Re: Wade's hammer

From: Grant Callaghan (
Date: Tue Jan 08 2002 - 15:52:27 GMT

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    From: "Grant Callaghan" <>
    Subject: Re: Wade's hammer
    Date: Tue, 08 Jan 2002 07:52:27 -0800
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    Hi Wade

    > >What I do is
    > >use memetics as a 'tool' to find evidence for cultural manipulation in
    > >storyscape.
    >So, you might think of a meme as a mathematical formula derived from the
    >patterns of cultural, uh, what? Propagation? Mutation?
    >How do you determine what is mutated, and how?
    >In what sense are, say, low-rider jeans a mutation from pantaloons?
    >How do we speciate culture? And are we justified in doing so, when
    >culture itself is a product of only one species?
    >- Wade
    Although I don't see mutation as a useful concept for what happens in the
    meme stream -- the way memes are formed insures that they will not be copied
    faithfully in most cases -- I can see a sense in which there is speciation
    between culutres. Seaparation, for example, causes speciation in nature
    (genes) and it does the same thing in culutre. Language, for example,
    defines a culture. When English culture came to America with the colonists,
    it follow an evolutionary path that diverged greatly from the culture
    expressed in England. Even at the time of Franklin and Jefferson, people
    were writing about it. The political memes of our revolution were taken up
    by the French and used to change the concept of how to govern in their
    country. Most people now agree that American culture and English culture
    are two different cultures. But we still retain a lot of the memes we
    brought with us.

    But look at genetic evolution. Humans and Chimps share some 99% of their
    DNA but the differences between the two are immediately apparent. The
    cultural differences between Brits and Americans are much greater as a
    percentage of the whole but you have to step back and look at the whole
    culture to see how different we really are. Because of language and
    communication we have managed to keep sharing memes across the ocean and the
    amount of separation is not as much as it once was. But our legal and
    political systems seem a world apart to the people from the other side who
    get caught up in them. The same applies to education, art, music, and all
    the fields where we once shared a common cultural ancestry.

    It reminds me of two species of butterfly I once read about. The only
    difference between them was that one came out in the morning and the other
    came out in the evening. But that was enough that they are now unable to
    mate with each other. It takes a lot more memes to cause cultural
    speciation than it does genes to cause genetic speciation. That's because
    the genetic code is very tightly controlled by its process of evolution and
    the evolution of memes is much faster and looser and the kind of information
    on which it is based is not passed the same way.

    If I see you doing something and try to copy it, I may not understand what
    you are trying to do or why you are doing it, but I will come up with
    something that outwardly resembles what you did. Take the kid crashing the
    airplane, for example. Outwardly, what he did was the same thing the al
    Queda did with airliners. But when you get beneath that outward venier,
    there was little or no resemblance at all. The only thing they had in
    common was the use of a crashed airplane to make a statement. But I don't
    think the statements they were making were anything alike. One was a
    display of hatered, the other a cry for help.

    Back on the subject of memes and speciation, it's not the memes themselves
    that mutate. Or perhaps we can look at the single instances of change as
    more like the three-letter words that make up a gene. They only change
    things when they fit into the process as a whole. Those that don't fit are
    cast out.


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