Re: Associative learning versus imitation - JoM Article

Thu, 15 Oct 1998 09:17:58 -0400 (EDT)

Subject: Re: Associative learning versus imitation - JoM Article
Date: Thu, 15 Oct 1998 09:17:58 -0400 (EDT)

On Thu, 15 Oct 1998 07:05:00 +0800 Steve <> wrote:
> 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.

I feel there are two problems with this:

1) I'm not sure how we can observe such things, much less quantify them
(I've said this before ad nauseam so I won't bore everybody by
repeating it again)

2) For an evolutionary algorithm to work, we need to have variation,
replication/transmission and selection (Lewontin 1973, Dennett 1995).
As far as conceptualisations are concerned (and indeed any mental
entities) we can have variation - for instance my
conceptualisations/perceptions etc may well be very different to yours
(lots of 60s stuff eg. Hudson 1960, Segall et a 1966, Deregowski 1968,
Serpel 1976 - I am inclined to believe this, but for a persuasive
contrary view see Pinker 1995), we can have selection (same set of
references, as the authors who identify variability sometimes offer
selective explanations), but can we have transmission/replication etc
at the cultural level? How can I 'learn', 'imitate' or in any way
gain access to your internal belief states, conceptualisations,
mental maps etc? I don't think I can.

There is no evolution because the central piece of the Darwinian
algorithm is missing. By contrast there is evolution in the
material/behaviour/artefactual/objective knowledge realm (Popper's
Worlds 1 and 3). Popper (1972), of course, maintained that
evolution happens in World 2 as well, in the terms you are
referring to. But it is to my mind unconvincing, since we have no
definite mechanism of transmission/replication etc of mental
entities [Now if we had telepathy, then we could tranmsit mental
entities directly, and then we could have proper evolution in the
world of subjective experience - but unfortunately we don't]

> 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.

No, no, I disagree profoundly - what you get is something very
close to Husserlian phenomenonology.

> And is imitation really so rare in non-human animals?

Well, birdsong aside, yes (King 1991, Edwards 1994).

> Let us toy with the idea that dogs can imitate their owners.

Let us prove it rather than toy with it. (I suspect they don't but
can offer no evidence either way - references anyone???)

Dennett DC (1995) Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings
of Life. Penguin, London.
Deregowski JB (1968) Difficulties in pictorial depth perception in
Africa. Brit. J. Psych. 59, 195-204.
Edwards D (1994) Imitation and artifice in apes, humans and
machines. American Behavioral Scientist 37, 754-772.
Hudson W (1960) Pictorial depth perception in sub-cultural groups in
Africa. J. Soc. Psych. 52, 183-208.
King BJ (1991) Social information transfer in monkeys,
apes and hominids. Yearbook of Physical Anthropology 34, 97-115.
Lewontin R (1974) The Genetic Basis of Evolutionary Change.
Columbia University Press, New York.
Pinker S (1995) The Language Game. Allen Lane the Penguin Press,
Popper KR (1972) Objective Knowledge: an Evolutionary Approach.
Clarendon, Oxford.
Segall M, Campbell DT and Herskovits M (1966) The Influence of Culture
on Visual Perception. Bobbs-Merrill, Indianapolis.
Serpel R (1976) Culture's Influence on Behaviour. Methuen, London
(great book!)


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