Re: List of meme definitions (reply to Paul Marsden)

Ton Maas (
Fri, 10 Apr 1998 21:17:51 +0200

Message-Id: <v03102800b1541b613c16@[]>
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Date: Fri, 10 Apr 1998 21:17:51 +0200
From: Ton Maas <>
Subject: Re: List of meme definitions (reply to Paul Marsden)

Kastytis wrote:
>We can interpret the consciousness as an interface that filtrates and
>prepares relevant information for transmission to other individuals.
>In development of this hypotheses:
>1. The species that does not have a need to transmit abstract information
>about their environment (or about past or future events...) to other
>individuals does not have the consciousness.

Hmm. I'd say that cats and dogs are obviously conscious, though not
necessarily self-conscious. Self-consciousness is what's necessary to be
able to communicate _about_ commucination.

>2. Individuals of many species can transmit only danger signals or similar
>ones. These signals are only reflex responses to some external or rather
>simple internal stimuli. Such animals does not have a need for consciousness.

Animal minds are far from simple. Even diehard behaviourists had to admit
it is virtually impossible to stop rats in mazes from being curious, since
"sticking your nose into a dark hole" is _not_ a single and simple "item"
of behavior. Curiosity is a way of _organizing_ behavior: a pattern rather
than an item. By administering an electric shock to a rat's nose, the
behaviorist can't stop the rat from being explorative, since his curiosity
is actually rewarded by the shock. Even in rats, mental complexity is
sufficient to allow for changes in sign from one logical level to another.
I'd say that behavior per se requires some kind of consciousness, but not

On a related note the French couple who made "Microcosm" (a feature film
about insects), even though they had years of experience behind them, said
during a TV-interview that they were very surprized to observe individual
characters among such "simple" organisms as beetles. Of all the seven
beetles they collected for a certain scene, only _one_ was able/willing to
perform the required trick of rolling a ball of turd before a rolling
camera on the set. All the other six turned out to be camera-shy :-)

>>Organisms can have effective "models" of their environment without the need
>>for consciousness, which is in many respects collateral to the proceedings
>3. The bandwidth of speech channel limits the width of 'conscious
>information processing'. The natural selection could not maintain the
>emergency of broad 'conscious channels' in human evolution.
>So this interpretation may be some weak answer to question why capacity of
>conscious information processing is much less then capacity of unconscious
>Practically all memes (in humans) are transmitted by consciously controlled

As a cultural anthropologist I am tempted to say (although I prefer not to
quantify these data) that most cultural traits and premises (constituting
the bulk of our individual mental "luggage") are transmitted
subconsciously, by interactional routines that are so obvious to all the
participants that they are never questioned or analyzed. This doesn't mean,
however, that they cannot be quite obvious to a trained observer from the
outside. Our most basic memes are transmitted and received without any
conscious awareness on our part.


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Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
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