Re: On Gatherer's behaviourist stance

Nick Rose (
Wed, 23 Sep 1998 11:29:26 -0400 (EDT)

From: Nick Rose <>
To: JOM-EMIT Discussion List <>
Subject: Re: On Gatherer's behaviourist stance
Message-Id: <>
Date: Wed, 23 Sep 1998 11:29:26 -0400 (EDT)

This is not a defence of or an attack upon anyone. I've
really enjoyed this robust dissussion thread, so
here's my tuppence worth...

I agree with Gatherer's definition of a meme (and I
paraphrase) "A behaviour learnt through processes akin to
imitation". This definition is useful and important
firstly because it excludes ordinarily learned behaviours
(i.e. _Not_ imitation based, c.f. Mark Mill's last
e-mail on animal 'memes'), and things like perception from
being memes. It allows us the comfort (particularly for a
psychologist) of being able to say "not _everything_ that
goes on in the brain is a meme". (we are not trying to
reinvent the wheel - from scratch!)

However, I'm certain that Derek (and all non-dualists)
would agree that these memes are 'stored' or 'memorised'
within the nervous system (at some stage or other).
Otherwise how could behaviours observed (say) 5
minutes/days/years ago be carried out today? The
methodological behaviourist might also accept that some
kind of 'recombination' or 'mutation' goes on at the
'instructional' level - otherwise I fear we are in danger
of losing half the evolutionary algorhythm.

The 'behavioural' meme is great for immediate empirical
work in memetics. You can observe and measure behaviours,
and bearing in mind the Wilkin's (98) paper on evolutionary
memes perhaps even count them. Looking at the behaviour
will allow us to learn a lot about the selection processes
operating within culture. After all, a 'recessive' meme
never gets passed on! We can only imitate what we can see
and hear. In terms of selection of memes (in the
'environment') we can essentially put aside the internalist
model and simply look at which behaviours are spreading and
what factors affect that spread (e.g. Paul Marsden's work).

One day neuro-psychology might shed light on how behaviours
are stored in the brain (neuropsychology is still
struggling to understand how memory works in the brain -
and no where near sifting out 'memes' from the rest of the
soup). Then we can find out whether memes do have _any_ kind
of identifyable (by us) structure (neural structures?
informational structures?) inside the brain.

At the moment the argument that memes maintain any kind of
identifyable structure inside the nervous system is an
untestable hypothesis. Not wrong, note, or illogical -
simply untestable at the moment. To insist that work in
memetics cannot proceed without a model of this untestable
process would be foolish, but to be fair I haven't seen
anyone say that. Meanwhile those of us interested in human
behaviour (and I accept that not everyone is) can make good
speed (in the race) by using a behavioural definition of a

PS: I still think we'd be better off with Cloak's
definitions ;)

Nick Rose
"University of the West of England"

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