RE: Knowledge, Memes and Sensory Perception

From: Lawrence DeBivort (
Date: Sun Jan 13 2002 - 20:25:23 GMT

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    Subject: RE: Knowledge, Memes and Sensory Perception
    Date: Sun, 13 Jan 2002 15:25:23 -0500
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    My thought on 'memes as tools.' Memes can be created inadvertantly, and have
    'undesirable' effects; thus it is hard for me to classify them as a whole as
    tools, a word which imples some degree of design thoughtfulness and some
    degree of beneficial usage. _Some_ memes may have tool-like qualities: they
    may be designed, and they may have, given the design, beneficial impact. So
    I stay with a simpler definition of any meme: it is the expression of a
    belief that has self-disseminating and self-protecting characteristics.


    > -----Original Message-----
    > From: []On Behalf
    > Of Grant Callaghan
    > Sent: Sunday, January 13, 2002 1:44 AM
    > To:
    > Subject: Re: Knowledge, Memes and Sensory Perception
    > 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 Blackmore submitting your theory.
    > >>So where do we read about your theory, Grant? >> Luisa Grant:
    > >I was just reading The Meme Machine and 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 selfish meme/gene doesn't apply to
    > the meme/gene itself but to the 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 genes/memes
    > 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 Selfish Meme/Gene is just a catchy
    > short-hand name
    > for memetic/genetic selfish induced behavior. That's what Dawkins and
    > Blackmore meant by that slogan.
    > Ok. This is the first real argument about selfishness that makes
    > sense to
    > me. What still bothers me, however, is the difference between the
    > relationship between the gene and the body it creates and the meme, which
    > only codifies behavior. It doesn't build a body, but it does
    > build a body
    > of tools. Those that are about the same thing, like the various
    > branches of
    > science, law or religion, can be considered a structure, of
    > sorts. But what
    > kind of structure is it? They seem basically to be a library of tools we
    > use to solve a specific type of problem, somewhat like the Java
    > library and
    > the other software that run my computer.
    > The cities we live in are built on memes as much as they are
    > built on earth,
    > steel and stone. Are cities and nations the bodies that memes
    > create? Are
    > cars and computers and airplanes and factories the bodies of
    > sub-organisms
    > that become for the cities and the nations the equivalent of blood and
    > organs? And is civilization the superorganism that will someday
    > cover the
    > Earth? We seem to be headed in that direction.
    > This would dovetail nicely with what genes do for the body and
    > the species.
    > It's a direction that seems worth exploring.
    > >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 logical premise it should be easy to find examples of non-tool
    > memes: 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.
    > I'm not sure what you mean by "substrate" and why it's important. The
    > tools/memes of architecture and city planning are what allow us to build
    > cities. The writer and speaker use the tools/memes of language to
    > communicate. Music, art, fashion and catch phrases work to
    > cement and guide
    > our relationships with each other. A person who lacks these tools can't
    > function in society. Oh, sure, we can individually get along
    > without some
    > of these tools but anyone who lacks all of them will not really
    > be a member
    > of society.
    > I remember trying to function in Taiwanese society. In the beginning, I
    > felt as helpless as a baby. As I picked up the customs and the
    > language I
    > became more productive and had to depend less on others to take
    > care of me.
    > Eventually, I was able to live and stand alone but will never be able to
    > function as fully as someone born and raised in that culture. I
    > got into it
    > too late in life. Chinese language and literature will never say
    > as much to
    > me as English does. Chinese plays and movies will never wring the same
    > emotions from me as those created in the culture I grew up in.
    > In the end,
    > my greatest contributions to my fellow man in Taiwan came from my English
    > skills. I helped them understand what my culture had to offer and helped
    > them sell to America what their culture had to offer. And mostly, I used
    > English language and American culture to do it. That's what
    > those tools do.
    > They help individuals work, play, associate and function as a group.
    > 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 similarities 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't. 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.
    > But it IS important. It's what allowed us to rise above the
    > hunter-gatherer
    > society that would have limited our numbers to a few million. The earth
    > wouldn't have been able to support more of us than that. Without farming
    > and learning to use the land instead of just living on it, we would never
    > have had more than villages. With laws and commerce, we learned to live
    > closer to one another and live above the land as well as on it.
    > We learned
    > that population can be denser when people live in boxes that cut down the
    > friction of people rubbing elbows together. Without the tools of
    > politics
    > and government and education and commerce and industry, there is
    > no way the
    > earth would support six billion people. Without our tools we
    > would not be
    > us. What difference does it make that it's not news.
    > >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 Steven Pinker. You only pause to catch
    > breath or
    > to think about the next sentence construction.
    > The silence may not be there physically, but it's there
    > symbolically. You
    > know where a word begins and ends. That's why it's represented
    > by a space
    > in writing. If you don't hear it, you insert it with your mind
    > as you turn
    > sound into speech in your head. You also know where sentences begin and
    > end. They do have physical silences between them. We don't
    > pause only to
    > breathe. We pause for effect. We pause for emphasis. We pause
    > to change
    > the subject. We pause to consider what to say next. Just
    > because words run
    > together does not mean there are no pauses that carry information in our
    > speech.
    > >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 >e >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 time.
    > This is not true either. It's all about changes that reveal information.
    > Tell me Grant how on earth can you extract information from somebody who
    > maintains a poker face throughout 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...
    > Again, I beg to differ. The information you get from a poker face is not
    > about the cards being held. It's about the player. It says what kind of
    > player he is and how serious he is about the game. You don't mess with a
    > guy who wears a poker face. He uses it to intimidate the other
    > players as
    > well as to hide his intentions. It's a badge he wears to show his skill
    > level. It takes practice to perfect and helps separate the
    > wolves from the
    > sheep.
    > >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.
    > When I said discard, I meant we put them in long-term memory
    > rather than in
    > memory where we have ready access to them. A picture or a word
    > will bring
    > it back and remind us that it's there. The fact that it is we who are
    > selfish may not be news but you'd never know it from some of the
    > writing and
    > speaking one reads and hears on the subject.
    > Thanks for your comments. I really enjoyed this give and take.
    > It gave me
    > a lot to think about and caused me to make some adjustments in my outlook.
    > Grant
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    Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
    For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing)

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