Re: Meaning generation

Ton Maas (
Thu, 24 Jul 1997 22:10:14 +0200

Message-Id: <v03102802affd5f888fc3@[]>
In-Reply-To: <>
Date: Thu, 24 Jul 1997 22:10:14 +0200
From: Ton Maas <>
Subject: Re: Meaning generation

>Genes are generally thought to be chunks of DNA code, so I'm assuming
>'memes' are physical chunks of code, too. There are two places for
>physical chunks of code to reside, upon the neural network within the
>brain and out in the physical environment.

There seems to be at least *one* major problem with this assumption which
seriously undermines the analogy. When you say that genes are thought to be
chunks of DNA code, are you referring to their structure or to their
organization? According to Varela and Maturana the organization of a living
or autopoietic system is that which stays the same during replication,
while structure is that which changes. In popular parlance we might say
that organization refers to message and structure refers to carrier or
medium. There cannot be "physical chunks of code", since code - by
definition - belongs to a different realm. Jung once named these realms
Pleroma (the world of forces and objects) and Creatura (the realm of the
living and of communication, in which "nothing" can be a cause). In order
for the information coded in genes (Pleroma) to become effective in the
realm of Creatura, it has therefore to be processed or "read". "Process" is
that which bridges the gap between Pleroma and Creatura.

Now what is especially relevant with respect to your analogy, is that in
biology the processing of the genetic information is done in ways that
practically guarantee their correct interpretation. Quite in tune with our
current ideological make up, we tend to emphasize the "creative" aspect of
replication while underestimating its "conserving" powers. In order to be
succesfull at all, biological evolution has to be *very* conservative. The
Biblical book of Genesis provides a nice example of this fallacy. Whereas
we refer to this story as our culture's Creation Myth, there is actually
very little creating done. Creation itself was over and done with in one
mighty flash and God apparently spent the remainder of that whole week
ordering, tidying and cleaning up the mess. Anthropology shows that most
creation myths around the world follow the same principle. The bulk of them
are obsesssed with order over chaos rather than "creating" something out of

And this is precisely what's lacking in Creatura. In the world of mental
phenomena, of communication, information, language etc. there are few if
any reliable conserving mechanisms. It seems rather convenient to look for
the relatively simple aspects of any communicative system (the way
information is stored in physical carriers), but this may reveal very
little of the effect this information may or may not have when it gets
processed. My guess is that even in the case of genetics the complexities
are enormous (much greater than most scientists still assume or hope), but
in the case of cultural reproduction the case of predicting "meaning" or
relevance from code *only* is hopeless.

This leads me to believe that no memetic theory can offer much in terms of
real understanding of cultural reproduction unless it encompasses a formal
understanding of natural learning.


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