Re: Memes are Interactors

Bruce Howlett (
Wed, 22 Apr 1998 16:38:50 +0000

Date: Wed, 22 Apr 1998 16:38:50 +0000
From: Bruce Howlett <>
Subject: Re: Memes are Interactors


As a neophyte in the academic arena, I have felt concern over the
possibility of mass mis-information being transferred on the internet
where anyone can publish anything they like. On the other hand, the
internet provides the communication infrastructure that facillitates
such potentially beneficial interactions between academics and other
interested researchers as ably demonstrated by the discussions on this
list. The desire to understand and share ideas (memes) is the dominant
motivator, although I admit to having recently ordered Aaron's book
which I probably would not have known about if not for this list. I
think the secret of success (in terms of what you may gain personally
from your involvement in the lists discussions), is to maintain a
perspective and a sense of humour. As Aaron suggests in his recent
paper, we still have a lot to learn: “Regardless of why we rely so much
on abstractions, science as we know it is largely a project to develop
and test ever stronger systems of abstractions with which to describe
and comprehend reality. The “stronger” systems of abstractions are
defined as those which explain more of reality with reliance on fewer
essential abstractions. Yet deep questions remain on whether nature
will some day indulge the physicist's quest for the kinds of “ultimate”
abstractions of “grand unification theories”. Will our desire for ever
more unifying abstractions instead be frustrated by some fundamental
complexities of a reality not designed specifically to please the human
mind? This we have yet to learn.”
( )

We obviously share an abhorance for re-inventing the wheel. Like you, I
was hoping that a well researched Science of Memetics already existed.
I discovered this list through the SUN (Systems University of the Net)
listserver where I was discussing “systems thinking” in relation to my
current research. I remember feeling astounded that an area as critical
to the well being and survival of humans (ie:ideas), was not already a
major subject in the social sciences. Edward de Bono came close to a
similar (to memetics) concept when he discussed pattern identification
and his understanding of the way our minds work. In the light of the
recent work on memetics, many of de Bono’s observations and conclusions
make a lot more sense scientifically. When you said:
>>> Any of this hosts will have its particular reasons for behaving according to the "transmitted" meme. Some will accept it without "understanding" it only because they like you, some will find in it some portion of information that fits well enough in some other part of their memetic structure, or have any other interest why it is better to accept your thought than reject it.
it triggered a pattern match in my memory about de Bono’s work.

Which brings me to my final observation:

“Scientists basically measure three things: variables, the chances that
data about the variables are meaningful, and relationships between
variables. Each of these measurement tasks has distinctive approaches
and statistical devices. As we look at the ideas used in accomplishing
these tasks, remember that measurement almost always looks more precise
than it really is.”
Hoover, K. R. 1984. The Elements of Social Sciencetific Thinking.
(St. Martins Press) p. 101.

In the process of establishing a new science I think we should “look at
the ideas used”, identify meaningful data and relationships, and keep in
mind that our specialty will continue to evolve.

Edward de Bono warns us of the “intelligence trap”:
“A highly intelligent person can take a view on a subject and then use
his or her intelligence to defend that view. The more intelligent the
person the better the defence of the view. The better the defence of
the view the less that person sees any need to seek out alternatives or
to listen to anyone else. If you know that you are ‘right’ why should
you do either of those things? As a result, many highly intelligent
minds are trapped in poor ideas because they can defend them so well.”


Bruce Howlett :-)

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Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
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