Re: Wilkins on the meme:engram relation

From: Scott Chase (
Date: Fri Dec 14 2001 - 07:19:49 GMT

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    From: "Scott Chase" <>
    Subject: Re: Wilkins on the meme:engram relation
    Date: Fri, 14 Dec 2001 02:19:49 -0500
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    >From: John Wilkins <>
    >Subject: Re: Wilkins on the meme:engram relation
    >Date: Fri, 14 Dec 2001 17:28:35 +1100
    >On Friday, December 14, 2001, at 04:58 PM, Scott Chase wrote:
    >>>From: John Wilkins <>
    >>>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
    >>>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.
    Does this apply to sexual organisms? A series of asexual parent/daughter
    relations would be linear, but in a sexual situation mummy and daddy come
    together to spawn child, sort of like a Y not an I. How much linearity is
    there in a family tree? Am I linear to each of my parents? Then how about
    extending this to my 4 grandparents and so forth? Do I draw a line from me
    to pa then grandpa and another from me to pa to grandma and another from me
    to ma to grandma and another from me to ma to grandpa?
    >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.
    OK, you were talking a level or two down from where I was, since larger
    abstracted groupings were on my mind, a level where lineage would be
    inappropriate. In relations between individuals, lineage *may* apply, if
    we're taking about the continual paternal passing of the family name.

    A monophyletic grouping of lineages would be a branch or clade?
    >The notion derives from Woodger's modified set theory for biology, but
    >Hull has given it the most satisfactory treatment.
    Is this Woodger of Bauplan fame?
    >>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
    >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.
    Is there more reticulation when comparing cultural lineages to biological
    >>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.
    Have failures of attribution or misattributions played a role in cultural
    processes? What if there's a case of unintentional plagiarism which results
    in an idea being creditted to the wrong person, because the person it is
    popularly attributed to forgot they had picked up on it in some obscure
    source? OTOH what if someone mistakenly attributes and idea to someone and
    this has the subsequent effect of that erroneous attribution becoming
    conventional wisdom? Does this flummox you? Aren't these ways failures of
    memory can have cultural effects?
    >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.
    Isn't there also the distinction between genetic homology (with subtypes of
    paralogy and orthology) versus anatomic homology (with serial and general
    homology subtypes)? A larger structure could have a mixture of homology and
    convergence, such as when you compare bird and bat wings which have
    homologies as forelimbs with roughly comparable homologous elements and a
    roughly similar convergence on the wing design for taking to the air.
    >Serial homology, for example, is not homogenic in the
    >same way that a modified thumb would be. One day I'll get into this

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