Re: Cloak paper

Aaron Lynch (
Tue, 17 Nov 1998 11:40:40 -0600

Message-Id: <>
Date: Tue, 17 Nov 1998 11:40:40 -0600
From: Aaron Lynch <>
Subject: Re: Cloak paper
In-Reply-To: <002401be1180$e4966460$625295c1@pc>

At 04:25 PM 11/16/98 -0000, Paul Marsden wrote:
>Re. The Cloak Paper. For the record here is Cloak's definition of a meme in
>Dawkins 1986 (previous post). Any comments?
>"Memes are neural instructions of a special kind. Neural instructions, in
>turn, are a species of neural control system. A neural control system is a
>collection of neurons and synapses organised in such a way that, when
>activated by an impulse from a control system at a higher level, it compares
>a present sensory input to a 'perceptual reference-standard' (Powers 1973)
>and until or unless the input approximates the standard, sends repeated
>impulses to one or more control systems at a lower level. Control systems
>at the bottom of the hierarchy send impulses to muscle fibres (and receive
>proprioceptive sensory inputs from those muscle fibres).
>If the control system hierarchy is adequately defined, therefore,
>contractions of the muscle fibres usually modify some aspect of the carrying
>organism's present environment, or its relation to its environment, in such
>a way that the present sensory input comes to approximate the perceptual
>reference-standard of the initiating (top-level) control system. At that
>point, the latter stops sending impulses and the entire hierarchy is
>deactivated (Powers 1973).
>A neural instruction is a special control system whose activation
>(behaviour) requires not only an impulse from a higher-level system (or
>instruction), but also a specific stimulus or cue from its environment.
>Like any instruction, in other words, a neural instruction has
>cue-conditions as well as S-conditions [Survival conditions]
>The uniquely defining S-condition of a neural control system or instruction
>may be met by the behaviour of one or more genes and/or by learning
>processes such as operant or classical conditioning. THE UNIQUELY DEFINING
>OBSERVATIONAL LEARNING OR MODELLING (Hall 1963, Bandura 1977)[The capacity
>to form perceptual reference-standards from the basis of verbal behaviour,
>allows memes to be acquired via reading/listening.] When an animal acquires
>the cue-condition and the perceptual reference-standard of a neural
>instruction by observing the action of another animal responding to that cue
>by approximating that standard, that neural instruction is an
>interchangeable replica of the instruction emplacing the observed animal's
>action (cf. Reynolds 1981 209-213). Since it may become part of a
>population's traditional behavioural repertoire, the neural instruction so
>acquired is a cultural instruction, or MEME." (Cloak 1986: 163-164)
>Paul Marsden
>Graduate Research Centre in the Social Sciences
>University of Sussex
>tel/fax (44) (0) 117 974 1279


When OED and other major dictionaries revisit the word "meme," I suspect
that they will add as definition 2 a more specific definition in terms of
neurally stored information.

In a way, Cloak is ahead of his time: he is attempting to be as neurally
specific as possible about meme storage. That is, he is attempting to "walk
the neural walk" as it was previously phrased on this list. His definition
does, however, contain implications about brain architecture that may prove
controversial. I for one, would not wish the definition to contain embedded
premises about how hierarchical or heterarchical the brain may be. Hence,
my preference for keeping brain architecture implications to a minimum, at
least in the *definition* of "meme." Toward this end, I have focused on
memory items in Lynch 1998:

"MEME: A memory item, or portion of an organism's neurally-stored
information, identified using the abstraction system of the observer, whose
instantiation depended critically on causation by prior instantiation of
the same memory item in one or more other organisms' nervous systems.
("Sameness" of memory items is determined with respect to the
above-mentioned abstraction system of the observer.)"

"Abstraction," incidentally, should not be misread in a vulgar sense to
mean something like "divorce from reality." See the paper itself for how
this term is used. Any notion of "imitation," "copying," "replication,"
"interchangeable replica," etc. rests on the fundamental concept of
"sameness," which in turn exists only with respect to an abstraction
system. Trying to call neural and artifactual items "the same" poses
practical problems, which is why I argue against trying to label them all
as "memes."

My definition can be simplified thus:

"MEME: A memory item, or portion of an organism's neurally-stored
information, whose occurrence depended critically on causation by prior
occurrence of the same memory item in one or more other organisms' nervous

This still requires that nervous systems have a faculty of "memory," but
does not invoke any specific architecture for that memory. In particular,
it does not require one to take a stand on whether or not such memory items
constitute "neural instructions" in the sense used by Cloak. Inasmuch as
"neural instructions" (should they exist as described) are acquired and
retained by non-genetic means, they would constitute portions of an
organism's neurally stored information--making them "memory items."

Lynch, 1998. Units, Events, and Dynamics in Memetic Evolution. Journal of
Memetics-Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission.

--Aaron Lynch

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