Re: On Gatherer's behaviourist stance

Aaron Lynch (
Thu, 24 Sep 1998 10:03:51 -0500

Message-Id: <>
Date: Thu, 24 Sep 1998 10:03:51 -0500
From: Aaron Lynch <>
Subject: Re: On Gatherer's behaviourist stance
In-Reply-To: <>

At 10:06 AM 9/24/98 -0400, Nick Rose wrote:
>Aaron wrote;
>> 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.
>Fine, I said behaviours have to be 'stored' or 'memorised'
>at some stage. There's nothing in that to suggest
>that the behaviours cannot be stored in a 'neural
>condition'. However, the hypothesis that those memes
>maintain any kind of identifyable (by us) structure (e.g.
>neural structure, informational structure) inside the
>nervous system is currently untestable. Rather than worry
>about untestable hypotheses I think we can do a lot (e.g.
>understanding selection mechanisms) by putting the issue to
>one side - if only until neuroscience catches up with us.

I agree about setting aside the issue of specific neural structures, or
rather, leaving it to the existing research programs of neuroscientists.
However, there is great potential confusion in talking about a directly
observable behavior itself and whatever it is that is "stored" or
"memorised" corresponding to that behavior. This is but one reason why
separate terms are warranted.

>> 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.
>Err... if _you_ are guiding the rat around the maze; surely
>it is your behaviour (presumably instantiated in your
>nervous system) that is being expressed - not the rat's.
>The behaviour is _yours_ not the poor unfortunate rat's!

I can sympathize with this view, but a behaviorist fundamentalist might say
that the doings of my nervous system are unobserved or even unobservable.
The rat *exhibits* the behavior regardless of who "owns" it or "is credited
for" it. Regardless of whether a person or a computer controls those
electrodes, the rat itself does not have a mnemon or a meme for that

>> 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!
>At the moment the only things we can measure about human
>behaviour is _human behaviour_ - we don't have access to
>whatever mechanism stores memes, and have no way of knowing
>whether competing models of meme storage are true or not
>(such models are untestable at this time - you agree?).
>In addition, I would think that most internalists would
>agree that all we can copy/imitate is the 'behaviour'.
>Recessive 'memes' never get passsed on - because they are
>never seen. It is the 'behaviour' which we judge to be
>similiar or the same (for identification of memes / meme
>varients). And - In truth we have no idea whether the same
>behaviours (in different individuals) are stored in
>identifiable ways. If memeticists are interested in human
>behaviour - what is wrong with focussing on human behaviour?

I have no problem with focusing on human behavior. In fact, if you or Derek
or anyone else wants to see how far you can get by not only focusing on
behavior, but also minimizing attention to neurally stored information, you
are quite welcome to do so. However, I suspect that this will cut off a
wide range of useful insights, which will then be left to memeticists such
as me to discover. For example, considering the existence of neurally
stored information about specific kinds of sporting games (without knowing
details of storage) helped me to recognize that such information affects
recruitment rates for team and individual sports. It also makes for a more
straight forward explanation of what is going on during such recruitment.

--Aaron Lynch

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