Re: The /doggie/ "meme"

Bill Benzon (
Sun, 20 Jul 1997 19:42:06 -0500

Message-Id: <>
Date: Sun, 20 Jul 1997 19:42:06 -0500
From: (Bill Benzon)
Subject: Re: The /doggie/ "meme"

Mark Mills:

>... 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.

I'm not sure what you mean, but it sounds like you're suggesting a meme for
"semanticity" & that that meme is what's behind the ability to match words
with their meanings. I don't think this is the way to go, but if that's
what you want to do, then you seem to have at least 2 distinct classes of
memes. Those like semanticity and those like doggie and eat and red, etc.
So now you have something to work out: just what are these 2 classes & how
are they related. Are both encoded in synaptic weights in neural networks?

However, I don't think this is the way to go. It's just creating another
black box whose explanatory value ultimately depends on figuring out what's
inside it. It seems to me we should eliminating such black boxes, not
creating more of them.

In the case of "doggie" all that's required is linkage between the word
"doggie" and the sensorimotor schema for dogs -- the sights and sounds and
smells and tastes (afterall, we are dealing with creatures who put
everything in their mouths) typical of dogs. I don't think the young child
needs any insight into semanticity, whether genetically or culturally
inherited, to get that accomplished. Consider the range of experiences the
child is trying to make sense of.

For one thing, not only does mother point to Fido and say "doggie" she
points to Sylvester and says "kitty" and so on for car and juice and daddy,
etc. So there are lots of things subject to the same imitation game. And
daddy and aunt ruth and sister beth and cousin vinny do the same thing with
the same broad range of objects. And the game is played with lots of
people. I suspect the connectionist folks could come up with a neural
network scheme which could take this range of experiences and factor out
the different actors and objects in such a way that the most reliable
connections will turn out to be those between dogs and "doggie," cats and
"kittie," juice and "juice," etc. I don't think any meme of semanticity is
needed to get this working. All we need are the right patches of neural
tissue, with the appropriate connections between them, and appropriate
experience. The child's brain will then manage to sort things out.

>... Understanding comes
>from within.

I agree with this, that's why I'm skeptical about talk which attributes
agentive informatic power to memes.
>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.

In what sense is imitation thoughtless? Imitation is hard work. It requires
focused attention.

>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)

The parenthetical remark is quite important. When we talk about the
external world we think of the world outside the physical envelope of the
body. But the body itself is as external to the nervous system as that
larger external world his. The nervous system regulates activity in the
larger external world through the senses of vision, sound, taste, etc. and
through control of the skeletal muscles. It regulates activity in the body
through the autonomic nervous system and the endocrine system.

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

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