Nothing succeeds like success

Michael Best (
Mon, 07 Sep 1998 19:06:14 -0400

Date: Mon, 07 Sep 1998 19:06:14 -0400
From: Michael Best <>
Subject: Nothing succeeds like success

I find the definition debate that plagues this list (and indeed the JOM)
a bit distracting. Nothing would better support or motivate a use of
"meme" then a body of work inwhich solid progress is made. And godspeed
to us all.

That said, and to shamelessly have it both ways, I think the argument
over neurons versus behavior carves the problem at relatively
uninteresting joints. The behaviorist, as exemplified by Gatherer, are
overly pessimistic about the progress made on the neuroscience front.
Real progress in neuroethology and indeed neuroecology now allows
researchers to trace certain behavioral states at the neuronal level in
animal models.

On the flip side, the mind-matters crowd, as exemplified by Vaneechoutte
and Lynch, haven't successfully (within the memetics literature anyway)
unified their accounts of neuronal representations and cultural
transmission. So they talk the neuron talk but don't seem to walk the
neuron walk. Moreover, even if you are heavy into neural
representations, it still remains true that artifact and behavior are
probably the best mechanism to trace these internal states (much as a
careful study of comparative morphology can provide a superb means of
tracking certain genetic traits).

But no matter how you come down on this neuron versus behavior question,
that does not remove the most salient aspect of memetics. To wit:
memetics is a replicator-eyed view which seeks to integrate the ultimate
co-evolutionary and ecological explanations with knowledge of the
proximate mechanisms of information processing and transmission. But
this central tenant seems lost on those folks who clutter this mailing
list with discussions on tactics for human persuasion. I must admit,
first off, that I am personally disgusted by these feminisim-bashers and
get-laid-quick grifters and wish they would go away. But that
notwithstanding, I don't quite see how they fit within a memetic model
at all.

So finally, here is my call to arms: To the neural folks please go find
some neural representations and study their dynamics and report on your
findings. To the behavioral or artifact folks, please go model some
behavior or artifact or whatnot and report those findings. I would love
to learn from both camps. And remember that humans are not the only
species that engage in memetic transmission; non-human animal models
afford great opportunity for the study of memes without some of the
messy complications attendant to humans.

Michael Best

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