Re: The /doggie/ "meme"

Ton Maas (
Fri, 18 Jul 1997 18:13:14 +0200

Message-Id: <v03102804aff52a47b82a@[]>
In-Reply-To: <>
Date: Fri, 18 Jul 1997 18:13:14 +0200
From: Ton Maas <>
Subject: Re: The /doggie/ "meme"

>Mark Mills has started a conversation about innate ideas/memes & piano
>playing which I find rather puzzling. It seems to me that to assert that
>our innate behavior capacity is, in fact, memetic, rather scuttles the
>whole idea of culture, reducing it to biology -- which is, of course, a
>rather popular activity. Given that we share 98% plus of our DNA with
>the higher apes, that isn't much DNA in which to "encode" culture, but
>then I don't think that it is culture which is encoded. All that's
>encoded is the capacity for culture, which is, admittedly, merely a
>verbal formula. But....

The above quotation examplifies a number of seemingly almost unsupressable
fallacies, some of which I have tackled at least a few times before. But
not to worry: here we go again!

Gregory Bateson has surveyed a number of universals, which he called
"Eternal Verities" (honoring St Augustine, who coined the term a long time
ago). They include statements like "the map is not the territory"
(Korzybski), "no class can be its own member" (Russell&Whitehead) or "no
copy can ever be identical to its original" (Grimes) and one which is
appropriate here: "quantity never determines pattern". Although engineers
just *love* to quantify "information", it is a grave mistake to assume that
the "meaning" or "relevance" of those bits can be quantified in any
conceiveable way. I could quote two lengthy stories here with only one word
being different (such as "not") and their meanings would be diametrically
opposed. "98 plus" is a falsely applied statistical statement that may have
no relevance to the case at all, since the remaining " 2 minus" might be
crucial here. This sort of logic can only be applied to the billiard-ball
domain of what Jung called "Pleroma" (the world of inanimate objects) and
is completely useless in "Creatura" (the sphere of life and communication).
(The opposite argument would be quite a bit more agreeable: "wow, imagine
*all* those fundamental differences being somehow contained in so little

Another implicit fallacy is the notion that DNA somehow "describes" the
resulting organism (in other words: DNA as blueprint). Even though we still
know surprizingly little about the actual "meaning" or relevance of the
information that's coded in DNA, it is quite safe to say that it's probably
not descriptive but injunctive, like a cooking recipe. And just like a
recipe, it doesn't make any sense apart from all the required ingredients
and the process of preparing the dish (in genetic terms: all the molecules
etc. and the embryological process). You could try to imagine this by
considering the DNA as instructions to "modulate" the pre-given melody of a
musical composition. A tiny "piece" of information could dramatically
change the feeling of the whole musical work. A wonderfully elegant
biological version of these ideas can be found in D'Arcy Thompson's seminal
work "On Growth and Form". Therefore, nothing even remotely like "culture"
can be encoded in DNA. We can only say that "culture" is facilitated by
certain human potentials resulting from both embryology and genetics.


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