To Grant re Susan Blackmore letter

From: Sphinx 111 (
Date: Fri Jan 11 2002 - 04:42:27 GMT

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    Subject: To Grant re Susan Blackmore letter
    Date: Fri, 11 Jan 2002 06:42:27 +0200
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    Dear Grant,

    Thank you for forwarding the letter. I read it and will reread it again.
    From my perspective you make some interesting points, many I share. I
    appreciate that your background is linguistics and thus the reason for
    expressing your persepctive and examples were set within that framework. I
    couldn't help wondering how to view some of your insights from a different
    framework [namely the one I am trying to work from - which is not as neatly
    packaged as linguistics] as I have been grapping with many of the same
    issues you raise.

    When I consider the following statement you made from the framework I am
    working in [evolutionary culture], this does not fit. For example, as an
    anthropologist [myself] who has just returned from the field [Egypt],
    consider the following:

    You stated:

    "The child makes a great number of random sounds in the first year of
    childhood and discovers that some of them elicit a reaction. Over time,
    those that are rewarded by parental or other attention are retained and
    enlarged upon, while those that get no response are dropped".

    substituting the framework 'culture' to the above linguistics statement you

    I found that many persons [both adults and children] did not drop behavior
    simply because it was not rewarded in some way, so that eventually the
    behavior was 'dropped' from the culture's repertoire. On the contrary, it
    may be dropped depending on the context the person found themself
    in....usually because it was inappropriate for any number of reasons, only
    to be called upon in a different context - depending upon 'who' the other
    people were that were present to witness that behavior.

    >>> This is the first instance of the evolution of language in a child.
    >>>Useful sounds are kept in the vocabulary and the useless ones discarded.

    So in response to the above statement I cannot say I find this to be valid
    when applied to 'behavior' - which is a meme. In particular because I
    examine traditional cultural behavior, "useless behavior" [and from whose
    perspective] is not "dropped and discarded" as easily as your statement

    >>>>We see someone use a tool to get something and we try to use it. If it
    >>>>doesn’t work as we expected, we listen again and try again until we can
    >>>>use it, or we discard it.

    Again, I must say that I found that 'behavior' which did not 'work' in a
    particular context for an individual was not, then, discarded forever more.
    For 2 quick reasons here:
    1) the behavior in question may be valuable in a different context at a
    later time
    2) there may be cultural reasons which have tabus against altering that
    behavior. Fear of the punishment for doing so would prevent many from
    discarding the behavior.

    >They say the final arbiter of scientific method is the ability of a theory
    >to predict a certain result. I think my theory of what constitutes a meme
    >can be used to predict which memes will be taken in or discarded by a
    >particular society. The question is how?
    >You begin with a segment of society and analyze what they do. Then you
    >observe the different sets of tools they use for some particular purpose.

    This implies there is a homogenous purpose - which is of course not true. It
    also implies that the purpose for using a given 'set of tools' is overtly
    expressed - which is also not necessarily true.

      From time to time you will see someone select or create a
    >tool that had not been used by this group before. If the user is able to
    >accomplish his objectives with the new tool, he will no doubt find a reason
    >to use it again. Many will probably be tried and discarded. When one is
    >successful and others begin trying it, you can be fairly sure it will
    >spread and become a part of the repertory of this group and will likely
    >spread to other groups of a similar nature.

    Just because some people use a new tool which is successful - in no way
    implies that others who observe the success of a new tool will drop the
    tools they are using and adopt the 'observed successful tool'. [I am
    substituing the word 'behavior' for tool] As I said earlier, there may be
    sanctions which apply to certain segments of the population and not other
    segments which preevnt those observers from adopting the 'successful tool' -
    or in this case 'the successful behavior.

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