[Fwd: Re: testing memetics]

Mario Vaneechoutte (Mario.Vaneechoutte@rug.ac.be)
Thu, 11 Dec 1997 14:24:46 -0800

Message-Id: <3490682E.2F9E@rug.ac.be>
Date: Thu, 11 Dec 1997 14:24:46 -0800
From: Mario Vaneechoutte <Mario.Vaneechoutte@rug.ac.be>
To: memetics@mmu.ac.uk
Subject: [Fwd: Re: testing memetics]

I thought Mark replied to my comments on his octopus message on the
list, but he sent the reply to me. So when I replied it was to his
address and not to the list. In the meantime Bill Benzon forwarded
Howard Blooms message to the list. I am now forwarding the discussion
between Mark and me this to the list.

I wrote:
> >
> > >However, in the example you give octopuses are not copying anything,
> > >they gradually acquire a new skill and this skill, this behaviour, this
> > >information on how to do something is not further copied to any other
> > >mind.

Mark wrote:
> >
> > I guess I'm arguing that the act of 'copying' is simply a conglomeration
> > of neural events. None of the neural events has anything to do with the
> > step we call 'copying.' In other words, there is no mental step call
> > 'copying,' only a lot of incremental memorization and emotional response.

> I agree, but the issue is that for memetics there is something that must
> be transmitted. This is not the case in the example you give. People
> just set out the environmental conditions such that octopuses will
> acquire a new skill. We do not tell them or show them anything. Still,
> this is an interesting topic you touched and some discussion about the
> difference between acquiring new behaviour by learning through
> individual exploration of the environment and by reading, listening or
> watching might be very relevant to memetics.

> > In other words, we all build our own 'way of doing it.' We don't do
> > anything the octopus can't do, we just do things with a lot more
> > complexity.

> I agree to a large extent, except that we can speak, which is the only
> essential difference (IMO) between humans and other animals.

> > We need to be able to walk through this process without recourse to
> > conscious behavior and modern human mental agility since the 'first'
> > organisms to display memetic behavior 'emerged' from non-memetic
> > populations.

> Both you and I agree on this topic, I believe. Memes became possible
> when animals developed means of information transmission in a
> nonchemical manner (e.g. by using sound waves and photons: sound
> production and perception, resp. visual signalling and perception of
> photon transmitted information.)

> >Memetics must work without 'copying' because the first memetic organism had nothing >to copy.

> Here I think there is confusion between having a brain and being able to
> communicate by nonchemical means. Many invertebrates e.g. have brains,
> they have perception organs, but these are not used to communicate or to
> transmit information. The use is largely to find food and potential
> partners and to avoid predators.
> It occurs to me that you consider each neuronal event in the brain and
> every new knowledge or experience as a meme or as memetic. This is a
> possible definition, as there are already numerous definitions which
> make the term 'meme' rather contentless, but then 'meme' again looses
> some of the explanatory power specific for social and cultural events as
> possible between social animals and humans.

Now, I think that my point of view corroborates well with what Howard
Bloom has to say about octopuses and memes (as he asked Bill Benzon to
forward to this list):

>Memes were not transmissible via inch-long chains of adenine, cytosine,
>guanosine, and thymine corkscrewed in a microscopic clump. They
>were relayed via scent, sight and sound. Memes were form indifferent
>to the substance which carried them. They would provide the key first
>to a knowledge explosion, and later to the evolution of a whole new
>style of worldwide web.

>But can this form of prudence be networked--can it be passed from one
>octopus to another? Most certainly. Bring in an equally transparent
>container housing a second octopus. Place it next to the octopus you've
>trained. Now show the pre-punished tentacle-bearer the stuffed toy. As
>it whooshes back in panic, its naive neighbor will be watching. Try the
>experiment a few more times, just to make sure the newcomer gets the
>message. No, it has never been stung by shock. But yes, it has seen its
>fellow water denizen indicate that when a cuddly bear appears there may
>be trouble in the offing. Now isolate octopus number two and show it
>the plaything. It will follow the lead of its more experienced conspecific
>and recoil with a speed that will astonish you. What's more, it will
>catch on faster by following the cues of another octopus than if forced
>to learn on its own. Congratulations. You have just uncovered one
>synapse of a social brain--imitative learning.

>You have also witnessed the operation of a primordial meme. No
>cellular material was exchanged. Only photons connected the two
>creatures. Yet the neural response of one octopus was reproduced in the
>brain of the other.

This illustrates the point I wanted to make about the difference between
learning by individual exploration of the environment and learning by
mimicking, whereby only the latter concerns information which is
transmitted from one mind to another.

The remarks and observations of Bloom are to the point, but I would like
to remind that similar insights have been formulated already on this
list, also in a discussion between Mark and me.

Mario Vaneechoutte@rug.ac.be

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