Re: Wilkins on the meme:engram relation

Date: Mon Dec 03 2001 - 22:12:42 GMT

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    Subject: Re: Wilkins on the meme:engram relation
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    In a message dated 12/3/2001 10:35:03 AM Central Standard Time, If Price
    <> writes:

    > Nobel laureates find it easier to cross boundaries, though Murray
    > does also have the Santa Fe Institute to fall back on. Here once
    > again is his take on the issue, with societies as a sub class of Complex
    > Systems: i.e., for Murray, systems where order is enabled by
    > replicating 'schemata'
    > "In the case of societal evolution, the schemata consist of laws, customs,
    > myths, traditions, and so forth. The pieces of such a schema are
    > often called memes"
    > Gell-Mann, M. (1996) Address to the US National Defence University http://
    > I read that as support for 'memetics' as short hand for 'evolutionary
    > societal schematics' and as Jojh pointed out a few messages back,
    > there is more future in trying to design and apply various approaches to
    > such a science than worrying now about the precise definition of
    > 'meme'. When (if) we knwo more we will find the right "neologisms".

    Hi If.

    I am not sure that Gell-Mann was trying to settle a definition issue for
    memetics. If he was, his use of the terms "schema" and "schemata" become
    important. His popular-level book "The Quark and the Jaguar" (W. H. Freeman,
    1994) treats those as internal information. Nevertheless, Dawkins is really
    the one who should have given the word "meme" an explicit starting definition
    and then changed it only in explicit ways and for well-stated reasons. If he
    had defined it as a replicating artifact, for instance, I would have known
    exactly how to use the term even as I specialised in replicating ideas.

    That said, I will add that if Gell-Mann had made a mess of the word "quark,"
    quantum chromodynamics would most likely still have developed, even if under
    a different name. One can think of all sorts of vague ways that Gell-Mann
    might have coined a word, perhaps referring to almost any subnuclear
    particle, for instance. But if he had, then physicists would have probably
    ignored the term and some other term would have emerged in connection with
    very similar theoretical constructs.

    There may be areas of cultural evolution research that really need a
    neologism corresponding to a specific theoretical construct or concept. If
    the word "meme" is used in those lines of research, I think it will be
    important for readers to be able to see that a neologism is needed or at
    least extremely useful for communication. Reactions such as the quote Scott
    Chase gave us from Ernst Mayr suggest that many readers do not see how the
    word "meme" is necessary for good communication. That, in turn, leads readers
    into the whole distracting subject of "why coin this new word?", which is
    only a part of the distraction that has arisen around the word.

    Perhaps, however, works that really need the word "meme" for good
    communication will convince people of the value of the term. So even as I
    produce works that do not use the term, I do not want to personally urge
    everyone else to stop using the term. If any works are well suited to
    demonstrating the utility of the word "meme," it will be those whose works
    that would be hard to discuss without it.

    --Aaron Lynch

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