Re: Associative learning versus imitation - JoM Article

Mario Vaneechoutte (
Thu, 15 Oct 1998 10:39:03 +0200

Date: Thu, 15 Oct 1998 10:39:03 +0200
From: Mario Vaneechoutte <>
Subject: Re: Associative learning versus imitation - JoM Article


> 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).

We are always getting back to this discussion whether only humans can imitate.
When it is admitted that birds can imitate as well, why then not gibbons which
also sing. Or whales and dolphins? Toads? Bats? These are all organisms with
sophisticated sound production and perception organs.This is imitation of
auditory cues only.
How about imitation of visually observable behaviour?

Could you tell us more about the conclusions reached in the following two

> Edwards D (1994) Imitation and artifice in apes, humans and
> machines. American Behavioral Scientist 37, 754-772.
> King BJ (1991) Social information transfer in monkeys,
> apes and hominids. Yearbook of Physical Anthropology 34, 97-115.



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