Re: Aristotle was a Memetician (and would have defended it)

Bill Benzon (
Tue, 10 Jun 1997 20:26:00 -0500

Message-Id: <>
Date: Tue, 10 Jun 1997 20:26:00 -0500
From: (Bill Benzon)
Subject: Re: Aristotle was a Memetician (and would have defended it)

Paul Marsden says:
>Because the medium for meme infection is often discourse, then it is
>inevitable that many of the themes coming out of lit criticism and rhetoric
>appear in memetics, just as will themes from philosophy, AI, biology,
>cognitive science etc also appear, but this doesn't mean that memetics is
>any less valid.

I suppose one of the reasons why I like thinking about music is that you
have to deal with things like rhythm and melody, which don't involve the
sort of "ideas" that language does. It's clear, for example, that when,
early in this century, jazz spread like wildfire, that the rhythm had a lot
to do with it & that the spread of jazz was closely linked to the growth
and spread of social dancing. Same thing with rock and roll.

>Lit Criticism, except in the radical constructivim
>of discorse analysis) posits authors behind texts, who you endow with all
>sots of supernatural powers, intention, meaning, freewill etc. Memetics
>offers an alternative non-homuncular understanding of the human condition
>that doesn't rely on ghosts rattling about in your brain.

One could claim that the acid test of non-homuncular understanding is
whether or not you can simulate a computer to do it. If you really have
non-homuncular understanding of human language, for example, then you
should be able to simulate language behavior on a computer. As I'm sure
you know, lots of folks have been trying to do that for a long time (well,
since the mid-50s or so) and with varying success. I once undertook the
task of using AI-type knowledge representation (cognitive networks) to
analyze the meaning of a Shakespeare sonnet.

Getting rid of lurking homonculii is not easy and simply providing verbal
assurances that "no, honest, there really aren't any homonculi in my model"
isn't very satisfying. Folks who talk about such things as "the God meme"
as though that were a self-evident object of intellectual discourse should
take a crack at representing that meme in a form suitable for computer
simulation of discourse about God. You might find it to be a sobering

William L. Benzon 201.217.1010
708 Jersey Ave. Apt. 2A
Jersey City, NJ 07302 USA

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