Re: Nothing succeeds like success

Aaron Lynch (
Mon, 07 Sep 1998 23:37:12 -0500

Message-Id: <>
Date: Mon, 07 Sep 1998 23:37:12 -0500
From: Aaron Lynch <>
Subject: Re: Nothing succeeds like success
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At 07:06 PM 9/7/98 -0400, Michael Best wrote:
>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

Thank you for weighing in on this, Michael.

I must agree with you that having the meaning of the word "meme" as an
ongoing point of contention is disappointing.

For those of us interested in neurally encoded information, good science
may involve a number of different levels of neural detail.

It will be nice if Mario gets a good grant to track the spread of bird song
neural encodings in a population, (possibly of cloned birds), perhaps using
a sophisticated scanner that finds just what neural structures exist in
common between birds singing "the same" song. I imagine that his
appreciation for plasmid genetics would greatly benefit this work.

Or it would be nice to set up a PET scan experiment that detects the
different reactions of people listening to familiar versus unfamiliar
words, and use this to track the spread of the word "memetics" in a human
population. We might even find that those who are PET scan positive for
recognition are more likely to engage in speech behaviors that convert new
people from PET scan negative to PET scan positive for recognition of

Still, there are worthwhile studies to be done with older methods of survey
and polling. For instance, I might go out and ask American children some
questions to see if they know how to play baseball and like the sport, and
if they know how to play tennis and like that sport. I could then measure
(by observation or by survey) the rates of efforts to spread knowledge of
each sport. (Prediction: more conversion efforts for baseball, because the
sport requires more team mates and opposing team mates to play the game.) I
would work with the general premise that knowledge of how to play a sport
is neurally stored without actually knowing the details of such storage. To
you, it might seem like "talking the neuron talk without walking the neuron
walk," but this does not diminish its value as science or imply that such a
project should get lower priority in memetics.

--Aaron Lynch

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