Re: Wilkins on the meme:engram relation

From: John Wilkins (
Date: Wed Dec 05 2001 - 04:33:10 GMT

  • Next message: Dace: "Re: circular logic"

    Received: by id EAA03527 (8.6.9/5.3[ref] for from; Wed, 5 Dec 2001 04:37:48 GMT
    Date: Wed, 5 Dec 2001 15:33:10 +1100
    Subject: Re: Wilkins on the meme:engram relation
    Content-Type: text/plain; charset=US-ASCII; format=flowed
    From: John Wilkins <>
    Content-Transfer-Encoding: 7bit
    In-Reply-To: <>
    Message-Id: <>
    X-Mailer: Apple Mail (2.475)
    Precedence: bulk

    On Wednesday, December 5, 2001, at 03:00 PM, <> wrote:

    > In a message dated 12/4/2001 6:18:45 AM Central Standard Time, Bill
    > Benzon
    > <> writes:
    >>> 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.
    >> In the case of culture, what we need is a well-developed body of
    >> theory
    >> about cultural change. The reason "meme" is surrounded with
    >> confusion is
    >> that it doesn't link to any well-developed body of theory. It's
    >> just a
    > word
    >> that's analogically attached to a body of biological theory that
    >> folks want
    >> to refit for cultural use. It's the refitting that's difficult.
    >> Bill B
    > Hi Bill.
    > As we try to develop and communicate some well-developed theories, we
    > will
    > generally want to use terms that are as unambiguous as possible.
    > A comparable mess with quarks might have erupted if Gell-Mann first
    > used the
    > term in a very limited role to try to explain the strong nuclear force,
    > and
    > then some years later began using the term in substantially different
    > ways
    > and without explanation to apply to whole different classes of
    > phenomena such
    > as gravitation or electromagnetism. People would then have had to use
    > different terminology in their efforts to build broadly unifying
    > theories of
    > the fundamental forces.
    Exactly this sort of confusion arises in the context of "gene" -
    initially it was well-defined (by Johannsen, IIRC) as a Mendelian
    hereditary factor (ie, anything that assorted in the Mendelian ratio).
    As the context broadened, it was gradually less exact, and people had to
    coin new terms like cistron, intron, codon, and the like to become more
    exact. When molecular biology realised that a "functional" gene could be
    anything at all from a single codon to an entire karyotype (in the case
    of some asexuals), it became clear that the term had exceeded its useful
    life. You generally will find people being very restricted in their use
    of the word in the primary literature (eg, the Bcl-2 gene, or the
    eyeless gene), so that it has an implicit subscript or index.

    Memes do not assort in a ratio that requires this sort of definition.
    They are defined (by Dawkins) as those things that are transmitted "with
    appreciable frequency" after the definition by GC Williams in his 1966
    book. This makes memes definitional objects - they are nominal things,
    not actual ones. A meme is whatever we can recognise as being
    transmitted, for whatever reason, with appreciable frequency, and so is
    subject to selection.

    This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the
    Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
    For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing)

    This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Wed Dec 05 2001 - 04:44:05 GMT