Re: Substance and Form

Mon, 1 Jun 1998 11:29:10 -0400 (EDT)

Subject: Re: Substance and Form
Date: Mon, 1 Jun 1998 11:29:10 -0400 (EDT)

> I don't have the 1971 edition, but Rogers 1983 definitely talks about not
> just artifacts and behaviors, but also propagating information in human
> hosts. (Though he does not use the term "host.") To quote from the prefac=
> by Rogers himself, (p. XIX), "...The diffusion of innovations, thus, is
> essentially a social process in which subjectively perceived information
> about a new idea is communicated." Later sections talk about the spread o=
> "knowledge," "software information," "opinions," etc. These all qualify a=
> mnemons in my usage.

Now that is interesting, because he doesn't say that in the 1971=20
edition. Obviously Rogers was influenced by the growth of ideational=20
anthropology in the late 60s and 70s. Apparently there's a new edition=20
out now (which will be the 4th, I think) so it will be interesting to=20
see what Rogers currently thinks.
> One mnemon that probably co-propagates with the behaviors and artifacts i=
> a belief that cowrie shells are precious, though I do not have a relevant
> study at hand.

> Back when you were very young, someone probably explained to you =A31 not=
> were more precious than other pieces of paper. Explanations such as these
> probably affected the information stored in your brain. On the other hand=
> send 100 kg. of =A31 notes into some societies, and you might be able to
> observe them being used for cooking fuel--unless you are very careful to
> spread some ideas along with the papers. The great social distance from
> those using cowries in Africa may make the co-propagating ideas less
> apparent to people in Europe and North America, but this does mean that t=
> ideas are absent.=20

I also have reservations about the issue of transmission/replication of=20
beliefs. Even accepting for the present that belief is actually=20
transmitted (which I don't accept - but that's another argument),=20
there is still a substantial body of evidence, beginning with the=20
classic work of LaPiere in the 1930s which suggests that professed=20
beliefs are of little or no relevance to subsequent behaviour=20
(reviewed by Cronk 1995, pp.183-185). Belief, even if we could=20
say that it is transmitted (which I don't think we can, what is=20
transmitted is a language statement eg. 'I believe x' - a=20
performative utterance in the jargon of linguistic philosophers),=20
is largely irrelevant to the material and behavioural=20
manifestations of culture in the real world.

> What you can count are hosts of mnemons, each of which corresponds to a
> single mnemon instantiation. This does involve making functional
> definitions, as with surveys and polling methods. Yes, there are cases
> where counting hosts is more difficult than counting objects, but I have
> also pointed out problems in usefully counting instantiations of certain
> artifacts. Using Mormon membership data is indeed an indirect gauge of
> belief prevalence, but indirect measurements are performed in all sorts o=
> sciences. Ultimately, we want to design a survey that asks questions such
> as "Jesus visited North America: [Y/N/?]," "The Book of Mormon was reveal=
> in golden tablets to Joseph Smith: [Y/N/?]," etc., with only respondents
> answering in certain ways being considered "Mormon." Such surveys are sti=
> indirect measures of the prevalence of ideas, but this does not mean that
> the ideas do not exist (or that they are useless abstractions).

This is precisely the approach that Quine (1960) uses to define=20
linguistic behaviourism. Quine refers to =91linguistic behaviour=92,=20
the tendency to affirm or deny when presented with linguistic stimuli. =20
The =91true=92 or =91false=92 markers are then simply the subject=92s respo=
to the stimuli (the memes as bald concepts without value markers).=20
However, Quine is not so easily brought into the orthodox=20
memetic fold. The word =91behaviour=92 is significant in his philosophy. =
For the Quine of the early 1960s, there was little prospect of any=20
knowledge of internal states. Individuals utter sentences and other=20
individuals affirm or deny them. The intentions or belief states of=20
the transmitter are not under consideration, merely the memes themselves=20
as transmitted.

In any case, is it not an invalid assumption that members of=20
religious groups can actually give answers to the sort of=20
questions you ask? You seem to be defining possession of the=20
religious 'mnemon' to be productive of theological knowledge. If=20
you take 100 Presbyterians and ask them to explain predestination=20
or irresistible grace, the majority of them will look at you=20
blankly. Likewise, in my experience, many Western Buddhists seem=20
to confuse reincarnation with metempsychosis.

Bear in
> mind that quarks, magnetic fields, etc. are also measured indirectly. You
> cannot "actually count" quarks, for instance. Even cowrie shells are
> measured indirectly, too, based on the opinion of a human observer who
> might sometimes count counterfeit cowries, similar shells, damaged shells=
> too small shells, etc. When using a survey to classify respondents as
> Mormon or non-Mormon, you can also ask questions such as "how many childr=
> do you have?" The result will again be an indirect measurement of actual
> numbers of children. Methodology will always be an important topic for
> empirical research.

Yes, and methodology in memetics is the biggest problem we have. =20
If you adopt your questionnaire approach, you are: a) performing a=20
behaviourist experiment, which b) will probably reveal that all=20
those who are labelled as Mormons constitute a highly=20
heterogeneous group with regard to the beliefs attributed to=20
Mormonism as a whole, with the majority (as with any religious=20
group) largely ignorant of even the most basic theology of the=20
group. In any case, few of these professed beliefs will affect=20
their behaviour (Cronk 1995, pp.183-185).

> Bear in
> mind that quarks, magnetic fields, etc. are also measured indirectly. You
> cannot "actually count" quarks, for instance.

But memetics is not built around a theory analogous to quark=20
theory (maybe it should be, if it will solve the problem of how=20
to count mnemons). Rather it is analogous to=20
genetics/epidemiology. In those two theories, you do have to count=20
infections or genes directly. Therefore we have to try to stick=20
to things we can count directly.

Cronk, L. (1995) Is there a role for culture in human behavioral=20
ecology? Ethology and Sociobiology 16, 181-205.
Quine, W.v.O. (1960) Word and Object. Technology Press, MIT.

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