Re: meme generation & evolution

Mark Mills (mmmills@OnRamp.NET)
Wed, 30 Jul 97 22:07:21 -0000

Message-Id: <>
Subject: Re: meme generation & evolution
Date: Wed, 30 Jul 97 22:07:21 -0000
From: Mark Mills <mmmills@OnRamp.NET>
To: memetics list <>

Alex Brown,

Thanks for the well thought out post. I've gone through it and asked a
lot of questions, probably too many questions.

>1. A meme is a highly selective report/representation of many
>experiences. That is its unique value. It is the result of cumulative
>selection acting on previous experiences and this cumultive selection
>occurs through multiple exchanges of such reports between the agents of
>the particular system under discussion. It is not a single atomistic
>experience - whose predictive and therefore survival value would be

You use the term 'atomistic experience.' I am not sure what that means.
It seems sensible on the surface, but if I look at its compliment, a
non-atomistic experience, I draw a blank.

Who is collecting the experiences? groups? individuals?

What makes a meme more predictive than an 'atomistic' experience? Is a
meme predictive due to the cumulative small predictive contributions of
the atomistic experiences or is the predictive aspect a feature of the
whole which emerges once the meaningless atomistic experiences are

At the beginning, you describe a meme as a 'representation,' something
that might be 'sent' from one individual to another. At the end, you say
a meme is not an 'atomistic' experience, suggesting a meme might be a
non-atomistic experience.

Finally, isn't a report just another experience? Is there a
non-experiential way of receiving it?

>2. The meme is a highly compressed message which over time and through
>cumulative selection has been stripped of much of its redundancy (the
>variability of its constituent experiences) in order to provide a single
>uniform and flexible behavioural routine. This routine - this meme - is
>an essentially economic approach to predicting successful responses to
>variable environmental conditions (as against numerous blind trial and
>error judgements). In the every day world, the meme is, therefore a
>basic unit of learning. Yet no experience can be
>covered/understood/predicted by single messages. Memes come in sets
>which correspond to the diversity of conditions and phenomena which will
>be met in particular domains. These are sets of possible behaviours or
>material forms which offer highly probable solutions to particular and
>variable conditions.

This sounds like a habit on the surface. Are you suggesting a meme is a
habit? I guess one might say that habits are a 'unit of learning.'

The notion of 'compression' alludes to a 'decompression' process. Have
you considered how decompression is done? Are you really talking about
compression or is it more of a 'streamlined' report.

You've defined meme as a 'unit of learning.' How does one measure
learning in terms of these units?

>3. ... A report about experience is
>INFORMATION - ... The meme is the minimum recognizable (permissible)
>unit of cultural information. Like a single word, of itself, it means
>very little though it does have integral meaning (associations). It is
>when combined with other related memes in a semantic complex, drawn from
>the same cultural domain, that it has predictive and semantic
>significance. It has survival value since it provides a ready-made model
>of experience.

You've defined meme as a 'unit of cultural information.' How does one
measure cultural information in terms of these units? Is there such a
thing as a '5 meme piece of cultural information'?

You've again raised the source of meaning question. You seem to believe
that every experience has a very small amount of inherent meaning ('a
single word...means very little thought it does have integral
meaning...'). Where does this meaning come from? If words had inherent
meaning, wouldn't all languages be about the same?

I suspect low pitch, low volume, rhythmic sound (baby crying) produces an
inate reaction in many humans, but wouldn't this be a matter of inherited
brain response?

I sense a desire to define 'meaning' without addressing the issue of
inherited brain responses. Rather than say 'meaning' emerges from an
inherited aspect of our body, you seem more comfortable placing the
source of 'meaning' in the collections of sound or light patterns. Have
you avoided inheritance? Where do inherited behavior patterns fit into
your system?

>4. ... Memes in this sense are not spontaneously created or fabricated
>(by heros or villains). They are the unforseen results of the evolution
>of a cultural system. The Meta-System Transition concept is the logical
>explanation for the generation of memes, symbols, speciation and other
>historical and evolutionary phenomena. Its importance is that it offers
>a systematic explanation for the formation of new levels of organization
>within a system (and their expression in the form of new cultural forms
>or memes).

Your use of the 'Meta-System Transition' covers a lot of territory, but
left undefined. Can you give any examples?

Again, no reference to inheritance of behavioral traits here. Why?
Could the change from a culture dominated by inherited behavior patterns
to a culture dominated by learned behavior patterns be a 'Meta-System
Transition' according to your system?

As far as I can tell, you've sourced meaning outside the body, was this
to make inheritance a non-issue.

>5. The compression of experience into signs (memes) and symbols
>(memeplexes) is a function of the classification of experience carried
>out by the brain. This categorization is the fundamental cognitive
>operation through which variable experience is 'tracked' and organized.
>One can say that classification is not only what the brain does, but
>essentially what the brain IS, namely a machine for producing categories
>of experience.

This reminds me of idol worship traditions. In these traditions, meaning
was contained by the rock or statue (sign/symbol). The human contained
no meaning, but only served to catagorize 'divine' rocks and statues from
'normal' rocks and statues. Meaning and/or identity cames from
association with the rock (in my case, I'll admit my identity depends on
association with the green paper in my bank vault). Is this a correct

>6. ...Human culture and memetic
>evolution starts at this point where symbols - complex reports about
>experience can be EXCHANGED.

First, let me agree that the notion of 'exchange' is critical to human
cultural evolution.

I'm not sure why you start human culture and memetic evolution at the
same time. How would you differentiate between a human exhange of
experiential reports and the exchange between an adult and baby in
various bird and mammal species? In many cases, the baby will make
various gestures to express hunger, fear, pain, etc. The adults seem
capable of responding appropriately upon these reports.

Are these non-human exchanges non-memetic? They seem memetic based on
your 'reports' based definition.

>7. ...The human cognitive tendency to organize and comprehend
>experience in this way is a biologically-derived function. There are no
>memes hard-wired into the brain, there is only the processing hardware
>which allows us to recognize and manipulate these memetic reports -
>these messages. The cultural code from which all memetic messages are
>derived, combined, given meaning and decyphered is 'out there' dispersed
>amongst the large number of messages. The code exists as a statistical
>regularity amongst a large number of messages. It is not a thing in
>itself nor is it located somewhere. It is, in a sense everywhere. The
>machine for de-coding the messages is 'in here' - in us....

So, there are no memes inherited by the brain, only meme receivers and
meme processors?

Have you considered from what feature of the non-memetic brain these meme
complements evolved?

I don't have any problem with the notion that the machine for decoding is
'in here.' On the other hand, when you say that 'The cultural code from
which all memetic messages are derived, combined, given meaning and
decyphered is 'out there' dispersed amongst the large number of
messages,' I get confused. Earlier (#3), I assumed you put meaning in
the sound and light waves, the words with inherent meaning. Now, the
brain confers meaning on inert reports (experiences).

If meaning is conferred by the brain (the machine for decoding ... is 'in
here'), where does it come from? Is meaning generation an inherited
feature of the brain or learned? Was the first meme defined by a mutated
brain gene which produced a brain which processed an experience as
'meaningful' when earlier brains processed the same experience as
'meaningless'? What was the pre-memetic brain processing that suddenly
turned out to be a meme? random experiences? If processing random
experiences, why? what was the evolutionary advantage?

Sorry for all the questions.


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