Re: Wilkins on the meme:engram relation

Date: Mon Dec 03 2001 - 15:30:58 GMT

  • Next message: Price, Ilfryn: "RE: Wilkins on the meme:engram relation"

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    Subject: Re: Wilkins on the meme:engram relation
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    In a message dated 12/3/2001 2:01:22 AM Central Standard Time, Joe Dees
    <> writes:

    > even now, there is much debate as to what evolution generally is, with
    > objections being more reasonable (gradualism vs. punctuated equilibrium),
    > some less (Lamarckianism, morphic resonance, etc.). This process is itself
    > evolutionary, and every objection voiced adds to the evolution of our
    > understanding, either by the inclusion of valid ideas or the exclusion of
    > unsound ones. Why should we be perturbed by such an evolution, which was
    > much more robust in the infancy of evolutionary understanding generally,
    > taking place before our eyes and with our active participation, concerning
    > memetics specifically? If we truly acknowledge the ubiquity of the
    > evolutionary process in all things natural and cultural, we should nod
    > than flinch at its inevitable precession in this matter.

    Hi Joe.

    Interestingly, Darwinian evolution managed to be introduced over a period of
    many years before the word "gene" was introduced. The term even followed
    Mendel's work by decades. People who might otherwise have been distracted by
    a quickly introduced neologism were given a chance to see that there was a
    cogent theory even without the word.

    In the case of quarks, a mathematically well-defined theoretical construct
    was formed first, and then a neologism applied to it. The definition has been
    generalized in well-described ways due to theoretical and empirical work
    since then. This sort of evolution has been constrained by the methods of
    science. Evolution is part of the process of science. Having evolution in
    science is not a problem as long as it proceeds within certain constraints
    that make science science.

    In the case of "meme," Dawkins did not give an explicit definition, let alone
    a mathematical definition or a definition ready to use in mathematical
    analysis. He does not even call attention to works that have event diagrams,
    such as Cloak's 1973. He gives some clarification in The Extended Phenotype
    (1982), but then several years later in The Blind Watchmaker (1986) he
    dramatically changes the word's meaning without even noting that he was
    making a change, let alone explaining the change. People naturally concluded
    that Dawkins needed help with the definition, and that seems to have brought
    in a range of still further definitions and usages.

    Murray Gell-Mann could have made a mess of the word "quark" if he either
    wanted to or if he simply did not treat the matter seriously enough. Dawkins
    could have made less of a mess of the word "meme," too. Even if he had
    explicitly defined it in some way radically different from anything he has
    said so far, I think all of us would have been better served by at least
    knowing what role if any the word should play in our scientific

    --Aaron Lynch

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