Re: language, creativity and science

Ton Maas (
Wed, 3 Dec 1997 07:41:01 +0100

Message-Id: <v03102805b0aaa9bf144f@[]>
In-Reply-To: <>
Date: Wed, 3 Dec 1997 07:41:01 +0100
From: Ton Maas <>
Subject: Re: language, creativity and science

>Excuse my ignorance if I am wrong, but the paradigm
>shift in memetics is seeing language as not a tool
>of communication, but rather a vehicle for propogating
>memes. Communication in its simpler forms does not
>need language. It can be a purely physical expression
>of behaviours and smells. Animals communicate in this
>way. There is no symbol organization involved. Humans
>communicate this way too but have the added layer of
>language which enables to create and reinforce ideological
>systems (used to develope forms of cooperative behaviour?).

First of all there *is* symbolic interaction between animals as well.
Observation of wolf packs has clearly demonstrated that submission of adult
males involves certain corrective behaviours from the dominant alpha-male,
which are "transposed" from their usual context of rearing infants to
inter-adult communication. It is as if the dominant male is saying: "See, I
treat you like a cub" or "You are like a cub to me". Between wolves these
messages are much mure effective than could be explained by interpreting
them as the "small" gestures they appear to be. In human language the
additional aspect of digital coding has been developed much more
dramatically, but in terms of the difference between us and animals, it's
gradual rather than fundamental. Furtermore, many modern linguists agree
that language is much more than a tool of a vehicle for memes - it is the
air we breathe, the medium we exist in and what actually makes us what we

>My next question is on how does creativity in non-survival
>persuits be explained in the Darwinian world. Art serves
>no obviouse purpose and yet gets reinforced over and over.
>I play violin and I enjoy playing violin, but I don't see
>what the genetic purpose of this endeavor is. Why do we
>have an imagination that can be used beyond creating useful
>models in our world?

"A mans aim should outreach his grasp, else what's a meta for?" I don't
know who said that (references would be appreciated ;-), but it sums it up
pretty nicely. BTW, on a meta-level it always *is* survival we're talking
about, even when it comes to art. The idea that art is "luxury" for the
leisure class is a very silly notion, reinforced by our own traditions of
either/or, non-interdependent and non-systems-oriented thinking.

>And the final question is if Memetics can be considered a
>science. How can you test something like this? What makes
>this any different than "scientific" investigation of the

I always tell my students to be very careful with tests, since they are all
too easily tempted to treat them as goals instead of minimal requirements.
Tests provide relative safety, but once they're out there in the "real"
world, they will be judged by their ability to set their own standards and
define their own goals. Science can be a wonderful enterprise, but too
often it is a perfect example of a testing-game.


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