Re: Study shows brain can learn without really trying

From: Dace (
Date: Tue Nov 27 2001 - 02:58:37 GMT

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    Subject: Re: Study shows brain can learn without really trying
    Date: Mon, 26 Nov 2001 18:58:37 -0800
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        We can speak of a proto-culture among primates, or even ants, but it's not
        the same as human culture. The elements are there, but it hasn't "come to
        life," so to speak. It's the seed, not the tree. Not so different from the
        proto-capitalism of antiquity as compared to the true capitalism of
        modernity. Memes are only really *memes* when they've germinated under the
        heat lamp of human consciousness and, after getting buried, begin to work
        their magic. Only then are they carriers of culture. If the replicating
        behavior or concept is strictly a function of unreflective mentality, then
        it's just biology. There's no need to call it a "meme." Just a simple,
        organic habit.


      No reason not to call it a meme actually Ted. All memes are a function of biology to some degree. The biologically evolved brain is where these things reside no matter what the species. I think that in defining meme we ought be true to the intent of inventor of the word. In 'The Self Gene' Dawkins defined the meme as a second selfish replicator analogous to the gene. No consciousness is necessary for the first replicator and we ought not insist that the second replicator requires it either. This is not to say there isn't some sort of significant difference between memes found in animals and memes found in humans, but there is a difference between the genes found in single celled and multi celled organisms.

      I suspect that whatever the difference we find in human memes we will also find that animal like memes are transmitted by humans as well. I believe that by studying animal memetic processes we can gain significant insights into our own memetic processes as well.

      Ray Recchia

        Hello, Ray.

        I understand the impulse to apply memes to nonhuman culture. Guppies and birds and monkeys are indeed capable of learning. Not all their behavior is genetic. The problem is that there's nowhere to draw the line between the animal mind and the rest of living creation. Everything learns. When it happens at the level of the species, we call it evolution. If memes can exist in brains, there's nothing to stop them from inhabiting genes. These, too, can be said to learn. Through a series of trial-and-error "mutations," genes learn the kinds of behaviors that make them successful. Same goes for proteins. If a polypeptide folds up into something useless, it's not going to persevere very well. But if it takes on the shape of a highly sought-after enzyme, for instance, then the cytoplasm's the limit. Once in awhile a polypeptide misfolds into something miraculously beneficial to the cell and gives birth to a whole new species of protein. In that case, protein can be said to learn, that is, a new protein meme has been introduced and now dominates the field.

        Animal minds have far more in common with the guts of prokaryotes than the "world" of human consciousness. Once memes cross the line from imagination to nature, they cease to have any meaning. Everything living learns. If it's instinctive, that just means the learning took place some time in the past. If memetic competition is something that follows organically, then "meme" is just another word for life, as ubiquitous and redundant as the "vital force." To be a meme is simply to be alive, a carrier of self-existence dedicated to the replication of its kind. In short, this meme is the latest reincarnation of the ancient homunculus. Instead of recognizing life in the organism as a whole, we try to find the precious substance somewhere tucked away inside.

        Ted Dace

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