Re: Associative learning versus imitation - JoM Article

Mark Mills (
Mon, 19 Oct 98 17:39:38 -0600

Subject: Re: Associative learning versus imitation - JoM Article
Date: Mon, 19 Oct 98 17:39:38 -0600
From: Mark Mills <>
To: "Memetics List" <>
Message-Id: <>

>The similarity between horses, dogs and humans is that they are all "social"
>animals with distinct hierarchies that recognize dominance and subservience.
>Training is a much higher level activity than imitation, it is actually
>communication. With working dogs, ie: sheep and cattle dogs, it is
>relatively easy to teach them cues and commands for activities
>which are intrinsic to their
>"natural" activities as a pack hunting predator.


I think the above is useful. In particular, it brings up the notion that
there is something about memes which is inherited. You describe 'flight'
and 'predator' classes of animals and I suspect these cognitive
perspectives were inherited. I suppose some might argue that such broad
definitions are impossible to verify scientifically, but they work for me.

Despite the inherited nature of this, there is a large degree of
behavioral latitude available to both horses and dogs. I point this out
to assert the distinction between 'instinct' and 'learned' behavior is a
fractal boundary.

All conscious behavior requires an instinct for acquiring specific kinds
of experience. It also requires an inherited system for ordering
memories. Attempts to find 'pure' imitation are bound to crash up
against the bedrock of instinct sooner or later. There will always be
required instincts for focusing attention. Attempts to find 'pure'
instinct' will always crash against the puzzling ability of all animals
to behave unpredictably. The border line is fractal.

It is this inherited social perspective that suggests to me that memes
are inherited, not passed around via sensory observation of social
behavior. In my model, we are born with a set of memes. If the set is
malformed, the infant is autistic. Society molds 'incomplete' meme. This
process is both conscious and unconscious. It exhibits sequencial
assembly and 'windows' of opportunity. If one doesn't develop gramatical
language by puberty, the skill is never achieved.

Language is probably the best example of an inherited meme set. The
basic ability for language is inherited. The specific forms used are

Your advise to horse trainers adopts this view. The trainer's goal is to
become part of the infant horse's society and mold the inherited meme set
to act 'half human, half horse'.


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