RE: Definition please

From: Ray Recchia (
Date: Tue Nov 27 2001 - 02:03:13 GMT

  • Next message: Wade T.Smith: "RE: Definition please"

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    On 11/26/01 07:25, Ray Recchia said this-

    >>Are the branches memes? If not, why not?

    >Were these chimps observed without prior human contact? I have to know
    >about the protocol of this observation to give it credence.

    I seriously doubt that a chimpanzee gripping branches in its prehensile
    toes and using them to protect its feet was something that it learned from
    a human. Unless it was a very special human.

    In any case the observations were made by a primatologist named Rosalind
    Alp and were reported in 'American Journal of Primatology' 41, 45-52
    (1997). I haven't read the original. I quoting it as an excerpt from
    'Wild Minds' (2000) page 21 by Marc Hauser, a professor at Harvard.

    >Likewise for the other example. But, I won't go out on a limb and say
    >there _aren't_ memes there- I'm just not convinced we have an unbiased or
    >untampered set of observations- or just like the hundreth monkey- a hoax.
    >(Or Sheldrake, but that's another issue... or is it?)

    The other example I got comes from 'The Ape and the Sushi Master' (2001) by
    Frans de Waal. I am not particularly familiar with who is and is not a
    credible primatologist but his biography claims that he works at Emory
    University, runs a center for primatology, and is regarded as one of the
    leading authorities on the subject. Blurbs on the back are from
    individuals at Stanford and George Mason University. His bibliography
    lists a few other books and publications in 'Science' and 'Nature'.

    Apparently recorded observations of the nut cracking behavior go back to
    the 1600's and have been made by a few modern primatologists. (pp.
    239-242). He also notes that "According to field workers, their expertise
    (chimpanzees) far exceeds that of any human who tries it for the first
    time." p. 227. People attempting it found that the 1kg stones used by the
    chimpanzees in one case were too heavy for humans to use effectively, while
    another study indicates that at times 10kg stones were used. pp. 239-240.

    Now quoting from another post of yours.

    >> My point was that, though you only use the wheel, they don't
    >> reinvent it,
    >> but imitate it.

    >Ah. But they use it too- and they mutate it via their use.
    >Otherwise, all memetics would be is cloning, and it ain't.

    >- Wade

    There are villagers nearby who use a very similar technique to crack their
    nuts. However, the stones they use are considerably smaller. 'Id.' at
    239. De Waal admits that it is unclear whether the chimps acquired the
    technique from humans
    , the humans acquired the technique from the chimps, or they arose
    independently. It does appear though that they have been doing it for at
    least 300 years and if they acquired it from humans, they have mutated it
    to their use by using larger tools.

    >>No artifacts are required to produce a 'B' that is capable of producing a
    >>more fit 'C'.

    >But, hey- that ain't true with memes. Or memetics. Or culture. Artifacts
    >are absolutely required to make a better B.

    >I ain't disagreeing with -

    >>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.

    If you can get to 'The Star Spangled Banner' without artifacts but it
    requires input from other humans then we have met those criteria and it has
    to be seen as an evolutionary phenomenon. You are left with a definition of
    memetics that excludes a whole class of evolutionary phenomena.

    >- at all. But I am asking that the mechanism of memetic offspring be
    >explained, and the only way _I_ can do it, and involve memes _at all_
    >(rather than throw them out entirely), is have them be cultural
    >artifacts, and only cultural artifacts, and to involve some analog of
    >sexual contact, since I really don't think there is any evidence to show
    >sheer mutation as the only operative, as Joe pointed out.

    >And, I did try to choose the inside meme, and the shared meme, as a
    >mechanism, but, the inside meme depends way too much on things we simply
    >don't know yet- that region between perception and behavior is just too
    >unknown. And the shared meme requires a leap into illogic that remains
    >impossible for me.

