Received: by alpheratz.cpm.aca.mmu.ac.uk id XAA11802 (8.6.9/5.3[ref email@example.com] for cpm.aca.mmu.ac.uk from firstname.lastname@example.org); Fri, 11 Jan 2002 23:00:56 GMT X-Originating-IP: [126.96.36.199] From: "Grant Callaghan" <email@example.com> To: firstname.lastname@example.org Subject: Re: To Grant re Susan Blackmore letter Date: Fri, 11 Jan 2002 14:56:23 -0800 Content-Type: text/plain; format=flowed Message-ID: <LAW2-F127kqTgtoBjfg0001bd56@hotmail.com> X-OriginalArrivalTime: 11 Jan 2002 22:56:23.0494 (UTC) FILETIME=[311F2660:01C19AF3] Sender: email@example.com Precedence: bulk Reply-To: firstname.lastname@example.org
>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:
>"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
>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.
To begin with, I did not say this clearly enough in the letter. What I was
referring to was the way a parson's brain handles language. In the
beginning, the brain can handle any sound it hears within the context of
language. As time goes by, those sounds that are not reinforced by being
heard are no longer paid attention to. Here, in the worlds of John Ratey,
M.D. is what goes on in the brain of a child growing up:
"When a baby is born, it has millions of good connections waiting for a
specific assignment. As the world makes demands, many of the connections
are enlisted for specific jobs: seeing, babbling, remembering, throwing a
ball. Connections that aren't used are eventually pruned. In the absence
of proper stimulation, a brain cell will die, but offer it a diet of
enriched experiences and its neural synapses sprout new branches and
"Neurons that survive communicate rapid-fire across the synapses. The more
firing that occurs across a specific connection, the stronger the pathway
becomes. Billions of these exchanges take place continuously throughout the
brain. Some connections transmit and receive signals often, others only
occasionally, and the messages change constantly. The exact web of
connections among neurons at a particular moment is determined by a
combination of genetic makeup, environment, the sum of experiences we've
imposed on our brains, and the activity we are bombarding it with now and
each second into the future. What we do moment to moment greatly influences
how the web continually reweaves itself.
"Brain development in the fetus and baby occurs through a series of critical
periods, "windows of opportunity," when the connections for a function are
extremely receptive to input. Once the window closes, neural connections
are pruned down to the most efficient, according to how much they were used.
Then the battle is over…the deciphering of foreign phonemes will never
regain space in the brain. It is clear that it is possible for adults to
learn to speak a new language with little or no accent, but is also clear
that they do not do this the way a baby does, and instead use altogether
different systems to learn. The adult systems ar not nearly as good as the
"Constraints on plasticity for many sensory and motor functions also depend
on critical time periods. Most humans move all their body parts during the
first two years of life. By age two the motor circuits become hard-wired.
If for some reason a child never moved his arms these circuits would be lost
and he would never be able to move his arms in a natural way. Regions for
basic vision are complete by six months. Acquisition of other functions,
however, such as academic learning, takes place over a lifetime,
unconstrained by windows of development."
So, in summary, what it boils down to is that what is not used is not
developed. If you don't continue to use certain sounds or repeat certain
behaviors you lose the ability to do so. Those that are rewarded by the
parents are repeated and those that are not repeated are lost to the window
of opportunity. That's what I meant by dropped and discarded. It's not
something a child does consciously. It's something nature does for him.
It's part of his genetic structure..
> This is the first instance of the evolution of language in a
>child. Useful sounds are kept in the vocabulary and the useless ones
>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.
See the section on child development above.
>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.
I'm not sure what you mean by "homogenous purpose." Our genes drive us to
do certain things. You might be interested in a book called TIME, LOVE,
+ by Johnathan Weiner, which shows that these things are governed by our
genes. These genes are common to a large number of animals that range from
fruit flies to primates. In my theory, our genes tell us what we have to
do and the memes give us the tools with which to do it. Our genes create
the chemicals that race through our bodies when we get angry but our memes
tell us what to get angry about. An American black person will lash out
almost reflexively when he hears the word "nigger," but it has little or not
effect on a person from a different culture. A Chinese person will want to
punch someone who calls him a "Wang ba dan," while I doubt you would be
moved by it. We have to learn what to fear, who to be attracted to, who to
hate, what to get angry about, what should spark sadness or joy. Emotion
motivates us but memes define what we should be motivated to do and how we
should go about doing it.
>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.
We tend to keep doing what we did successfully before and avoid what we
perceive ourselves as not being "good at." How do we know what we're good
at? Past experience is our guide. We try new things to avoid boredom but
drop them if we don't do them well compared to our peers. The new things we
try are usually based on what we have seen other people do. Peer pressure
can get you to try smoking, drinking, dancing or going to church. It can
also keep you doing it. It can also cause you to stop doing it. Peer
pressure is a force for meme transmission. New friends will have you trying
new things. Approval from family and friends is one of the ways we measure
success or failure. It doesn't take a pat on the back to convey approval,
either. A simple smile or an overheard word of praise will do the job. Or
people asking you to do that thing you do.
I hope this clarifies some of the ideas you had questions about. If not,
feel free to ask more.
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