RE: playing at suicide

From: Philip Jonkers (
Date: Fri Jan 11 2002 - 22:54:23 GMT

  • Next message: Grant Callaghan: "Re: To Grant re Susan Blackmore letter"

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    Date: Fri, 11 Jan 2002 17:54:23 -0500
    From: "Philip Jonkers" <>
    Subject: RE: playing at suicide
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    It's good to hear that there's another theorist on the
    list. I
    like the idea of tools being memes, it's the original
    purpose of
    memes: tools to increase survival prospects and
    chances. The
    converse however is not always so I contend. I will
    explain why in
    a more in depth analysis of your letter to Susan
    submitting your theory.

    >>So where do we read about your theory, Grant?
    >> Luisa
    >I was just reading The Meme Machine and I was struck
    by an idea that may
    >make the field of memetics more like a science. The
    key to my idea is to
    >give up the selfish meme concept. There is
    selfishness, all right,but it
    >is not the meme that is selfish. In that sense a
    meme is not much like a gene.

    Selfishness of course doesn't really apply to non-
    living abstract
    entities or small clumps of molecules. The term
    selfishness has
    meaning only to living animated beings. Terms like the
    meme/gene doesn't apply to the meme/gene itself but to
    behavior the meme/gene helps bring forth in such a way
    that the
    occurrence of that meme/gene increases at the expense
    of other
    genes/memes. In the evolutionary end only those
    yielding greedy and selfish behavior will prevail over
    those that
    produce less ambitious and vital behavior. It's a law
    of nature,
    survival of the fittest again and again. The term
    Meme/Gene is just a catchy short-hand name for
    selfish induced behavior. That's what Dawkins and
    Blackmore meant
    by that slogan.

    >Memes, in my estimation, are a set of tools we use to
    accomplish certain
    >objectives in our daily lives. Each tool is a meme
    and vice versa. That
    >simplifies the task of identifying a meme and
    categorizing it. I ask you
    >to hear me out and respond to the following
    challenge: give me an exampl
    >of a meme that is NOT a tool.

    Well allow me on behalf of Susan, that shouldn't be so
    hard when
    you admit the following logical argument. Suppose all
    memes were
    tools, what remains as tool-substrate then? Tools have
    to apply to
    something, but what according to your theory. It's
    like trying to
    build a house with all hammers and no nails. From this
    premise it should be easy to find examples of non-tool
    music-plays, fashion/catch phrases, fashion, etc....
    If you insist
    to stick to your infinitely broad definition of the
    concept of a
    tool, the meaning of tool-substrate becomes irrelevant.

    Like you I like to consider the utility of memes as
    crucial for
    adoption and propagation. However I like to think in
    more general
    terms of fitness increasing potential which has many
    with your interpretation. To me to regard all memes as
    being tools
    is inappropriate.

    >The primary difference, in my mind, between humans
    and other animals is our
    >ability to use tools. Not that we can and they can.
    But a human can
    >juggle over a million tools in his mind at one time.
    It is the extent of
    >our tool-using that sets us apart. Humans can use
    anything as a tool. In
    >fact, humans can use nothing as a tool. The concept
    of zero is one of the
    >most useful ideas in mathematics it revolutionized
    the subject in Roman
    >times. Zero, nothing, no thing.

    True, we are the unrivaled tool-making species par
    excellence but
    that's nothing new.

    >The average college student commands over 20,000
    words in his vocabulary.
    >But he is also able to make use of such concepts,
    memes, tools as the amount
    >of silence between words to convey meaning.

    Unless one suffers from some sort of speech impediment
    this is
    simply not true. You don't pause in between words, you
    as a
    linguist should know this perfectly well. I refer to
    Pinker. You only pause to catch breath or to think
    about the next
    sentence construction.

    >That is silence, no sound,
    >nothing. We also use every possible contortion of
    our faces to convey=20
    >information. A wink, a smile, a frown, a drooping
    eyelid, a wrinkled nose
    >or brow, the angle of ones head, and more are used as
    tools to convey
    >information of one kind or another. The term poker
    face even defines the
    >use of that expression. It is an attempt to keep
    ones face blank during
    >some transaction in order to gain an advantage. Of
    course, the blank fac
    >also conveys information because everybody knows what
    the user is using it
    >for. But think of it. The lack of expression is
    being used as a tool to
    >both hide information and to convey it at the same

    This is not true either. It's all about changes that
    information. Tell me Grant how on earth can you extract
    information from somebody who maintains a poker face
    the *entire* game? You can't, this is precisely where
    the use of
    poker-faces lie. It's fullproof if consistently
    maintained and
    this is precisely what these guys do...

    >My degree was in Linguistics. In my studies I came
    to the conclusion that
    >we learn the linguistic tools we use to communicate
    one at a time, starting
    >with ma and ba in our earliest attempts to influence
    the behavior of our
    >parents. The child makes a great number of random
    sounds in the first year
    >or 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. 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.
    >This is the key to my concept. It is not the memes
    that are selfish
    >it is
    >the person, the brain, the individual who is using
    them. We choose the
    >tools/memes from the store that is available to us
    based on how well they do
    >the job we are trying to accomplish with them. The
    older we grow, the more
    >we have available. 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. There is a limit to the number of
    >sounds we can handle in daily conversation, for
    example, so we settle on those that are most
    useful to us and drop the rest.

    Of course it is *we* who are selfish, but this is a
    hardly earth-scattering conclusion.


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