Re: Words and memes

From: Ray Recchia (
Date: Fri Feb 08 2002 - 00:31:49 GMT

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    Subject: Re: Words and memes
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    At 04:43 PM 2/7/2002 -0500, Keith Henson wrote:

    >We should be concerned with the pathological memes, cults and related
    >social movements. Look at what the Pot Pol mutation off of the communist
    >meme did in Cambodia!
    >Understanding that the religious wars in Europe were meme driven and given
    >all the grief Nazism, Communism, and now splinters off Islam have caused
    >and are now causing, the study of memes and more important *why* we are
    >susceptible to memes like these should be a major topic of research,
    >particularly modeling, with the output guiding public policy.
    >It is not.
    >Some of this can be attributed to the slow spread of some classes of memes.

    No offense but I think these are exactly the topics we need to avoid at the
    moment. First of all I don't want a developing memetics to become the
    science of religion bashing and of everyone using it as a tool to support
    their political beliefs. One man's parasite is another man's thoughtful
    insight. One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter. I am an
    atheist myself but I have a couple of nuns in the family and the high
    school teacher who had the most influence on me when I was growing up was a
    fundamentalist Christian. I have too much respect for these people to
    assume that their beliefs are just parasites and it frankly upsets me when
    people engage in that kind of simplification. After reading Joseph
    Campbell's works I can see that religions play very important roles in
    society independent of the truth of their premises. This fledgling field
    of study hasn't received a lot of public criticism because it is presently
    too low on the radar screen, but if it does pick up some momentum a few
    controversial over generalizations made here will end up biting us in the ass.

    I think we need to stick to safer topics. Many of the characteristics that
    you use to describe religion and political beliefs can also be used to
    characterize practices in the business world. People in those fields would
    be much more likely to welcome our insights. The kind of hooks that
    religion and political beliefs use are consciously chosen by advertisers to
    sell products. If we start there and develop some sound reasoning maybe we
    can start looking at political and religious issues.

    One place that I think we can start is by developing a taxonomy of memetic
    devices. John Wilkin's post of February 5 on apoptosis is a very good
    example. Certain memes only exist as temporary staging devices for more
    complex memes. If we can work in that sort of vein and characterize memes
    in terms of symbiosis, predation, and competition we can get beyond this
    stupid bickering about what is and isn't a meme.

    >Models, I want models! Predictive models, evolutionary psychology based
    >social dynamics models. And experiments on those models before we take
    >steps that seem right but only cause more problems later.
    > (Dr. Jay Forrester--who made a fortune from
    >patents on core memory)
    >" . . . complex systems cause and effect are often not closely related in
    >either time or space. The structure of a complex system is not a simple
    >feedback loop where one system state dominates the behavior. The complex
    >system has a multiplicity of interacting feedback loops. Its internal
    >rates of flow are controlled by nonlinear relationships. The complex
    >system is of high order, meaning that there are many system states (or
    >levels). It usually contains positive-feedback loops describing growth
    >processes as well as negative, goal-seeking loops. In the complex system
    >the cause of a difficulty may lie far back in time from the symptoms, or
    >in a completely different and remote part of the system. In fact, causes
    >are usually found, not in prior events, but in the structure and policies
    >of the system.
    >"To make matters still worse, the complex system is even more deceptive
    >than merely hiding causes. In the complex system, when we look for a cause
    >near in time and space to a symptom, we usually find what appears to be a
    >plausible cause. But it is usually not the cause. The complex system
    >presents apparent causes that are in fact coincident symptoms. The high
    >degree of time correlation between variables in complex systems can lead
    >us to make cause-and-effect associations between variables that are simply
    >moving together as part of the total dynamic behavior of the system.
    >Conditioned by our training in simple systems, we apply the same intuition
    >to complex systems and are led into error. As a result we treat symptoms,
    >not causes. The outcome lies between ineffective and detrimental. [p.p. 8-9]"
    >Keith Henson

    In terms of modelling I have been looking at the fitness landscape concept
    as developed by Stuart Kauffman, Manfred Eigen and company. I think that
    there are some core concepts there that might have some broad applicability
    to memetics. For example when Joe talks about the universality of the
    multiplication tables we might think of that in terms of a very sharp
    fitness peak. When we talk about everyone having their own version of meme
    the quasi-species concept of Manfred Eigen and the notion of epistatic
    interaction among evolutionary elements might be useful.

    My math is a bit weak and I have been struggling with some of the equations
    but perhaps someone with an engineering background such as yourself would
    be better able to work through some of it. For a very good but technical
    overview of this field go to

    Ray Recchia

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    Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
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