Re: To have a mnemon

Aaron Lynch (
Fri, 05 Jun 1998 13:55:49 -0500

Message-Id: <>
Date: Fri, 05 Jun 1998 13:55:49 -0500
From: Aaron Lynch <>
Subject: Re: To have a mnemon
In-Reply-To: <>


>On Tue, 02 Jun 1998 15:56:16 -0500 Aaron Lynch <> wrote:
>> A few more comments, though I doubt that we will resolve large differences
>> between schools of thought here on this list.
>There's still one major area we haven't thrashed out yet, and that's
>the question of coneptual memes.
>If I understand you correctly, you postulate that there are some people
>who can have a mnemon such as: 'bee pollen invigorates' (let's call
>this one A), and some other people who have a different mnemon: 'belief
>that bee pollen invigorates' (call this one B). The first of these is
>just an item of familiarity, and might be re-expressed as 'familiarity
>with the statement that bee pollen invigorates'. The second of these
>requires a belief in that statement. Presumably only those who have
>the first mnemon can have the second one but not the other way round,
>ie. I couldn't believe in something I had no knowledge of at all, but
>on the other hand I could have extensive knowledge of something I don't
>believe in.

I would word it a little more carefully:

Mnemon A: awareness of the proposition that bee pollen invigorates

Mnemon B: Belief in the proposition that bee pollen invigorates

>So therefore, adopting your formalism:
>A*B (a believer in bee pollen invigoration)
>A~B (a sceptic in the bee pollen market)
>~A~B (somebody who has not heard anything of this sort ever)
>These are all real types of people.
>~A*B is impossible since it would require that I believed
>something I had no knowledge of.
>I just mention this to clarify things before I begin.
>If somebody who has never heard of any invigorating properties of bee
>pollen, receives a message from me concerning the alleged
>invigorating properties of bee pollen, then that person acquires
>mnemon A, so:
>A + ~A gives 2A

>However, supposing I had decided to transmit the phrase: 'duck
>pollen invigorates'. Nobody, as far as I'm aware, has ever
>transmitted this meme before (and with good reason because it's
>nonsensical). Is this still an event of the type A + ~A gives 2A?
>(not the same A referred to above as that was bee pollen)

In order to avoid having 2 meanings for the word "transmit," I would
caution you to write "say the phrase" if you are talking about a language

Nevertheless, if the language act is comprehended, then you transmit an
awareness of the proposition that duck pollen invigorates. The form of the
event is still A + ~A gives 2A.

>Does that then imply that I had the 'duck pollen invigorates'
>mnemon before I transmitted it? I don't think I did, as I just
>made it up immediately prior to typing it on the keyboard.

You only had an awareness of the proposition that duck pollen invigorates
(mnemon A'). You did not have a B'-type mnemon of belief in the proposition
that duck pollen invigorates. Having the mnemon "immediately prior" is
still sufficient for you to participate in a replication event. If, on the
other hand, you dropped something on the keyboard with the result that
"bee" was deleted and replaced with "duck," then we have one of the myriad
mechanisms for heterogenic events of the form ~A --> A, 2~A --> 2A, (or
100~A --> 100A for a listserver).

>If the answer to the above is no, then I can transmit a mnemon I
>don't have. Or do I _have_ to be a host to transmit? If not then
>is the correct formalism, ~A + ~A goes to 2A? If I just make it
>up and instead of communicating it over the web, I just say it
>quietly to myself, is that ~A goes to A?

You can transmit a proposition that you do not believe in. But the word
"transmit" is again a word to use with caution. In the specialized context
of memetics, and especially for informal discourse about memetics (e.g., in
my book), I use it to refer to homogenic (replicational) events only, so
that ~A --> A and 100~A --> 100A are not "transmission" in that host to new
host sense. (With viruses, it is not host to new host transmission if you
put on a biohazard suit and aerosolize a vial of small pox in a crowded
room--whether accidentally or deliberately. Same if you do this with a
totally new virus that you had just created in the lab.)

If, in solitude, you quietly come up with the idea of duck pollen
invigorating, then this is a ~A --> A event.

>If 'duck pollen invigorates' seems to be too contrived an example,
>let us consider 'wasp pollen invigorates' which is not necessarily
>I just thought of that wasp example. It sort of came into my head
>somewhere between the first and second line above, probably about
>0.5 seconds before I typed it. Was that the instant I became a
>host of this mnemon? Now all the readers on the list have read
>it. Are they then hosts to 'wasp pollen invigorates' mnemons?

>If I sit here and derive thousands of variants on this theme:
>'elephant pollen invigorates'
>'fly pollen invigorates'
>'artificial pollen invigorates'
>and so on ad nauseum, can we say that my brain is host to _all_
>these mnemons, as I produce them? Therefore all I need is an
>infinite amount of time to become host to an infinite amount of

This hypothetical situation presumes that A --> ~A never happens. By the
time you have derived the 100,000th mnemon, you might have forgotten the
32,768th one. Nothing about the word "mnemon" implies infinite memory
capacity. Given the finite actual capacity of the brain, you will start
forgetting them. I would think that you will probably also tend to forget
arbitrary and nonsensical mnemons faster.

>If not why not? I devised them, I transmitted them. Which
>mnemons am I host to then? Only the plausible ones? Only the
>ones I believe? (that won't work as you say that belief is a
>different mnemon entirely).

If you embark on a life-long course of generating mnemons about the
invigorating effects of various kinds of pollen, I cannot say just which
ones you will forget faster. After all, this is not among the main
phenomena I concern myself with. I don't claim to know which mnemons you
will invent, or which ones you will forget fastest, so I don't know which
ones you will have left (continue to host) by the age of 100 or so.

>Surely better not to say I am host to any of them. We are not
>host to concepts - we produce concepts via language. I can
>produce an infinite variety of concepts, some sensible, the
>majority nonsense, but I am not host to them. If the human mind
>is definable as a set of mnemon instantiations (do you say this?
>I don't want to put words into your mouth) then it must be an
>infinite set.

The infinite set of mnemons in a single person just does not happen. Some
concepts are produced non-linguistically, too. For instance, if you
conceive of a new knot by visualizing the manipulation of a rope in your
mind, you may have no idea of how to verbalize it. So instead, you may only
remember the visual/motor sequence of rope manipulations. For
retransmitting, you may have to resort to actually demonstrating the tying
of that knot to onlookers. Someone may have once shown you how to tie your
shoe, but I doubt that you are using a sequence of English words to store
this memory, or that you can readily verbalize how to tie your shoe for us
here on the listserv. Instead, you might find it easier to
non-linguistically teach a monkey to tie a shoe using visual and motor
demonstrations, along with rewards for success.

I don't, however, insist that the human mind is composed of mnemons alone.

>Unless you can solve this, then you cannot have mnemon/host
>duality for concepts at all.

I'd advise caution about the word "duality," too--but that's another
discussion. When used with care, the word "mnemon" does not lead to
infinities or contradictions.

--Aaron Lynch

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