of the caveman.

    The success of the oversimplified visual model of the atom is analogous.
    During the days of the old quantum theory in the early 1900s the notion
    of the atom consisting of a nucleus surrounded by electrons had only just
    been established. Prior to this conception the prevailing model of the
    atom, due to Dalton if I'm not mistaken, was that of a spheroid in which
    electrons were more-or-less distributed randomly and statically.
    It was through the experimental efforts of Rutherford and the theoretical
    audacity of Bohr that this model was aborted and replaced by a more
    planetary alternative. The comparison with a solar planetary model was accepted
    by the large audience since it firmly captured, like the caveman image,
    the imagination once again. People all knew how to imagine a planetary model,
    ever since the Copernicus' planetary model became fashionable.
    As such, the planetary model was successful because it was simple to copy
    reliably (high fidelity) and fitted easily in the world notion of many
    (high fecundity). Longevity came automatically.

    This simplicity and compatibility mechanism, I think, lies at the basis
    of the successes of both memes. Both are simple to remember and easy to
    replicate reliably and both fitted easily in the memeplexes they were
    made for. I think that the more reliable alternatives to such images
    which should prevail today fail in success because they are too complicated.
    The more complicated and hard to replicate a meme is, in spite of its
    justification, the less fecundity and fidelity it displays.

    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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