Re: All this fuss

Aaron Lynch (
Thu, 17 Sep 1998 14:55:26 -0500

Message-Id: <>
Date: Thu, 17 Sep 1998 14:55:26 -0500
From: Aaron Lynch <>
Subject: Re: All this fuss
In-Reply-To: <>

At 12:03 PM 9/17/98 -0400, Bill Benzon wrote:
>In practical terms, what's all the fuss about?
>Aaron believes that memes are instantiated in brains, but admits that,
>as a practical matter, research will have to use survey instruments and
>such to get at these memes. So, he's not going to look at memes
>directly, but only indirectly. Derek believes that memes don't exist in
>brains at all, but only in behaviors and artifacts. I assume he's quite
>willing to use survey instruments. And so is Paul, who points out that
>there is quite a bit of social science work on thought contagions, but
>it's rather atheoretical.
>So, where the rubber meets the empirical road, these positions seem to
>study patterns among the same things (though Derek may be the only one
>interested in counting pots etc.). What I'd like to know is how the
>evolutionary perspective imported from biology is going to give these
>empirical efforts any greater success than the atheoretical work Paul
>has been citing. It's all well and good to say that memetics brings
>this extra theoretical dimension to the empirical work. So what? How's
>this theory going to improve the empirical work? Do Aaron's equations
>have any predictive value? Do they tell us to look for phenomena we
>wouldn't otherwise notice?


Elaborated theories often play a role in stimulating new empirical work.
Consider Darwinian theory in biology. If stags with big antlers have more
mating success, it is in principle possible for someone to just happen to
notice it. But one is much more likely to think of measuring the mating
rate of large and small antlered stags if one already has the idea of
sexual selection.

Now consider memetic evolution theory. If those who have learned to play
baseball make more efforts to spread knowledge of the game than do those
who have learned tennis, it is possible for one to just happen to notice
this. But someone aware of the peer to peer conversion aspects of memetic
evolution theory is much more likely to think of measuring the conversion
rates and conversion behaviors of those knowing how to play the two sports.
Positing neurally stored information gives added explanatory power: we can
easily see how those operating with an internally stored game concept
calling for several basemen, several outfielders, and a pitcher on each
team might continue recruitment until they get 2 X 9 +/- players, while
those operating with a game concept calling for one person on each side of
a net might stop recruitment at 2 players. (One could also test the
postulate that recruitment of first time players, especially when a sport
is new to a population, involves imparting the game concept to new
people--though knowledge of game concept would generally be measured by
questionaires, etc. as you mentioned above.)

My equations, and more broadly, the quantitative methods based on event
rate parameters, help first of all by suggesting parameters to measure.
They also provide a basis for making specific predictions in cases where a
meme is favored parentally but disfavored in peer to peer conversion, for

--Aaron Lynch

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