Re: Emotional Contagion and the Memetic Stance

Paul Marsden (PaulMarsden@email.msn.com)
Tue, 1 Sep 1998 20:03:51 +0100

From: "Paul Marsden" <PaulMarsden@email.msn.com>
To: "memetics" <memetics@mmu.ac.uk>
Subject: Re: Emotional Contagion and the Memetic Stance
Date: Tue, 1 Sep 1998 20:03:51 +0100

Paul wrote

>However if you take the line of the of the alternative paradigm (Lynch for
>example) as internal units of memory CONTRA units of imitation, then
>memetics has little to do with contagion research (although it might not be
>incompatible). For what it is worth I think that Lynch is mistaking a
>useful heuristic device for the actual workings of our brain. Memetics is
a
>stance at the moment, and I think a very useful one. Taking the memetic
>stance is can help understand behaviour NOW, and one day it might just
>possibly (although I doubt it) help understand the mechanics of internal
>brain activity.

Aaron replied

>I would be curious to know what it is that I seem to be saying about the
>workings of our brains. In my view, a thought contagion could in principle
>spread from a human brain to an alien's brain, or vice versa--and be stored
>by vastly different internal workings.

Aaron, I took your definition of a meme

"MEME. Noun. A memory item, or portion of an organismís neurally-stored
information, identified using the abstraction system of the observer, whose
instantiation depended critically on causation by prior instantiation of the
same memory item in one or more other organismsí nervous systems.
("Sameness" of memory items is determined with respect to the
above-mentioned abstraction system of the observer."

to mean

"MEME. Noun. A memory item, or portion of an organismís NEURALLY-STORED
information, identified using the abstraction system of the observer, whose
instantiation depended critically on causation by prior instantiation of the
same MEMORY ITEM in one or more other organismsí NERVOUS SYSTEM. ("Sameness"
of memory items is determined with respect to the above-mentioned
abstraction system of the observer.)

Maybe I've got it all wrong, but I thought your article on meme mathematics,
based on this internal definition, was alluding to putative real processes
occurring inside brains (nervous systems i.e. mnemon combination etc),
i.e. - but if they're just heuristics then we are in agreement, and I
apologise.

I obviously agree that social contagion phenomenon exists and that you can
model, map and forecast the spread of behaviour (including verbal behaviour)
through collectivities (this is what I do for a living) using the Bass
equation etc. But, and this is the critical but, until you can measure a
thought, studying the spread of internal memory items will be out of our
reach for memetics. The only difference between us, (I think) is that I
don't think thoughts can currently be measured as *real* "items". I would
be more cautious and refer to thoughts as a heuristic device for
understanding your BEHAVIOUR. To understand your behaviour, I posit
"thoughts" (beliefs, attitudes, intentions etc) behind that behaviour. But
that doesn't make those thoughts real, they may or may not exist. However
the beauty and strength of memetics it doesn't have to rely on introspection
or neurally stored information. This is what I meant when I compared your
introspective concept with the sort of behaviourist operationalisation of
the meme concept taken by myself, Sue, Derek which is consistent with the
Oxford English Dictionary definition of the meme as ďA self-replicating
element of culture, passed on by imitationĒ.

Paul Marsden
Graduate Research Centre in the Social Sciences
University of Sussex
e-mail PaulMarsden@msn.com
tel/fax (44) (0) 117 974 1279

Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission:
http://www.cpm.mmu.ac.uk/jom-emit/

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