Re: Wilkins on the meme:engram relation

From: John Wilkins (
Date: Fri Dec 14 2001 - 06:28:35 GMT

  • Next message: Scott Chase: "Re: Wilkins on the meme:engram relation"

    Received: by id GAA20680 (8.6.9/5.3[ref] for from; Fri, 14 Dec 2001 06:32:53 GMT
    Date: Fri, 14 Dec 2001 17:28:35 +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 Friday, December 14, 2001, at 04:58 PM, Scott Chase wrote:
    >> From: John Wilkins <>
    >> Reply-To:
    >> To:
    >> Subject: Re: Wilkins on the meme:engram relation
    >> Date: Fri, 14 Dec 2001 09:57:50 +1100
    > ...

    >> All reasonable questions, and asked in the context of biology. But the
    >> primitive entity in evolution is a lineage, not a line. Lineages can
    >> meander, split, join, go extinct, progress or regress on whatever
    >> measure you want to use. Lineages can bundle or separate. While it is
    >> true that the origin and destination of any single idea is separated by
    >> a straight line, the historical pathway taken between them need not be
    >> anything like linear.
    >> The older version of evolution is the one that we call the "scala
    >> naturae", or the ladder of nature (also known as the great chain of
    >> being). This assumes, in neo-Platonic or gnostic fashion, that there is
    >> a scale from simple to complex or from imperfect to perfect. Proper
    >> evolutionary thought (which I am referring to as Darwinian here) breaks
    >> with that tradition. All progress is local to existing conditions, and
    >> what is a "good move" in one circumstance need not be in another.
    >> Things can get more complex or they can get more simple, or they can
    >> remain the same or they can remain the same but work in conjunction
    >> with
    >> other things (eg, lichens, which are mutual symbionts; or mitochondria,
    >> which become simpler once they are fully symbiosed). Evolution is *not*
    >> a climbing of the ladder to get better. There is no ladder, and we
    >> wander about buffeted by contingency and local pressures.
    >> Eschew Oldthink. ;-)
    > Instead of lineages wouldn't it be better to think of branches (replete
    > with twigs and leaves) or clades? "Lineage" is a word that seems
    > so...well...linear. Groupings groping blindly.

    A lineage is a primitive relation that links parental organism or entity
    with child organism or entity. It is a physical relationship. A
    population is comprised of a high degree of these lineages reticulating
    (joining) above some critical level. A taxon is comprised of a large
    number of populations reticulating.

    The notion derives from Woodger's modified set theory for biology, but
    Hull has given it the most satisfactory treatment.
    > Of course one might be better off eschewing the oldthink of branches or
    > lineages altogether and jump upon the bandwagon of anastomoses or
    > mycelia or whatever word captures the notion of intricate interweaving
    > (cobwebby?).

    I prefer reticulation for the "hybridisation" over time, and
    articulation for the splitting of groups of lineages. The phylogenetic
    terms are tokogenetic and cladogenetic, respectively. These are purely
    topological notions for lineages over time.
    > Nonetheless, there comes, if bringing phylogenetic analogies into the
    > spotlight, a time when the homology versus analogy problem rears its
    > ugly head. When is an idea sharing common ancestry with another and
    > when may it have merely converged within similar conceptual territory
    > due to adaptive constraints?
    > And when is an idea resulting from cryptomnesia (a homology with
    > apparent convergence?). Heck..the mycelium idea above came from
    > somewhere (Teilhard?), but I'm gonna have a fun time tracking it down
    > within my cobwebby memory banks. Daniel Schacter (in his new book _The
    > Seven Sins of Memory_) talks about Jung's idea that cryptomnesia played
    > a role in a part of Nietzsche's _Zarathustra_ which is similar to
    > something by a German fellow named Kerner. I'm now reading Jung's
    > _Zarathustra_ lectures but haven't gotten to any parts about
    > Nietzsche's putative cryptomnesia yet. IIRC some of Jung's earlier work
    > was on cryptomnesia, which along with the complex theory (based
    > somewhat on word association measures) may or may not have been more
    > reputable than his meanderings about archetypes, the collective
    > unconscious (sorry Ted), or synchronicity (Kammerer's notion of
    > seriality?), though the latter may have enjoyed some feigned reputation
    > because Wolfgang Pauli was Jung's intellectual sidekick.
    As always, Scott, your association of ideas awes and flummoxes me. There
    are some interesting questions to ask about homologies (eg the book
    edited by Brian Hall a couple of years ago). But it is worth making even
    finer distinctions than the ones now made. originally, Wallace, who
    coined the term "homoplasy" (convergence) proposed also a term
    "homogeny" and both of these terms were to replace Owen's "homology".
    But homology was retained, and it is vague as to when it applies to
    something that evolves to the same task or morphology but has a common
    ancestral trait or part, and when it is just homologous due to a common
    ancestral part. Serial homology, for example, is not homogenic in the
    same way that a modified thumb would be. One day I'll get into this

    John S Wilkins
    Head, Communication Services
    The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research
    Parkville, Victoria, Australia

    =============================================================== 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) see:

    This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Fri Dec 14 2001 - 06:39:18 GMT