Re: Definition please

From: Ray Recchia (
Date: Thu Nov 29 2001 - 12:41:23 GMT

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    Subject: Re: Definition please
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    At 10:07 PM 11/28/2001 -0800, you wrote:
    >From: Ray Recchia
    > > 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
    > > 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
    > > 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
    > > state of being.
    >External to what? Internal to what? Clearly, the brain is internal to the
    >body. You must be thinking of something immaterial, spaceless, in relation
    >to which the brain would be external. That would be the sort of thing we'd
    >ordinarily refer to as "mystical," right?

    With my eyes, my ears, and my sense of feeling I observe the world outside
    my body. I also have internal sensors that tell me the status of my
    physical condition, like pain receptors, the things that tell me when I am
    hungry, and the senses that allow me to be aware of the placement of my
    limbs. Similarly I have senses inside my brain that make me aware of my
    mental state. With extensions of my external senses I can examine my body
    from the outside. Those external extensions allow me to engage in very
    precise measurements that my senses by themselves are incapable
    of. And which those extensions we have learned a more precise and
    quantifiable fashion what exactly is happening inside my stomach that my
    internal sensors report as hunger. There is no way at the present to create
    similar extensions inside my head to measure more precisely what the
    internal sensors of my state of mind tell me. The computer analogy is an
    apt one. Trying to get at what my internal sensors are telling me by using
    extensions of my external sensors is like trying to examine the programming
    of a computer by physically examining the chips. The difference between
    the computer and the brain for purposes of this analogy (because of course
    there are lots of other differences) is that the analogous internal sensors
    (output devices) are much more accurate tools and we have already mapped
    out all the correlations between the internal programming and the external
    physical devices that encode them because we created them. The mind/brain
    analogy is no more mystical than the hardware/software analogy.

    The lack of precision and external verification form the basis for a lot of
    the objections to the 'meme in the mind' stance. The two solutions to this
    have been offered by Gatherer and Lynch respectively and labelled G-meme
    and L-meme. Gatherer's solution is to only discuss memes in terms of their
    external manifestations which in Gatherer's case would mean behaviors, and
    in Wade and Vincent's more extreme version would be to only recognize
    external artefacts. Lynch instead tries to use the limited knowledge we
    have been able to gather about the brain and describe memes as patterns of
    firing neurons.

    The G-meme has a number of limitations, the one which I have highlighted in
    the past is the lack of ability to address higher level abstractions like
    'relativity' which do not manifest themselves in consistent external
    behavior. The behaviorist approach has been under attack for a number of
    years and the arguments against it which can applied to the memetics field
    are better discussed by others like Joe Dees who are more familiar with the
    debate. The Campbell and Smith variant is even more limited. They and
    Gatherer argue that such limitations are necessary for sake of precision
    and the need for external verification.

    Lynch really just uses the neuron description as an excuse to get to a meme
    inside the mind. Attempting to describe a meme in terms of neuron firing
    patterns is just really beyond the scope of capabilities at the
    present. Some people have attempted to make those analogies and look for
    the physical source of our internal thinking but at the present these just
    end up looking crude and naive.

    I tend to adopt an approach that combines some of Joe Dee's thinking with
    the view point of the primatologists like de Waal. I believe that the only
    way to study memes is to recognize the value of our own internal sensor
    system while respecting its limitations. Just as primatologists find
    utility in describing ape behavior using human emotions and thoughts, I
    believe that we can use our internal sensors as the spring board for
    describing memes. Eventually the neurologists and psychologists will catch
    up to us with better models for our internal reality, but it would be
    foolish to wait for them when there is much utility in using the tools that
    we have at our disposal.

    Ray Recchia

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