Re: Meaning generation

Robert G. Grimes (
Tue, 22 Jul 1997 17:00:09 -0400

Date: Tue, 22 Jul 1997 17:00:09 -0400
From: "Robert G. Grimes" <>
Subject: Re: Meaning generation

Scott DeLancey wrote:
> 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
> <snip>
> > 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?

Snip Snip


Perhaps some of this ground been gone over in previous work, i.e., to
name a few: Chomsky's Universal Grammar (1988), Newmeyer, Grammatical
Theory: Its Limits And Possibilities (1983), and Pinker, The Language
Instinct (1994); Harnad, S. (1987) Psychophysical and cognitive aspects
of categorical perception: A critical overview. Chapter 1 of: Harnad, S.
(ed.) (1987) Categorical Perception: The Groundwork of Cognition. New
York: Cambridge University Press.

It would seem to many of us that the meme is "distinct" from the
biological tendency to "categorize," to "parse phonemes," or to "project
structure" in the external world in accordance with the evolutionary
development of our own subjective perceptive systems and/or filters?

Albeit, there may be a close connection to those inherent mechanisms and
with the inability to perceive distinctions at different levels, hence
engendering generalizations or the "tendency to categorize." All of this
resulting in sort of an inborn boolean descrimination process which is
reflected in our thinking, our cognition, and our symbology or language.

The meme concept, to me, is a subsequent phenomena but one which
reflects the prior biological development and our evolutionary
psychology, i.e., because of the evolutionary nature of our language
handling ability, the "meme construct" is a natural attribute. Meaning
that the different, inborn, language handling constructs have certain
tendencies or "susceptibilities" to certain perceived language
constructs, which tend to reproduce (replicate) themselves, perhaps
because of their impact or stimulus to our cognitive milieu, i.e.,
resulting in neurotransmitters, hormones, pheromones, combinations of
these, etc.

Thus, the evolutionary cognitive abilities would have these
susceptibilites. As an analogy, suppose that our brain were represented
by a simple, old fashioned adding machine (columnar keyboard) but, the
first key in one row, i.e., the 100,000 key, was stuck down. Thus, the
machine could produce all the appropriate answers as long as the number
in the 100,00 column and subsequent zeroes were ignored. The body could
adjust and accomodate over time, pragmatically, dispensing with the
numeral in that field of the answers unless and, until the data put in
resulted in an answer above the 100,000 area, and our reasoning would
produce adequate answers. Then we might be wondering why human beings
could could count and do other arithmetic sums properly unless the
answer was above 100,000. Now, if the machine rang a bell when the
"correct" answer was given (perhaps by a parity check, modify your
analogy), either the ringing of the bell, or the absence of the bell
might be a stimulus to repeat what ever arithmetic calculation we had
attempted, and so on, to other machines who "watched." Now, our "ringer"
in the group might define the meme as every "idea" of 100,000 and above.
One could see that we would have a difficult time to induce the
existence of the "stuck key" or the structure of a meme, when it
presented itself only with problems of a specific size.

Now, on rereading this I must confess that I may have "muddied" the
field even further in attempting to vocalize my intuitive feelings about
the meme. Perhaps I may have stimulated a response or more lucid concept
or explanation from others?



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