Re: Doing the neural walk

Mark Mills (
Mon, 14 Sep 98 11:29:02 -0600

Subject: Re: Doing the neural walk
Date: Mon, 14 Sep 98 11:29:02 -0600
From: Mark Mills <>
To: "Memetics List" <>
Message-Id: <>


>This raises an important point, that the storage of the 'ability to
>perform' a behavior (and note this is exactly the kind of thing that
>Cavalli-Sforza and co. usually seek out when looking for their 'cultural
>traits') may take different forms at different times during the lifetime
>of the individual. The first time one learns a behavior there is neural
>activity and information storage of a certain kind. But, with subsequent
>practice, that storage _changes its pattern_. Which of these subsequent
>neural patterns is _the_ 'internal' meme? This, in fact, seems to call
>the whole notion of internal neural replicators into doubt, the 'cerebral
>code' changes for a behavior within one individual's lifetime.

Let me frame my reply before starting.

The following are 2 ways of defining the gene/meme concept: a gene/meme
can be substance or process. Some would be more comfortable with
'information' rather than 'process.' If so, please use 'information'
when I use 'process.'

Substance model:
1a. gene = identical chunks of DNA sequences leading to phenotypic
1b. meme = identical chunks of super-cellular sequences (neural or
otherwise) leading to phenotypic expression

Process model:
2a. gene = process leading to replicated phenotypic expression displaying
discrete mature states due to chromosome involvement in the process.
2b. mene = process leading to replicated phenotypic expression displaying
discrete mature states due to neural organs involvement in the process.

To get a sense of these issues, it helps to think of Mendel's pea plants.
Mendel noticed he could classify short and tall pea plants. He also
noticed that breeding short pea plants with tall pea plants produced
either tall or short plants. There wasn't an averaging. There was a
simple ratio expressing the probability of short and tall offsprings. To
model this, he created the construct 'gene.'

In the substance model, the cause of Mendel's observation is a sequence
of DNA.

In the process model, the cause of of Mendel's observation is a process
whose critical path involves chromosomes. Differences in chromosome
configurations produce discrete differences in process outcome.

Thus, there are 4 ways of defining the relationship between memes and

1. Both genes and memes are substance (substance model)
2. Both genes and memes are process (cybernetic model)
3. Genes are substance, memes are process (common hybrid)
4. Memes are substance, genes are process (unknown hybrid)

Hopefully, this frames the options. Now, we can related our participants
here to the framework.

Most dictionaries define genes to be substance. That's where 99% of the
participants here start.

Most people who become interested in memetics are attracted to the notion
of evolving ideas (process).

Thus, the starting point for most is the common hybrid.

I have never met anyone who adopts the 'unknown hybrid.' The notion that
genes are substance seems the universal starting point.

Most memeticists are very happy with the common hybird and get busy
collecting data and ordering their world according to their model. These
folks get upset when people argue about the definition of memes. There
is too much work to be done for all that wasted energy.

Others have become uncomfortable with the common hybrid. They tend to be
unhappy with the acceptance of memetics within academic circles. Looking
about for a source of the problem, they identify the common hybrid's
inconsistency, calling gene substance and meme idea. The logical
inconsistency simply rubs them the wrong way.

For those unsatisfied with this solution, the most common direction to
explore is the substance model. Since the gene = substance construct is
the almost universally accepted, it would be very convenient if memes
would fit the same model.

Given this initial assumption, the iconoclast memeticist is confronted
with the need for a place to locate the 'meme' thing. Two places come
quickly to mind. The brain, where all behavior is sourced, and the
artifacts of the environment, where we notice cultural evolution
occurring. One might say that neural artifacts are also artifacts in he
environment, but this is an unpopular position.

Gatherer is currently confronting this dilemma.

The 'meme = brain tissue' seems to be the position Gatherer calls Dawkins
B. It seems to be the stance of most working towards a working substance
model for memes. This stance is fairly easy because no one knows much
about brain function so the construct is impossible to refute with
current technology.

Thus, Lynch and Vaneechoutte argue that improving technology will soon
find the meme (substance), while Gatherer states he will believe it when
he sees it.

Derek and Bill Benzon claim there is enough evidence to prove substance
isomorphism is impossible. As Derek points out above, there is no single
unique way to connect the millions of cells in a brain. Thus, there can
be no comparison between brains the way we make comparisons between

Therefore, the meme must be an artifact of the environment, argues
Gatherer. He has assumed the substance model is the goal and ruling out
the brain forces us to look in the environment.

All this ignores the fourth option, the cybernetic model. I simply want
to point out something that is being omitted in the conversation.

Of the four options, most people start in the common hybrid. No one
assumes the 'unknown hybrid.' Those uncomfortable with the 'common
hybrid' work toward establishing the 'substance model.' This includes
Gatherer and Benzon. The other logical option is the cybernetic model.
John Wilkins seems to be the furthest along in this domain.

It seems to me that the debate between the environmentalist camp (Benzon
and Gatherer) and the mentalist camp (Lynch and Vaneechoutte) ignores the
similarity of their positions. Benzon will admit that brain tissue is an
artifact of the environment. Vaneechoutte will admit cultural
expressions can be stored outside the brain.

The more important question is that raised by Wilkins. Is process model
more useful than the substance model? Should the construct gene be
redefined to mean process?

I'm interested in where people place themselves in my matrix of 4
possible gene/meme models. Comments would be appreciated.


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