Reply to Grant

From: Philip Jonkers (
Date: Fri Jan 18 2002 - 08:03:36 GMT

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    Date: Fri, 18 Jan 2002 03:03:36 -0500
    From: "Philip Jonkers" <>
    Subject: Reply to Grant
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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 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.

    I realize that selfish behavior might even apply to
    plants, since they have niches to compete over too.
    It's not as spectacular and dynamic as the animal
    kingdom but still.

    >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.

    Yes there are differences between memes and genes.
    You should not stare yourself blind in trying to find
    perfect analogies between them, it's a needless
    waste of effort. Both memes and genes are replicators.
    They resemble eachother in as much that they are
    replicators and share a same turf: the human brain.
    Genes build the brain, the brain generates memes.
    Memes stimulate genes to build even better meme-
    generating brains by providing better survival rates,
    so that these genes get selected. Indeed,
    except for artifacts, memes are less tangible than
    genes and are better off when described in an
    abstract way. I see no difficulty in that though, but
    I'm used to thinking abstract without qualms (th.

    >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.

    Like I said, don't waste your intellectual energy
    trying to squeeze memes into a gene-like

    >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
    >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.

    Okay, allow me to explain. With substrate I mean
    that on which a tool acts. Although I find you're
    interpretation attractive I think meme=tool is a
    little too broad a concept. Suppose you want to
    build a house. You will need tools, like hammers,
    chissels, cranes, and stuff like that. But how would
    you call bricks, wood, tiles and cement? Surely, these
    inventions are memes. Indeed they are quite
    successful as they offer a great deal of fitness to
    their hosts. But to call them tools... hmmm...
    bricks as tools to build a house, it doesn't sound
    right to me.

    >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

    Pauses are useful in conversations I agree that much,
    it's just that they are not audibly present as they
    are in script. That's all I wanted to get across.
    Try listening to someone speaking a foreign language
    fluently, they sound like long pauseless phonetic
    strings. You ultimately unconsciously extract separate
    words once you master that language to sufficient

    >>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. There's more to the game than just the gam

    Well there's a relatively simple way to neutralize
    to edge a poker-face has in card-plays. Assume one


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