Re: testing memetics

Robert G. Grimes (
Thu, 11 Dec 1997 11:21:08 -0500

Date: Thu, 11 Dec 1997 11:21:08 -0500
From: "Robert G. Grimes" <>
Subject: Re: testing memetics

Mario Vaneechoutte wrote:

> Snip
> Taking Dawkins initial definition, a meme is some behavioural - cultural
> information which is copied from mind to mind. In the case of octopus
> learning there is no copying of acquired skills, there is only acquiring
> new skills by a trial and error process (learning) and this is an
> example of what an intelligent processor can achieve, but is not a meme.
> Only in case other octopuses start copying this behaviour, we have a
> meme.


As I recall, there was an experience in England where a jackdaw (if I'm not mistaken) alighted on or near a milk bottle of the old type (glass with a paper cap inset in the top). The bird pecked at the top on one side of the cap (presumed by much later observation) and the cap turned, exposing the milk. The bird drank some of the milk until the level sank too low. The bird repeated this act (presumably) and eventually another jackdaw watched him. Voila, the jackdaw meme of tapping on one side of
the circular top was on its way. Eventually, again, to my understanding, the finding of spoiled bottles (half opened and some milk missing and the witnessing of the birds accomplishing this) spread around the village, then to the next village, etc., over England, until the milk companies were forced to change the manner of capping the bottles. The birds and bottles had been there for years before it was discovered by the birds that they could open the bottles. After that, there was no stopping
them and the idea diffused through the population more quickly than could be explained by propagation of specific birds. I believe the next step was to enclose the top and cap in a separate foil (?) wrapper and subsequently the problem was solved with the transition to a waxed cardboard carton? The jackdaw (Eurasian crow) is a member of the Crovidae, jays, crows, etc., some of the most intelligent of the birds.

I am unable to remember where I first read of this experience but it is still fresh in my mind as an example. A quick search turned up no references so I'm stymied. A call to another avid birder reconfirmed the story but still no source.

However, the anthropic approach of presuming that only man has powers of independent non chemical learning and/or communication bothers me greatly. There is no doubt that man is the most advanced and that much of other life form's thinking is of an instinctual manner but, in my mind, the differences are in capacity and degree rather than exclusiveness to man.



P.S. If someone has the source for the bird/bottle experience please let me know as I'm still looking through my library...

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: