Re: Definition, Please

From: Ray Recchia (
Date: Mon Nov 26 2001 - 12:25:51 GMT

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    Dear Wade,

             I suppose this post as good as any to start. I could go with the
    post about the sneezing but since that was 50 or so posts ago I guess I had
    better grab something more recent.

    Example 1

    The kopak tree is a fruiting tree which has trunk covered with
    thorns. In order to get to the top of the tree to get the fruit,
    chimpanzees have been observed ripping smooth branches from tree, placing
    one piece under each foot and the climbing the tree with the small branches
    protecting their feet. At the top of the tree, the chimp will then grab
    another smooth branch and place it beneath themselves using the branch as

    Are the branches memes? If not, why not?

    Example 2

    Similar to the first one. Adult chimpanzees break open nuts by placing
    them on one rock and smacking them with another. After repeated use on
    different occasions the rocks that the nuts are placed on acquire
    indentations making it more convenient to hold the nut in them. The
    technique for holding the nut in place and striking require the strength of
    an adult chimpanzee to work and takes quite a bit of practice to
    perfect. Younger chimpanzees lacking the strength to actually break open
    the nuts never-the-less 'mimic' their parents and practice this without
    actually being able to break open the nuts (I'll avoid 'imitate' since
    you've defined it so that it requires a something called 'volition' which
    you only attribute to humans). Not all tribes of chimpanzees have acquired
    the nut cracking technique.

    Are the rocks memes? If not, why not?

    Does this mean that bird or insect nests are memes? How do you
    differentiate those things from human artifacts without examining the
    mental state of the creator?

    While I'm posting I had better address this 'use' vs. 'meme' thing head
    on. I might be incorrect in understanding what you offering as difference
    but what I took from it was that because an organism is capable of engaging
    in a behavior as a result of its inherent abilities the fact that it has no
    evolutionary implications. A human with no interaction with other humans
    would still have the vocal capacity to utter the 'The Star Spangled
    Banner'. It would however, probably take several billion years for the
    human to stumble on that exact combination on its own. Similarly, the
    earth has the chemicals and energies sufficient to produce a human without
    any evolutionary process occurring at all but the odds of it happening are
    impossibly slim. The fact is that although these capacities are there an
    evolutionary process is necessary to produce these results in any
    reasonable period of time.

    This is the essence of evolutionary phenomena Wade: incremental
    acquisition of characteristics. Reproduction, variation, and selection
    producing greater fitness. Pattern at state 'A' produces offspring, those
    offspring are selected for and a state 'B' survives and reproduces. One of
    the offspring of 'B' is 'C' which is more fit than 'A' or 'B'. Evolution
    occurs if state 'B' is more likely to produce 'C' than 'A' is.

    No artifacts are required to produce a 'B' that is capable of producing a
    more fit 'C'. The difference rests in probability not possibility. An
    organism may be capable of producing more fit behavior or idea 'C' on its
    own but if the acquisition of the idea or behavior 'B' (aka a 'meme') is
    more likely to result in 'C' 's production then an evolutionary process has
    taken place.

    Ray Recchia

    At 11:17 PM 11/25/2001 -0500, you wrote:
    >Hi Philip A.E. Jonkers -
    > >Anyway, I'm dwelling, it doesn't mean that the
    > >theory is basically wrong or not fruitful.
    >Nor do I think so. Parsing the trail of a meme seems to me to be highly
    >wonderful. Introducing the cultural quanta of a meme itself is
    >delightful. It's just where we put it that's up in the air.
    > >It seems that
    > >you have little faith in the prospect of memetics being able to explain all
    > >the diversity of our culture. What propels you to proclaim such a
    > >heretic vision?
    >I have little faith (well, I'm not a faithful person at all, ever) in
    >anything other than sociobiology to do so, especially when the definition
    >of the word culture itself is a filthy mess. It was very nice, indeed, to
    >have a quantum of culture, to call it a meme, and then to march on, until
    >I came up against the fog created by the absence of a solid definition of
    >So, I give to biology all that might be biology's- birdsong and spider's
    >webs and termite mounds and even language, maybe. But, since we have
    >artifacts, made only by humans, before us, then those are special things,
    >deserving of special names. (Hey, unless they're not- unless it's all an
    >illusion, culture, human uniqueness, artifacts- it may be that that shiny
    >new Lexus in your garage is just the new mutant aphid of your symbiotic
    >colony, and all your behaviors to purchase it just the call of the
    >queen's chemtrails.)
    >Coming down on the side of artifact memes (and artifact memes only),
    >don't seem to me to be heretical at all- in fact, I'm pretty sure it's
    >one of only three choices that are available- either memes are inside, or
    >outside, or some combination of the two. After wrestling with various
    >explanations of all three, and then wrestling with the way they interact
    >with other models of life, the universe, and everything, I cut out the
    >crap with Occam's razor, and I was left with choice number one- memes are
    >outside and artifactual, period. What's inside is something else. Human
    >evolution requires sexual reproduction, and the only way memetic
    >evolution could happen would require a sexual component as well.
    >And, so far, sex is physical. And so far, memes are physical. Interior
    >sex is, well, impossible. Lust as much as you want in your heart, but, it
    >won't make a child.
    >That ain't saying that memetic processes don't _involve_ what happens in
    >the mind, since, sure, putting one foot before the other is still a
    >brain/body process, but, I don't see any need to put a meme in there,
    >And, well, I was just getting more and more confused whenever I tried to
    >put any there. Right now, keeping them artifactual is enlightening to me.
    >Perhaps someone will kick me into internal memes, but, it seems like a
    >hard push to shove, and I don't see any science about to do it, and I
    >like science.
    >But there ain't nothing so ridiculous that some _philosopher_ won't say
    >- Wade

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