Re: More on information

Robert G. Grimes (
Fri, 07 Nov 1997 21:19:23 -0500

Date: Fri, 07 Nov 1997 21:19:23 -0500
From: "Robert G. Grimes" <>
Subject: Re: More on information

Ton Maas wrote:

> Snip

> There is a nice collateral to this, which is related to one of the key
> notions in my own book (olny in Dutch, alas) on natural learning: the
> concept of calibration as a means of correction in learning. Whenever a
> skill is taught & learned, the conversation between teacher and student has
> a way of becoming metaphorical in nature. A violin teacher will tell his
> student that he/she has to "give it a bit more air" or to "let the note
> slip upward". To an outside observer this communication often seems quite
> nonsensical, but to the participants in the learning process it actually
> refers to (or triggers) a shared experience. Whereas in "feedback" type
> learning (most schooling falls in this category) communication can be quite
> literal and precise (in fact, this type of learning depends on explicit
> lists of instructions which only need to be executed correctly to achieve
> the intended goal), "calibration" style learning involves skill or
> "know-how" rather than knowledge. It follows from this that everything
> about sewing that can be stored, only makes sense to individual
> practitioners as long as the living tradition survives. Of course this
> varies with the "level" (or compexity) of the skill, but I have been told
> (for example) that the art of navigating the big sailing freighters from
> the seventeenth century is forever lost and cannot be retrieved from
> written accounts and/or instructions or manuals from that time.

Ton,Wonderful! You say it so well and I fully agree. This is what I was implying
with my statement about how "astounding" it is how much is communicated with so
little "codification." To me, this is the fabulous quality of what I think we are
referring to as the meme seed. It is (and has to be) minimal yet it blossoms into
amazingly faithful (as best as we can tell) reproduction when "internalized" in
the receptive organism. With all of those modifiers there is (to us) an amazing
amount of transfer with such little "signal," i.e., the information/signal ratio
is extremely high (albeit the "noise"/signal ratio may be just as high).

Your (to us) suggestion was well taken although I always thought this was
understood as that is the only way anything can be, words have no meaning but that
we agree upon at the moment. Yet, we continually "talk past" each other
unknowingly. Mark Mills wrote to me and said the following:

Bob Grimes wrote:
>But I think that it is probably apparent that we agree that the meme, when
>traveling between organisms,

Mark Mills wrote:

>I don't agree.

>In my use of 'meme,' the thing stays planted in the brain, stored in the
>brain tissue.

>The only way to move a meme between two individuals would be a tissue

Thus, the "literal" translation was that I thought "the meme was traveling" when
I have always meant the "meme seed" was traveling and we have always been in
complete agreement on that the meme "stays put." Thus, when talking of meme
"transmission" I thought we all were always talking about replication (copying) by
the host organism, not the actual meme. That was why I have always been so
insistent that the copy is "not the original" nor is the copy "identical to the
original," etc. Still, there is the excellent example of what we were
discussing, we send one thing but another gets received. All of it is modified
for multiple reasons yet, as you pointed out, the metaphor apparently carries much
more to those who share the extensional practice or knowledge. I want to think
about some of the things you mentioned before replying further as it was very



> >It would appear to be (and I believe that Ton would agree) very safe to
> >continue to use such terminology of "information storage, meme complexes
> >printed in books, or meme codification through symbology," etc., and all of
> >us knowing fairly well what we think is occurring. I believe that Ton was
> >simply drawing attention to the problems associated with our concepts about
> >"meme definition" when we talk about "replication" or "storage," etc., if
> >not, he will surely correct me and inform us in his own inimitable way, very
> >accurately and with insight.
> I have become rather wary of using the term "information" too loosely and
> feel more comfortable with the concept of "meaning" (or "relevance"), as it
> emphasizes the relational (if not processual) aspect of informing. All I'm
> saying is that we should be very careful with reifying "objective"
> phenomena such as "stored information", because they have no meaning
> whatsoever outside the ongoing activity of living practitioners. According
> to some "strict" memeticists the ancient Egyptian memes survived many
> centuries to the present day, but in fact they were only introduced to our
> memetic space through Champolion's discovery of the hieroglyph code.
> Without him they would still be noise, albeit very elegant noise :-) I know
> that I'm oversimplifying the case, but I hope you get the idea...
> Suppose a less technologically inclined future civilization digs up some of
> the artefacts from our present era. Apart from the confusion the sheer mass
> of our debris would probably cause, there is an interesting difference
> between, say, longplay records and compact discs. With an analogically
> coded medium such as the grammophone, retrieval of the stored "information"
> is not as unlikely as with digital coding. In fact, a simple sheet of
> aluminum foil could be enough to retrieve some sounds from the grooves
> (enough to get at least an idea of what's on the album), but with a compact
> disc that scenario is highly improbable.
> >But I think that it is probably apparent that we agree that the meme, when
> >traveling between organisms, is a physical representation of the original
> >construct within the organism's cognitive milieu, and as such, is a
> >codification of the original, just as all "informational" exchanges between
> >organisms.
> My nitpicking comment would be that the meme *is* a physical representation
> only insofar as we perceive or use it. I would prefer the phrase "is to us"
> over "is". For me the whole exercise only stresses once again the fact that
> our language has a very strong inherent "objectifying" tendency.
> Regards,
> Ton
> ===============================================================
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> Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
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Bob Grimes Jacksonville, Florida

Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore....."

=============================================================== 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) see: