Wilkins on the meme:engram relation

From: Scott Chase (ecphoric@hotmail.com)
Date: Fri Nov 30 2001 - 08:49:29 GMT

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    From: "Scott Chase" <ecphoric@hotmail.com>
    To: memetics@mmu.ac.uk
    Subject: Wilkins on the meme:engram relation
    Date: Fri, 30 Nov 2001 03:49:29 -0500
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    Browsing through older JoM articles I took a gander at John Wilkins's
    commentary on Derek Gatherer's "Why the "Thought Contagion" Metaphor is
    Retarding the Progress of Memetics". Wilkins's article is called "Memes
    ain't (just) in the head"

    I especiaaly like the paragraph beginning: "However, the engram proposal is,
    I agree, quite wrong." The part about many:many mapping is important and far
    more cogent than I could muster. Implicit here is the conceptual connection
    between the engram, mnemon, and L-meme. The engram was coined by Richard
    Semon and utilized later by Karl Lashley. The mnemon was used by both J.Z.
    Young and Arthur Cherkin, later adopted by Aaron Lynch. The L-meme is how
    Lynch's mnemon appears to be referred to by some on this list, though Lynch
    seems to think the meme term expendable.

    Implicit in what Wilkins has said about the engram is, I assume, the
    specific usage by Aaron Lynch, not the engram as memory trace stance in some
    memory research, though the engram concept (sans any memetic connections)
    may itself be mistaken in its formulations.

    Wilkins's many:many objection has bad implications for the Lynchian mnemon
    (or L-meme?). Shortcomings of the engram/mnemon concept in memory research
    would also have bad implications for the meme as neural entity stance, since
    this stance automatically inherits the same set of problems, not to mention
    several of its own. Adopting Lynch's mnemon view or the Dawkins B definition
    bring the baggage of memory research problems along. Tack on the problems of
    the meme concept itself (see Adam Kuper's critique "If memes are the answer,
    what is the question?" in _Darwinizing Culture: the Status of Memetics as a
    Science_ for example) and where are we?

    The best part about Wilkins's discussion of mnemons and engrams is that it
    strengthens my view that Dawkins B harkens back to Semon, though I don't
    think this may be a case of cryptomnesia as one might assume from reading
    Laurent's "A Note on the Origin of Memes/Mnemes
    (http://www.cpm.mmu.ac.uk/jom-emit/1999/vol3/laurent_j.htm). There may be
    analogous parallels sans homology or perhaps one of those "in the air"
    instances. Interestingly Dawkins offered his own speculation about memory
    based on neuron death before arriving at the meme conception.

    See: Dawkins R. 1971. Selective neurone death as a possible memory
    mechanism. Nature (229): 118-9

    So Dawkins may have had familiarity with the memory literature.

    The part I see missing from Wilkins's article is the history of the mnemon
    concept, which via Cherkin, harkens back to Semon as he says: "The name
    proposed for the unit is the "mnemon" (mneme = memory; -on = suffix denoting
    a fundamental particle)." There's a note referencing Semon.

    Cherkin A. 1966. Toward a quantitative view of the engram. PNAS (55): 88-91

    Lynch has referenced Cherkin with regard to the mnemon. William Calvin, in
    1997, referenced J. Z. Young

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