Re: The /doggie/ "meme"

Mark Mills (mmmills@OnRamp.NET)
Fri, 18 Jul 97 22:13:36 -0000

Message-Id: <>
Subject: Re: The /doggie/ "meme"
Date: Fri, 18 Jul 97 22:13:36 -0000
From: Mark Mills <mmmills@OnRamp.NET>
To: memetics list <>

Bill Benzon writes:

>Consider a 2-year-old playing with mother and Fido. Mother points to
>Fido and says "doggie." The infant points to Fido and says "doggie."
>Junior is now on the road to language. But I don't think we need to
>believe that junior understands that "doggie" designates animals more or
>less like Fido. "Doggie" is just a sound that mother emits in a certain
>situation and which, therefore, Junior will emit in the same situation.
>It will take awhile for Junior to detach the word from the whole
>situation and attach it firmly only to Fido and creatures like Fido.
>What is going on is that Junior is imitating mother, no more, no less.
>And the impulse to imitation is all we really require of the genes.

This reminds me of a rather sentimental scene from 'The Miracle Worker.'
Helen Keller has been pestered by her tutor for months. Over and over
again, she is forced to repeat hand signals. She never makes a connection
between the signal and the 'object.' Her frustration, already high, is
at a breaking point. Then in the pivotal scene, an argument erupts and
the tutor throws young Helen into a pool of water. While sitting dumbly
in the water, the tutor starts signing 'water' and then dashing Helen's
hand into the water. Suddenly, Helen makes a connection between the sign
and the material. With this one epiphany, Helen suddenly enters the
cultural dimension and communicates with friends and family. A new life
starts. She has discovered what one might call the notion that 'things'
can be 'symbolized,' and meaning shared.

I'm suggesting this 'connection' represents the activation of a meme,
something biologically inherited by most humans at conception. There are
many other memes, but this one is biological in origin. The activities of
both Helen Keller's tutor and the mother in your example involve an
experiential teaching program which activate these inherited memes. The
teacher cannot 'give' the student 'understanding.' Understanding comes
from within. Success is attained when the student 'discovers' the insight
as part of the journey.

>So, here we have an infant learning to babble the phonemes in the
>linguistic environment. That is imitation... The infant/child is simply
>learning to imitate the behaviors of others, learning to get its muscles
>to produce sounds and actions like those he apprehends in others.

Imitation is an important part of the learning sequence, but not the
whole picture. As I illustrated above, the key to successful human
development is the ability to generate 'meaning' out of thoughtless
imitation activity. Meaning generation is thus an internal activity with
little or no external contributions. It turns out that we have some
conscious control over what 'objects' we attach specific meanings to in
given situations, but even that skill is difficult to develop, especially
regarding symbols associated with our identity.

>Nothing has been mysteriously transferred from one brain to another and
>the genome has been burdened only with imitation and some specialized
>sound-decoding. We don't need to preload the system with "memes." We
>just need to get the infant to imitate what she sees and hears from
>other folks.

But, we do need to have something internal to make the 'connection.'
That something is one's biologically granted memetic ability.

Culture represents the establishment of common symbolic elements which
utilize the biological memetic processing system. The common symbolic
elements are analogous to the 'like' proteins created by groups of cells
in a body.

Here is another list of comparisions between genetics and memetics:

System input:
genetic: nuclear material
memetic: current experience as translated by the senses into
electrochemical waves

genetic: DNA double helix
memetic: coded neural networks, proteins logged in synapses represent
code bits. Some are placed there during embryo development, some by
processes which respond to environmental events (experiences of either
external world or internal activity)

Activity induction:
genetic: balance changes in 'pacer' proteins floating in the nucleus.
These proteins interact with the DNA code.
memetic: balance changes in 'pacer' brain waves permeating the brain's
neural networks. These waves are influenced by weight factors in the
synapses (memetic code) and induce new waves.

Result of activity:
genetic: protein generation
memetic: organism behavior in the form of hormone secretion, muscular
activity, artifacts, symbols


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