Re: On Gatherer's behaviourist stance

Aaron Lynch (
Wed, 23 Sep 1998 10:15:34 -0500

Message-Id: <>
Date: Wed, 23 Sep 1998 10:15:34 -0500
From: Aaron Lynch <>
Subject: Re: On Gatherer's behaviourist stance
In-Reply-To: <>

At 11:29 AM 9/23/98 -0400, Nick Rose wrote:
>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.


There is an inconsistency between the above 2 paragraphs. If a meme is a
*behavior* (such as running a maze) then it is not something "stored" or
"memorized." What is "stored" or "memorized" is not the behavior itself
(e.g., an internal homunculus forever running the maze), but a neural
condition that may *cause* the behavior at a later time.

If I take a rat, temporarily shut down its brain, and use spinal electrodes
to make it run a maze, then this is a case of the animal exhibiting the
behavior without having a meme or a mnemon for that behavior. As I see it,
the behavior alone is not eligible for consideration as a mnemon or a meme.

>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

I am not sure which, if any, participants in this discussion are not
interested in human behavior. Human behavior is a main consideration in my
work. The word "behavior" and its derivatives come up dozens of times in my
book, for instance. And the effect of neurally stored learning on behavior
is crucial to 100% of the topics I cover. I would hope that those who call
for considering *only* behavior and artifacts as "memes" do not imply
either by mistake or polemics that they are the only memeticists interested
in behavior!

--Aaron Lynch

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