RE: "Retarding the Progress" - A Call for Specifics

Aaron Lynch (
Mon, 01 Mar 1999 17:14:10 -0600

Message-Id: <>
Date: Mon, 01 Mar 1999 17:14:10 -0600
From: Aaron Lynch <>
Subject: RE: "Retarding the Progress" - A Call for Specifics
In-Reply-To: <2CDFE2C8F598D21197C800C04F911B200CAEA4@DELTA.newhouse.akzo

At 09:13 AM 3/1/99 +0100, Derek Gatherer wrote:
>Aaron, the calculus of mnemon instantiations leads to paradoxes
>involving the finite storage capacity of the mind (as I have already
>shown - blah blah, must I repeat myself?????). Language statements
>cannot be stored as memory instantiations. Chomsky demonstrated this
>back in the mid-50s. You are either a) not aware of this (I'm sure you
>were aware of this, and if you weren't you must be by now because I've
>talked about it ad nauseam), or b) choose to ignore it. I conclude you
>have chosen to ignore it. Therefore you have disregarded linguistics.
>Simple as that.


I will take this as a general objection rather than a demonstration of how
using "the thought contagion metaphor" involved harmful disregard of
linguistics or cognitive science in discussing the growth or decline of a
specific movement in which "the thought contagion metaphor" has been applied.

Now, I am not attempting to re-do Chomsky or explain just how language or
memory work. Rather, I am *using language* to express abstractions about
internally stored information. Like it or not, anyone who attempts to
discuss internally stored information will use language to do so. So I use
language when I refer to "knowledge of how to play baseball." Yet when I
use this abstraction as an attribute of a specific person, it does not mean
that I think the phrase "knowledge of how to play baseball" exists anywhere
inside that person's head. If I use the symbol B as shorthand for
"knowledge of how to play baseball," I am still not saying that the phrase
exists anywhere inside the person's head. Perhaps this has been a source of
confusion contributing to the perception that I am contradicting and hence
dangerously ignoring linguistics.

In another message, you write:

> >Well, I don't mean to rehash an old argument. I do, however,
>fail to see
> >how the symbolic representation of mnemons or their event
>diagrams has
> >retarded progress on a specific topic like the Hutterites.
> Yes, it is retarding progress. To say that the Hutterites
>behave as they do because they are hosts to unobservable entities, and
>then to concoct an elaborate pseudo-algebraic notation to represent
>these speculations is about as obstructive as one can be. When that
>pseudo-algebraic notation leads to paradoxes, well, you're really up the
>creek without a paddle..........

Well, I will just have to disagree with you about such things as "elaborate
pseudo-algebraic notation," "paradoxes," etc. I have been sending copies of
book chapters, etc. with the event diagrams to mathematicians, cognitive
scientists and other scientists for 15 years now, with favorable reactions
reactons. You are the first person to tell me you found it
"pseudo-algebraic" or that it "leads to paradoxes."

> >Speaking of titles, my subject line almost seems like an
>invitation to the
> >15th annual "Retarding the Progress" workshop. ;-)
> Also speaking of titles, I like your 'Misleading Mix of Religion
>and Science'. At first I thought it might be announcing a new book by
>you (joke, Aaron, please laugh), but then I realised it referred to me.
>I have no objection to that - although obviously I disagree.

Yes, I do have a sense of humor--and can even take a joke.

I did, however, find your article misleading in many ways, and I reject the
notion that I have done my book or paper as a critique of religion. If
nothing else, I suspect that your interpretation of my book and paper as a
critique of religion has contributed to the intensity of your reactions to
it, as if you were playing the militant monotheist standing up to the
militant atheists. Perhaps I will stand corrected when your reply goes

> >Themas." I don't believe in a "central dogma" of memetics, and
> >have no problem with replicator analysis of "external" things
> >sentences on paper or on the Internet.
> False. You dismiss such work as 'cultural repliconics'".

No, that was not meant at all as a dismissal. You seriously misread me
here. Just because I chose to keep the focus of my own paper narrower than
the broader topic of evolutionary cultural replicator theory does not mean
that I call for dismissing such work. Chain letters, for instance, can
usefully be analyzed as replicators in their own right. I don't use the
term "meme" to refer to such external replicators, but that is merely a
terminological issue, not a matter of dismissing those replicators as valid
subjects of study.

--Aaron Lynch

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