Associative learning versus imitation - JoM Article

Steve (
Thu, 15 Oct 1998 07:05:00 +0800

Message-Id: <>
Date: Thu, 15 Oct 1998 07:05:00 +0800
From: Steve <>
Subject: Associative learning versus imitation - JoM Article

And while we're on the topic, I've just read Susan Blackmore's article in
JoM (thank you, Bruce).

Susan Blackmore emphasises that the definition of meme should be confined
to its originally intended definition as a unit of imitation. In this, I
believe, she puts the cart before the horse, for the reasons outlined in my
last post responding to Nick Rose.

My own definition of meme is consistent with a view with which she
disagrees - that is, my view is that a meme is anything that can be
conceptualised within the mind of any organism. By attributing such a more
general definition, we remain consistent with the associative properties of
cognition - by associating conceptualisations (memes), we create gestalts
of meaning that are also memes.

By regarding every last shred of experience, including imitation, as
associative learning, we can take advantage of the most fully general,
integrative theory of cognition possible. In this context, humans animals
are still different to non-human animals in the extent to which we rely on
imitation, due to the manner in which the mind-body relationship
predisposes us to imitative functions (eg, possessing vocal chords
predisposes us to imitating speech). But there is no escaping the fact that
we are still a part of the animal kingdom, for, we share with the animals,
associative learning.

And is imitation really so rare in non-human animals? Let us toy with the
possibility that dogs imitate their owners, in-so-far as it is possible
given the confines of the mind-body relationship. Domestication is a
domesticated animal's way of "imitating" cultural meaning, reinterpreted
through the mind-body filter.

Stephen Springette

Newton's Laws of Emotion:
There can be no complexity without simplicity

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