Christmas memetics discussion

Mark Mills (
Fri, 26 Dec 97 14:58:40 -0600

Message-Id: <>
Subject: Christmas memetics discussion
Date: Fri, 26 Dec 97 14:58:40 -0600
From: Mark Mills <>
To: "memetics list" <>

At the Christmas dinner table, my family got into a memetics discussion.
I'd like to report the conversation and see if anyone here wants to
continue it.

My son and I started the conversation with the question, 'what is the
first choice a baby makes?' We had been discussing options for someone
attempting to observe memetic behavior in human infants earlier in the
day. To my surprise, most of the adults in the family (about 12 people)
became engaged in the conversation.

Right off the bat, the college aged men wanted to debate the existence of
'choice' regardless the age. The mothers in the group simply over-ruled
the college aged existentialists. Mothers were convinced 'choice'
existed and used the babies present to emphasize the point.

The mothers were very clear that babies made choices at an early age.
One said that the first 'choice' her baby had made was to select his
thumb over a pacifier. This took place when her baby was a month old.
The others agreed and a few brought up embarrassing stories about how the
college aged men had once been involved with pacifiers.

A father brought up the 'choice' to smile at certain people. The mothers
seemed to think smiles were a reflex until later in babyhood.

At this point, the college aged existentialists wanted to talk about
reflexes. Touch a baby's mouth, they said, and sucking will begin. The
college aged men pointed out that the baby 'chose' breathing at birth,
but it was a reflex (or instinct), not a matter of consciousness.

This led to a discussion of 'reflex control.' The example of 'breathing'
was raised. 'Breathing' was a reflex a baby displays at birth (or dies).
At some point, the reflex is put under somewhat conscious control, but
should conscious control stop breath for too long, the consciousness
shuts down and breathing begins again... a game many kids experiment with.

The mothers in the group seems comfortable with the notion that babies
cried for attention as a matter of reflex, not choice. As I mentioned
above, the first conscious 'choice' mentioned was favoring the thumb over
the pacifier. The mother originating this story was quite certain that
her son 'liked' the thumb better. The son in question was only 6 months
old and unable to collaborate linguistically.

At this point the mothers drifted off, and the fathers and college aged
men were left to rationalize the data. This led to an attempt to define
a 'process' of choice. Essentially, the steps were:

1. experience
2. discrimination or distinguishing processes
3. choice
4. action

It seemed fundamental that organisms can 'discriminate' and 'choose'
appropriate action. It seems 'discrimination' occurs on the cellular
level as well as the 'organism' level. Some bacteria can move towards
'food' or 'heat.' This brought up interesting comments about the level
of 'consciousness' at the single celled level, in both singled celled
anaimals and multicelled animals.

It seemed apparent that there is no clean boundary between the reflexes
and 'consciousness.' The group eventually settled on the notion that
'consciousness' was a 'feature' of chosing between 'reflexes' or
'reflex/trained behavioral complexes.'

As I said at the beginning, the goal was to define a strategy for early
observation of memetic activity in human infants. Based on the
discussion, it seemed most would agree that one could start looking after
the age of 1 month. Younger infants might have memetic activity, but
agreement on the notion was lacking.


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Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
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