Re: On 'information transmission'

Michael Ashby (
Thu, 4 Mar 1999 15:42:24 +0000

From: Michael Ashby <>
To: <>
Subject: Re: On 'information transmission'
Date: Thu, 4 Mar 1999 15:42:24 +0000

=0AI normally just lurk on this list, but I recently bought some army s=
fire-proof clothing, a fire extinguisher, and a can of gas, so here goe=
Mark Mills took an inspiringly provocatively (troll-smelling) step back=
the flames to assert...

>I'm going to use a comment Paul made to start a new thread.
>>Oh Aaron, I give up - I cannot be more clear and the fact that you st=
ill do
>>not understand is probably more a reflection of me than you
>The title of of the organization hosting this discussion is 'Journal o=
>Memetics, Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission.' It can be=

>found at the bottom of each post published by the list.
>I'd like to propose that it is impossible to 'transmit' information. =
>the above case, Paul found it impossible to 'transmit' his information=
>My dictionary defines information as:

I'm cautious about using a dictionary definition as the basis for an ar=
For the most controversial subjects areas, different dictionaries tend =
to give
different definitions - take your pick. It's like choosing a religion.
Apparently (depending on who you listen to) they're all right!

>I say no. Information is recreated, not transmitted. The source
>provides data and counts on the receiver to 'recreate' the proper
>meaning. The information that 'when I see the symbol '7', it means
>seven' is entirely locked up in a person's brain.
>Thus, we have situations like that mentioned by Paul. Paul is frustra=
>by the impossibility of 'transmitting information.' Actually, he is
>hoping Aaron can 'recreate' his perspective, but we like 'transmission=
>because it sounds like the receiver has no choice in the matter. It i=
>more clear cut.

You answer your own assertion. Paul transmitted information, but not hi=
s belief.

As observers of the recent flames on this list, most of us subscribers =
agree (with all due respect) that Paul and Aaron are black boxes. We ca=
observe their externalized behavior (their emails), but we can only gue=
ss what
beliefs, motives, and cultural traits they contain.

Sometimes behaviorists may think someone has a particular meme/belief b=
they exhibit a certain behavior, but in reality there may be a non-obse=
motive that causes the behaviorist's assumptions to be false. For examp=
le: In
the film, "The witness" Harrison Ford may dress and behave like an Amis=
farmer, not because he is a host to the Amish meme-complex, but because=
hiding from the bad guys! Similarly, Rambo may behave antisocially as i=
f he has
post traumatic disorder, but in reality he may just be seeking attentio=

I believe that both black boxes (Aaron and Paul) have valid points of v=

It is unreasonable to complain that a particular metaphor fails when pu=
shed out
to the extremes - that is why it is called a metaphor - otherwise we'd =
call it
an isomorphism or homomorphism. Metaphors can give insights, and are
invaluable at conveying the essence of a concept (in a scientifically i=
way) - sure, they have limits in their explanatory power, but please le=
t's not
ban them. I believe that it is valuable to discuss memetic issues both=

formally, informally, literally, metaphorically, behaviorally, and most=

Please guys, accept that there is not just one valid way to perceive th=
e world !
Every viewpoint has it's intrinsic blind-spots that can only be reveale=
d and
completed by stepping back and taking a different viewpoint.

>There are a wide variety of situations were the illusion of
>'transmission' falls down.
>A mother cannot convey what it feels like to burn your finger to her
>A parent cannot communicate why a teenager should be home on time.
>A victim of an atomic bomb blast cannot transmit the horror to a

An experience is not the same as information. Many experiences are inef=
and hence cannot be encoded for transmission, but that does not mean th=
information cannot be transmitted! Information theory is well establis=
useful, and a worthy axiomatic foundation stone on which Memetics can b=
e built
- please let's not commit matricide.

>If everyone agrees with me on this, the Journal of Memetics should
>probably change its name to 'Journal of Memetics, Evolutionary models =
>information recreation.' 'Information creation' might be better.
>Somehow, I doubt there will be much agreement or commentary.
>Despite the arcane appearance of my proposal, it does have implication=
>for memetics. If information cannot be transmitted, how can memes be

Mark's provocative rejection of information transmission, made me step =
back and
wonder what common ground memeticists have. What intellectual foundatio=
ns can
Aaron and Paul agree on. Are there any? I would rather hear you guys t=
rying to
identify common ground, than comparing your intellectual egos.

To start the ball rolling, I propose the following bag of provocative m=
axioms as being some of the scientific foundations on which the SCIENCE=
memetics can be built.

Information theory: "Information can be transmitted" [Sorry Mark, but=
wrong, and I'm wearing a fire-proof ego pouch!]
Darwinian evolution: "The spread of beliefs and cultural traits is sub=
ject to
the principles of Darwinian evolution"
Cybernetics / systems theory: "Memetic hosts are black boxes that inter=
act with
their environments (including information transmissions to and from oth=
Scientific objectivism: "Subjective observation cannot be trusted"
Behaviorism: "The most accurate way to obtain statistics to support the=
about the probable contents of black boxes is to observe their behavior=

Please tell me why I'm wrong, what I missed, or why you think your ego =
bigger than mine [humorphism; olde English: humourphism]

Be happy, I don't have answers, I only have questions.
Mick Ashby
MQSeries Workflow for OS/390
B=F6blingen Laboratory

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