    Let me start answering this one by going back to de Waal and the work done
    by primatologists. Their work involves a much larger leap into the unknown
    in the assumptions that are made about the inner workings of the mind of
    animals. Primatologists regularly attach human emotions and motivations to
    the behavior of primates. Chapter 1 of 'The Ape and the Sushi Master' is
    devoted to explaining the value and necessity of this methodology and I
    would advise reading it in its totality as rather the snippets I will offer
    here can't quite capture the argument as effectively. In justifying this
    scientifically de Waal argues that "The human hunter anticipates the moves
    of his prey by attributing intentions and taking an anthropomorphic stance
    when it comes to what animals think, feel, or want. Somehow, this stance
    is highly effective in getting to know and predict animals." pp.
    63-64. "Isn't it far more economical to assume that if two closely related
    species act in a similar way, the underlying mental processes are similar
    too?" p. 70. "In the same way that parents learn to see through their
    children's eyes, the empathic observer learns what is important to his or
    her animals, what frightens them, under which circumstances they feel at
    ease, and so on." p. 76. Of course these assumptions get modified it is
    learned that a smile doesn't signify happiness to a primate.

    Naturally attaching human emotions to primates is an imperfect process and
    it would be better if we understood the nature of these emotions and
    motivations within ourselves, but there is still a great deal of value to
    those observations made like in this fashion and a whole branch of well
    respected researchers has been doing just that for decades.

    Similarly, a determination of the molecular structure of the gene was a
    long way off when people started classifying different species. Modern
    chemical theory came from a combination of the theories French atomists and
    German electrochemists. None of these people had the whole picture to
    start out with and of course mistakes were made. Each case the process
    began with imperfect methods of observation.

    In addition to our ability to observe our outside environment we humans
    have senses that extend to our insides which tell us when we are full or
    when we are hurt. We also have senses that allow us to be aware of what we
    think and how we feel. And although an assumption that other people think
    and feel in the same manner is a bit of a leap, it is a leap that we are
    genetically programmed to make and one that is essential for functioning in
    a human society. This whole mind/brain thing that people talk about in
    such mystical terms is really pretty basic. When we talk about the brain
    we speaking about observations made with our external senses, and when we
    speak of the mind we are talking about our internal observations of our own
    state of being. The analogy that I think Joe Dees and some fellow from
    India who posted here came up with was that of trying to figure out what a
    computer had been programmed for by physically examining its memory chips
    and CPU. It can probably be done, but it is very difficult. Something
    that we recognize on the screen may not be stored in the same place or in
    the same manner twice.

    We have at this stage learned enough to know that when we say we hurt in a
    certain way that it is the result of neural impulses to certain documented
    physical phenomena. We are clearly not yet at the stage where we can point
    to neural structures or firing patterns and say "that was love there" or
    even grasp what we truly mean by "love." There is a value though to paying
    attention to those internal senses and scientifically respecting what they
    offer. And there is just too much that gets missed if we try to cut them
    out of the picture. How on earth do you reduce the concept of 'E=mc2' to
    artifacts or behaviors? I don't think you can. I think we have to
    acknowledge our internal observations and respect them even while
    respecting their limitations. " Human recognition of E=mc2" was the result
    of an evolutionary process and therefore should be part of a memetic study
    and the only realistic way to talk about it is by recognizing its internal

    >But, before I go, let me know if you _really_, _really_, meant the
    >following -

    >>Similarly, the
    >>earth has the chemicals and energies sufficient to produce a human without
    >>any evolutionary process occurring at all

    >- Wade

    It wasn't the best of analogies I'll admit. Maybe something about the
    creation of a eukaryotic cell might have worked better.
    The underlying point was that certain molecular configurations are possible
    without evolution they aren't probable and certain behavioral or mental
    states aren't probable without memetic evolution either.

    Ray Recchia

    My real bottom line, despite having wasted a few hours on this today is
    that I really don't care all that much about definitions. I'd much rather
    just study the research. Definitions will become refined as data
    emerges. Long before anyone had any clue about DNA they were using the
    term 'gene'.


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