Re: On influencing factors

Mark Mills (
Fri, 6 Nov 98 14:27:53 -0600

Subject: Re: On influencing factors
Date: Fri, 6 Nov 98 14:27:53 -0600
From: Mark Mills <>
To: "Memetics List" <>
Message-Id: <>

>Mark was thinking about analogies between signal transduction
>between cells, and signalling between individuals.
>I replied:
>> I'm not sure that signal transduction research can tell us
>> >much that would be applicable to memetics.
>and Mark responded:
>> Perhaps there is more than meets the eye. Memes are often described as
>> 'units of imitation.' Imitation is a form of signal transduction.
>Signal transduction has a very specific meaning in molecular
>biology. It describes the processes by which ligands bind to
>receptors, how those receptors change conformation upon ligand
>binding, how SH2 domain proteins are activated, how G proteins are
>activated, how MAP kinase cascades are then switched on etc. I
>could go on at length (in fact I go on for precisely 14 hours of
>lectures most years).
>So I can't swallow the analogy that imitation is a form of signal

Perhaps I got the phrase backwards. It might have been more accurate to
say 'signal transduction is a form of imitation.'

>> Does a suggestion that DNA is involved in imitation at the
>> microbiological level seem reasonable?
>Well, I'd say there is no imitation at the microbiological level.
>Imitation is a highly specific subset of social learning which is
>confined to humans, birds and possibly dolphins (maybe chimps
>too). I don't see that we can stretch the definition of imitation
>to more than that without dislocating ourselves from the
>mainstream of psychology.

Your suggestion that imitation is limited to social learning suggests a
homuncular bias embedded in the word. Are you saying 'imitation' is only
valid when used in terms of a 'life force' activity? (humans, birds,
dolphins, chimps)

My dictionary just mentions 'following a pattern, model, or example.'
There is nothing about a 'life force' needing to be involved. On the
other hand, I can see that 'imitation' in common usage always involves
the behavior of a 'living being.'

The exception that proves the rule is robotics. Robots are always
imitating humans. The notion of a 'life force' is not far away, though.
We are constantly worried that a robot capable of 'imitation' will
suddenly find itself 'alive' and discover 'consciousness.'

Programmable industrial welding machines do the jobs of humans, but they
are rarely accused of 'imitating' humans. They don't look like humans,
nor do they reproduce familiar human motions. They don't look alive, so
they don't seem to 'imitate.'

This suggests a broad problem for the definition 'meme: a unit of
imitation.' By definition, it seems to carry homuncular connotations.

>> Genetics involves DNA sequences planted in a sugar
>> substrate. Memetics involves neural tissue. In both cases, we are
>> interested in signal transduction.
>No again you can't say this because you are misusing terminology
>which has a highly specific meaning in biology.

There are a number of websites that blend the study of neural tissue and
the term 'signal transduction.' As far as I can tell, the signal
processing umbrella is already in place.
"Elucidation of Molecular Mechanisms Related to the Integrated Brain

Recent progress in the neuroscience field has produced fundamental
understanding of cellular architecture of the neuronal network,
especially projection of the neurons, and knowledge of basic functional
molecules in the signal transduction system. Meanwhile, high density of
memory circuits and higher-order signal processing mechanisms in the
brain are attracting great interest. However, such a machinery of the
brain functions has not yet been well elucidated."
"Refinement of scanning probe imaging and manipulation techniques,
particularly through the use of tapping mode atomic force microscopy
(AFM), is needed in order to develop an experimental framework that can
be used for testing some of the theoretical predictions about the
cytoskeleton and its components, particularly those that associate the
cytoskeleton with information processing and signal transduction within
"The signal transduction operated by an array of microtransducers coupled
to a network of neurons will be shortly described and results obtained by
computer simulations will be presented. Signal processing tools used for
identifying burst activity propagation delays in the network and various
degrees of connectivity among the neurons belonging to the network will
be described. The emergence of patterns of spontaneous, periodic and
synchronised activity will be discussed in comparison with experimental
findings (Maeda et al. 1995; Bove et al., 1997)."

It seems to me that 'signal transduction' is rapidly spreading into the
domain of neural function.

This is highly relevant to the ongoing debate regarding the 'location' of
memetic processes. The 'Gatherer' position has been that the study of
neural processes is so difficult that locating memetic processes in
neural tissue is either impossible or a waste of time.

It seems that one of your own specialties, signal transduction, is moving
right into the domain of research you dismiss.


I am probably being overly redundant, so I admit to a degree of
foolishness in the following. I think those interested in advancing
memetics as an empirical science, complete with academic standing and
research funding, should pay close attention to the spread of 'signal
transduction' concepts into neural tissue research. This is important
empirical work. In this domain, someone might find a useful niche for
the term 'meme' and move 'memetics' off the list of 'pseudo-sciences.'

If memeticists don't take an interest, an alternative word may be
invented. If so, 'memetics' will have missed an important opportunity.

>> I'm puzzled by your use of the term 'genetic blueprint.' The notion of
>> 'blueprint' implies the existence of a self contained plan. It's a
>> Platonic notion and easy to understand. I thought the Darwinian
>> revolution dismantled this paradigm, though.
>Is it Platonic? I'll need to think about that. It's certainly a
>common colloquialism among geneticists. Hmmm......
>> The notion of 'ball and groove' model fits the Darwinian paradigm better
>> than 'blueprint.'
>Yes, on reflection I agree entirely here.


>> There is no particular
>> plan to the set of grooves.
>Ah, but yes there is, and it's quite rigid.
>> Reproduction randomly rearranges the grooves for each new generation.
>No, any rearrangement will be minor. Only very long periods of
>evolutionary time will rearrange the grooves.

You are very correct. I should have said 'reproduction introduces a
degree of randomness by rearranging chunks of grooves for each new
generation." (ugh, I am sure you could do a better job of this than I.
I hope you understand my meaning.).



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