Re: The race is on

Aaron Lynch (
Mon, 21 Sep 1998 12:28:32 -0500

Message-Id: <>
Date: Mon, 21 Sep 1998 12:28:32 -0500
From: Aaron Lynch <>
Subject: Re: The race is on
In-Reply-To: <>

At 08:53 AM 9/21/98 -0400, Derek Gatherer wrote:
>On Fri, 18 Sep 1998 11:34:16 -0500 Aaron Lynch <> wrote:
>At 09:50 AM 9/18/98 -0400, BMSDGATH wrote:
>> Derek has merely left off the URL of the 'meme lab' web
>> page.
>> It is
>I have the honour to be an associate member.

Congratulations. You're in good company.

>Re: the term 'mentalists'
>> The term does not apply
>> to one who merely asserts the existence of neurally stored information
>> (replicated or otherwise).
>I shall have to find another name for you then.

Thank you. For one who asserts the existence of neurally stored
information, we might consider the word "neuralist."

>> Name calling aside, it is nice to see that your work is not, in fact,
>> "retarded" by the emergence of thought contagion theory.
>No, you're right it hasn't been - but the reason it hasn't is that
>instead of a 'thought contagion' theoretical basis, I opt for one
>which is:
>a) simpler
>b) a more consistent reflection of reality
>That is the essence of my position (it's not _my_ position of course,
>because plenty of others take it too, and before me) and I think also
>the source of its fruitfulness.

Behaviorists have always asserted that their position is simpler and more
accurate. Yet members of other schools of psychology also regard their
paradigms as the simplest/most accurate ones *necessary* to explain a
wealth of observations: Little things like the use of electrodes to trigger
old memories to a system of explaining why such behaviors as tying a shoe
can repeat after intervals of cessation. There are both hard-core and
moderate behaviorists, with the more moderate ones accepting the existence
and importance neural phenomena, for instance. Skinner (1988) himself
accepted the existence of instincts, which amounts to recognizing
internally stored genetic information.

My own system is consistent with a range of psychological paradigms ranging
from cognitive psychology to soft-core behavioral psychology. It would
probably have helped, however, if my 1998 paper gave some discussion to
*how* subjects of behavioral psychology can be handled.

I use an extremely broad definition of memory: "The store of things learned
and retained from an organism's activity or experience as evidenced by
modification of structure or behavior or by recall and recognition." As
this definition subsumes things learned by operant conditioning, for
instance, the term "mnemon" does so as well. For instance if rats are
operantly conditioned to run a maze, then the neural condition specifically
favoring the repeat behavior is a mnemon. The mnemon is defined abstractly
enough that they have "the same" mnemon even if microscopic details of
neural storage differ. (Likewise, two printed pages can be "the same" even
if printed in different fonts.) Note that behaviorists implicitly use
abstractions any time they refer to organisms as having "the same"

If the rats condition their pups to run the same maze, then their
instantiations of the mnemon cause new instantiations of "the same" mnemon,
which means that the pups now instantiate a "meme" for running that maze.
However, I do not consider the actual running of the maze or the maze
itself to be memes, even if they can be analyzed as a replicators in their
own right. To avoid confusion, I recommend using new terms for the behavior
itself taken as a replicator, and preferably also for artifacts taken as


Skinner, B.F. 1988. The Phylogeny and Ontogeny of Behavior. In A.C. Catania
and S. Harnad (Eds.) The Selection of Behavior: The Operant Behaviorism of
B.F. Skinner: Comments and Consequences. Cambridge University Press.

Lynch, A. 1998. Units, Events, and Dynamics in Memetic Evolution. Journal
of Memetics 2, #1,

--Aaron Lynch

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