Re: Words and memes

From: Dace (
Date: Wed Feb 06 2002 - 17:40:41 GMT

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    Subject: Re: Words and memes
    Date: Wed, 6 Feb 2002 09:40:41 -0800
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    > > Children consciously engage the cultural verities that,
    > > for most of us, proceed on automatic. With each new generation
    > > culture is regenerated from the ground up. Memes transform back
    > > into ideas in the minds of children, and then, as the children grow up,
    > > revert once more to memes. And children don't have a monopoly on
    > > this process. Philosophy is all about going back and relearning the
    > > basics, not so as to relaunch the same old memes, but to correct the
    > > underlying errors in our thinking.
    > >
    > > > Similarly suppose that some people were 'intentionally'
    > > > propagating the idea and others were just passing it along without
    > > > thinking would it be a meme or not? Since acquisition of any idea
    > > > requires some mental processes where could we draw a line that
    > > > we distinguish for data gathering purposes? Wouldn't we have to
    > > > ask everyone who passed the idea along whether they were acting
    > > > 'intentionally'? And isn't the term 'intentional' going to be subject to
    > > > numerous interpretations?
    > >
    > > There's no definitive line between intentional and memetic culture.
    > > Between an ideal (nonexistent) intentionality and an equally ideal
    > > mindlessness, culture is on a continuum. The less we feel we have to
    > > reflect on an idea in order to believe it, the more memetic it's become.
    > > Without this tendency for ideas to become culturally ingrained, we could
    > > never have passed beyond the most primitive stage of culture. Memes
    > > are essential to cultural evolution because they enable us to set aside
    > > the most basic stuff and advance into greater complexity. It's no
    > > different than habits of mind freeing up consciousness to move on to
    > > more interesting things.
    > >
    > > > Memes would have to have been learned from interaction with other
    > > > other organisms possessing the same meme while a large of class
    > > > of behaviors can be learned with resort to acquisition from other
    > > > organisms (ie learning not to touch a burning candle after doing it
    > > > once)
    > >
    > > Okay, sometimes learning occurs through imitation, and perhaps this
    > > trait isn't universal to life. But this doesn't solve the problem. If we
    > > equate memes with learning through imitation, then memetics is
    > > reducible to mimesis. And if memes are equated with ideas, then why
    > > not just refer to ideas that have replicated versus ideas that haven't?
    > > Who needs memes? Just another gratuitous neologism. This is why it's
    > > important to delineate memes precisely, in order to secure a field of
    > > study that belongs exclusively to memetics.
    > 'Replicating Idea' is too limiting concept as is 'mimesis'. Some
    > behaviors are replicated with no conscious awareness on the part of the
    > recipient as you pointed out above. If you live in the southern United
    > States and acquire a Southern accent no one would say that you have
    > acquired the 'idea' of Southern accent.

    I'm using "idea" broadly, as a stand-in for any kind of meme. It's a
    simplifying device that soon outgrows its purpose. Memes include all sorts
    of cultural traits that have nothing to do with ideas. But the same basic
    principle applies. The Southern accent was a result of individual
    creativity as it emerged from transplanted English and African stock. This
    creativity wasn't intentional, as in the creation of ideas, but would have
    drawn more from unconscious perceptions. Somehow the
    newly-developing accent would have felt "right" to the people speaking it.
    Regardless of how rational or emotional or aesthetic the source of
    creativity, it precedes memification. (There's a gratuitous neologism for
    you.) Culture arises from consciousness and then memifies while
    consciousness moves onward.

    > Susan Blackmore makes an
    > excellent argument that 'mimesis' is the fundamental basis for all
    > memetic transfer but it requires a very broad definition of that term to
    > encompass transfer of a factual concept like 'The earth revolves around
    > the sun.' There are no specific behaviors associated with this transfer
    > and nothing is really imitated except a mental concept. This is why I
    > like the broad term 'replication' better.

    Yes, replication gets more to the heart of it. But it's not a passive
    replication via imitation or speech. After we create ideas and behaviors
    and then repeat them enough times, they begin to replicate on their own.
    We give them a little momentum in the course of our day-to-day lives, and
    they have to take over from there. Memes self-generate on the basis of
    our repetitive cultural interaction.

    > On the other hand you conceded that the kind of distinction you were
    > trying to make would be difficult to measure because of its subjective
    > nature. When one is attempting to secure a field of study the sort of
    > vague distinction you are using probably is not the best place to start.

    Memes belong in the human sciences, all of which involve subjectivity.
    Human beings are subjects, not objects. Very little is cut-and-dry. Things
    tend to be somewhat fluid, and a flexible approach is required. You're not
    going to get anywhere with a human science that strives for complete

    Anticipating your response to that, let me add another point. Objectivity is
    in no way identical with knowledge. As we've learned over the last century,
    physical (nonliving) objects have no intrinsic reality. There's no ultimate
    physical substance, such as air or water or earth or even the atom, which
    can provide the absolute foundation for a given object. Since knowledge
    concerns reality, the pursuit of knowledge cannot be limited to the study of
    the objective.


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