A set of inherited memes

Mark Mills (mmmills@OnRamp.NET)
Fri, 25 Jul 97 18:41:43 -0000

Message-Id: <199707252340.SAA01870@mailhost.onramp.net>
Subject: A set of inherited memes
Date: Fri, 25 Jul 97 18:41:43 -0000
From: Mark Mills <mmmills@OnRamp.NET>
To: memetics <memetics@mmu.ac.uk>

I had lunch today with a friend. Our conversation driffed to memes and
ended up focused on how memes could help us understand her son's
experience with autism. From her comments, I got a sense of how
inherited memes emerge in behavioral terms.

Her son was diagnosed as 'autistic' at about the age of two and she was
told to prepare to insitutionalize him. Instead, she went out and hired
a behavior modification expert.

They started a very successful program. Her son just received his
master's degree in architecture from the University of Texas.

I don't know much about autism, but the things she outlined seem to have
bearings on our dialog about inheriting memes.

The expert started by working on focus. I'll call the boy 'Tony.' Tony
did not look at people and they needed to develop a skill for eye
contact. To develop this skill, she and Tony sat in a small room. Every
time he happened to catch her eye, she would give him a piece of candy.
They did this for 3 hours, once a week for 6 months. At the end of that
time, Tony had the ability to focus on a human eye.

The next step was 6 months of mimicry training. Tony was rewarded for
mimicking the expert and my friend (mom). Fortunately, he loved cookies
and candy. He started with pointing and raising his hand to mimic the
teacher. After a while, he got good a parroting words. He had no idea
what they meant, but he could repeat them.

Tony had no notion that there was a need to name things. The first word
Tony spoke was 'light.' Like many autistic people, he was fascinated
with light. Most babies are fascinated with their mother, Tony had
little natural inclination to look at people. He still has no sense of
body language.

He could mimic very well, but he made no connection between 'word' and
'object.' When he connected the word 'light' with the object 'light,' he
experienced something of the 'Miracle Worker' ephiphany. Once he had the
idea that things could be named, he rapidly developed a naming
vocabulary. The first word spoken of his own volition was at age four
and a half.

There seemed to be 3 levels of naming: object naming, people naming and
interactive naming (calling).

Next came conditionals. Tony had no sense of the concept 'yes' or 'no.'
He would scream and/or bang his head to say 'yes.' He would scream
and/or bang his head to say 'no.' Another set of exercises had to be
invented for teaching the concept 'yes.' When he got the concept 'yes,'
he suddenly had 'no,' as well. The 'yes' exercise went like this: Tony
had learned to say 'yes' when a cue card was held up which had the word
'yes' on it. He didn't know what it meant, but he would say it. When a
'cookie desire' seemed to be present in Tony, my friend would hold out a
cookie and the cue card simultaneously. He didn't get the cookie until
he said the word.

After several weeks of this, he made the connection and generalized to
everything else.

Tony has few 'pre-conceptions.' Apparently this was one of his strong
suits in architectural school. He never designed from preconceptions, so
his work was always fresh and creative.

My friend thought that there were two kinds of memes, inherited memes and
learned memes. She used the example of stoke patients to illustrate
this. Sometimes stoke victims temporarily lose their vocabulary, after a
month or two, it 'comes back.' Other stoke victims lose their
vocabulary, but realize there is a need to name things (I know your name,
but can't remember who you are..), these stroke victims can 'learn'
vocabulary over again. A third group (and fairly rare), lose their
notion that the world can be named. These people become very frustrated
and many commit suicide.

The first case shows that memes are non-volatile, if they are lost for a
while, they are stable enough to be 'found' by reconnection. The second
case shows we retain the ability to rewrite memes to a late age. The
third case shows we can lose our inherited memes, but when this happens,
we lose the 'intent' or 'desire' to express.

She thought her son had a good ability to write memes in his brain. He
had an excellent memory. She thought he was born with very weak
'concept' memes, the inherited ones. For some reason they never
'activated' at the proper times (as they do in the normal child), but
remained latent until called forth by special training techniques.
Through behavior training, these inherited memes were strengthened to the
point where a normal life style could be lived.

I thought this might demonstrate how memes work and suggest ways the
construct meme has practical value for both medical and social sciences.

With this background, I'll propose a list of inherited memes. The first
to develop is the motor skill meme. The next is the 'focus' meme. With
motor skill and focus, the 'mimic' meme to emerges. The three then
provide a foundation for the 'naming' meme. The naming meme
differentiates into 'identification' meme and 'calling' meme. The last
fundamental inherited meme is the 'conditional' meme.

None of these memes are 'transmitted' through social interaction.
Without them in place, experiential memory has no meaning. Social
interaction causes them to emerge. The emergence of the 'naming' meme
provides the 'miracle worker' experience if it happens when the
individual is conscious and capable of remembering the experience. In a
small way, it happens over and over again during a lifetime. Thus, most
everyone has an intuitive sense for what it feels like.


This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the
Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
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