Re: testing memetics

Mario Vaneechoutte (
Fri, 12 Dec 1997 09:12:51 -0800

Message-Id: <>
Date: Fri, 12 Dec 1997 09:12:51 -0800
From: Mario Vaneechoutte <>
Subject: Re: testing memetics

Robert G. Grimes wrote:
> 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 si
> 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 stoppin
> 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.

Is this last remark meant as opposing something I wrote? Did I say that
only man has powers of ...? The reason why I got stuck in all this meme
stuff is that from the age of ten onwards I developed a
nonanthropocentric manner of looking at people.

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

Maybe the story itself is a meme, but it probably is a true story. The
instances that I have read or heard about it, the story was about tits
knowing this trick.

Mario Vaneechoutte
Laboratory Bacteriology & Virology
Blok A, De Pintelaan 185
University Hospital Ghent
Belgium 9000 Ghent
Tel: +32 9 240 36 92
Fax: +32 9 240 36 59

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