Re: Meaning generation

Scott DeLancey (
Tue, 22 Jul 1997 11:51:41 -0700 (PDT)

Date: Tue, 22 Jul 1997 11:51:41 -0700 (PDT)
From: Scott DeLancey <>
Subject: Re: Meaning generation
In-Reply-To: <Pine.SUN.3.91.970722024025.694A-100000@utrio.Helsinki.FI>

On Tue, 22 Jul 1997, Martti Nyman wrote:

> Mark Mills to Bill Benzon:

> > 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

> I must admit I have problems with what activation of inherited memes
> is supposed to be about. I doubt that you mean that Helen, like us
> all, had a genetically ready-made concept for 'water'. Do you mean
> that humans, as well as those animals having a more or less instinctive
> attitude to water, have some kind of pre-linguistic primordial
> 'knowledge' of the water element? I'm not sure, but it seems obvious

I choked on this for a minute too, but I think the problem is actually
something different. Mark later says:

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

Which makes it clear that what he's imputing to genetics is symbolic
ability, not a particular concept. But I do have a problem with Mark's

> There are many other memes, but this one is biological in origin.

In the first place, how does it make sense to talk of a meme which
is genetically defined? All animals have genetically programmed
behavior modules to some degree; what memetics is about is not that,
but the *non-genetic* transmission of behavior patterns. Symbolic
behavior, as Mark suggests, clearly seems to be an evolutionary
adaptation which characterizes the human species; as such, it is not
a meme, but the fundamental characteristic of humans which allows
for the creation and transmission of memes.

Scott DeLancey
Department of Linguistics
University of Oregon
Eugene, OR 97403, USA

This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the
Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing)