Re: Meme pools?/ evolution and ecology

Mario Vaneechoutte (
Mon, 23 Jun 1997 14:44:26 -0700

Message-Id: <>
Date: Mon, 23 Jun 1997 14:44:26 -0700
From: Mario Vaneechoutte <>
Subject: Re: Meme pools?/ evolution and ecology

> >information by using photons (vision) and sound waves. Bill comes close
> >when he calls these 'memes', but one would better call it culture.

> Now, can you move me closer?
> If you look at what I've written so far you'll find that I'm mostly
> concerned about species and the selective environment in which they
> function. I say something about cultural genes because the causal structure
> of the evolutionary mechanism calls for them, but I'm don't do much with
> them.
> Of course there are the patterns of sound which make up speech and the
> patterns of photons which constitute writing, but there are other things as
> well.
> I recall some work I read years ago about infant perception. What sorts of
> things do infants like to look at. So, you have two disks. On one you
> paint a set of concentric rings, a target. On the other you have three
> dots arranged like 2 eyes & a nose and then a line below, like a mouth.
> Infants will spend more time examining the "face" than the target. This
> emerges so young that you have to suspect this preference has somehow been
> genetically encoded. One can imagine why it would be useful to give
> infants a preference for face-like objects.

This is about perception and the genetically encoded pattern recognition
demands which will lead to some specific behaviour. Visual and auditory
perception is indeed a premisse to have someting like culture evolving.

With culture I mean the possibility to exchange nonphysically embedded
information between different organisms (whether this possibility is
still firmly based in genetics or not). When a dog shows his teeth,
others know what is to be expected and can react appropriately. When a
male bird sings, the behaviour of other birds will be influenced. When a
child sees a mother face it will respond and this will influence the
behaviour of the mother again. Odors can do the same, but I'd leave them
out for other reasons.

Perception is of course an essential feature to have such behaviour
influencing behaviours. But it is only perception of sound and of
photons which has lead to the possibility of using words and later
written words and also which gives us the possibility to get a detailed
reconstruction of objects.

> But what's going on when people see faces where there aren't any?
> What's going on when we look into the night sky and see bears and crabs and
> people and even tell stories about how they got there. That's culture.
> There we're imposing patterns which are meaningful to us on naturally
> occuring patterns of energy (photons from the stars). Here we are using
> pre-existing patterns and imposing culture on them.

This is human culture, when words start to interact. Do we impose
culture on these objects? I'd say that we mix instantaneous, present
perceptions (this is our possibility to perceive with eyes and ears)
with perceptions and experiences which have been stored as words (this
is our possibility to use language: encoding of such perceptive

I should have made myself clear that I refer to culture as any
nonchemical information exchange, while most people use it as human
culture only. Similarly, what we call biology is as a matter of fact
genetic biology, an end stage which doesn't look like the original
biology, but since it is the only biology we know, we give it a general
name instead of a specific one.
Also human culture can be regarded as a specific form of culture.
Dawkins starts his chapter on memes with examples of nongenetic (thus
nonchemical) culture in song birds. I doubt whether he already uses the
term meme at this stage?


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