Re: Memes inside brain

From: Bill Spight (
Date: Sun Oct 07 2001 - 19:26:24 BST

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    From: Bill Spight <>
    Subject: Re: Memes inside brain
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    > > Please do not assume that imitation is copying, nor that imitation is
    > > the only way that memes are reproduced. Consider the complaint of the
    > > young mother that she is treating her children in ways that her mother
    > > treated her that she hates. This is a fairly clear case of memetic
    > > inheritance, but there is no evidence of imitation.
    > Hi Bill,
    > How do you see this memetic inheritance come about !?

    In the main, through learning. It is neither necessary nor desirable,
    IMO, to restrict that learning to imitation.

    In the case of artifacts and texts, it also comes about throught
    material copying.

    > Do genes play a role and if yes, how without any former, than " her mother "
    > memetical input in her child !?

    Genes have a tremendous impact on learning, in a wide variety of ways.
    For instance, the capacity for language is genetic, and language
    moderates learning. Parameters of perception are genetic, and have an
    obvious effect. We can't learn what we can't perceive. The role of
    instinct in learning is complex. One example is that, while it is
    possible to induce phobias for bunnies and phobias for snakes, snake
    phobias are more easily induced and are harder to extinguish. That
    difference is genetic. Tendencies of focus and attention, which
    obviously affect learning, have a genetic basis. Further, what Durham
    ("Coevolution") calls primary values are biologically based. These
    values play an obvious role in memetic selection.

    > There has to be some memetic input somewhere, no !? Where and how !?

    As I pointed out, memes include not only behaviors, but the conditions
    for those behaviors. (I am not excluding other types of memes, but I
    think that in the main they may be represented as situation-response
    pairs. This is in line with the modern anthropological view of culture
    as comprised of rules for behavior. See Clifford Geertz.) The behaviors
    may be imitated, at least imperfectly, but the conditions must be picked
    up by inference or instruction. So the main memetic input is observed
    behavior, but instruction in some form needs to be there for the
    transmission of many memes.

    The problem I was pointing out is theoretical. When I first read
    Dawkins' "The Selfish Gene," I thought that he thought of memes as
    residing in the culture. That is not the same thing as residing in
    people's brains. Then the meme as a manifest cultural component, such as
    a TV jingle or a saying or a way of doing something, could be manifested
    again by another person or group of people. The transmission from
    manifestation to manifestation could reasonably be termed "imitation".
    Imitation would include learning, OC, but would not be specific about
    how the learning took place.

    Later I found out that he conceived of memes as residing in brains. Now
    imitation does not seem to be a good way to talk about the transmission
    of the unmanifest meme in person A's brain to the unmanifest meme in
    person B's brain. For instance, suppose that chef A makes a certain dish
    in a certain way, then writes down the recipe and sends it to chef B.
    Chef B, following the recipe, makes the dish in the same way as chef A,
    with the same result. That would seem to be memetic transmission, but
    where is the imitation? If the meme resides in chef B's brain, it has to
    be there before he makes the dish. What if he learns the recipe and then
    dies before making the dish? How is his brain any different before
    making the dish than after doing so? Does he not have the meme until the
    act of making the dish?



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