Re: information transmission

Mark Mills (
Wed, 10 Mar 99 15:51:02 -0600

Subject: Re: information transmission
Date: Wed, 10 Mar 99 15:51:02 -0600
From: Mark Mills <>
To: "Memetics List" <>


It is kind of funny that this discussion is a good example of my point.

>...whether or not you want to use the idea of recreation
>as a metaphor (or whatever) for how info gets from one mind
>to the other, the fact of the matter is that IT STILL DOES
>GET TRANSMITTED. That is to say, it goes from one mind to
>the other, via a medium (into which it has to be encoded in
>one physical form or another - sound waves, radio waves,
>smoke signals, semaphore, etc.)

Ok, ok...

Let me see if I can reproduce your perspective.

For example, I know my home phone number. If it tell someone else the
number and they have a good memory, then they know it, too. If a
researcher asks both of us 'what is mark's home phone number,' we will
both reply correctly. Thus, the researcher has discovered a similar
behavior in two people that can only be explained via a sort of
'transmission' effect. The behavior (speaking my phone number properly)
has been transmitted.

This is what I suspect you are saying.

Am I close?

My perspective is different. I'm arguing that we have added the illusion
of 'transmission' in this experiment. Actually, both subjects have
learned a method of 'token' interpretation. In this case, the 'tokens'
are sound vibrations known as words. I transmitted tokens (words) to the
other person and he interpreted the token in such a manner that
appropriate behavior occurred.

When a receiver senses words, the sensations stimulate a meaning
generation event. If the words are in a known language, meaning occurs.
If the language is unknown, the token is dismissed as noise. The outcome
of this mental activity is a slightly altered world view and new
behavioral options.

One might use 'transmit' as a sort of shorthand, but it confuses
understanding of communication processes. A lot of people believe in
ESP, and if that exists, it would certainly be a way from one mind to
transmit 'information' to another mind. I don't subscribe to the idea,

My hypothesis is that nothing was literally transmitted. The proof of
this assertion is the wide range of situations were speaking fails. A
mother cannot transmit the 'experience' of burning one's finger in a
flame. She can transmit word tokens suggesting certain behaviors to the
child, but she cannot transmit her own knowledge of pain. If she had ESP
powers, she might get the information transmitted, but few mothers
demonstrate this ability under laboratory conditions.

Another example is this attempt to transmit my perspective about
information to you. All I'm doing is sending word tokens for you to
interpret. You may convince yourself that I think X, Y and Z. You may
convince yourself that this knowledge was transmitted via my email. But,
all I'm hoping for is some level of skill on your part to recreate my

>The reason that transmission is important, especially for
>evolutionary theory, is that things can take place in that
>medium ...
>Memetics, being an evolutionary theory, is about the
>replicators AND their environments - WITHOUT THE
>linchpin of evolutionary theory). To put it simply, in
>memetics, your concept of recreation is about the
>replicators, and transmission is about the environments -
>you need both.

Again, let me see if I can recreate what your intent is here. I don't
think I got the transmission of info, if one was intended.

You've mentioned medium and environment. I suspect you the two are
interchangeable in your argument.

You've said that environments are where a survival differential can be
observed. In other words, there needs to be an environment for natural
selection to take place.

Putting it all together, I suspect your perspective starts with a
definition that memes are transmitted from person to person. By your
definition, memes are assemblies of 'information' that get transmitted
from one human to another. Thus, one can say that memes evolve based on
how they survive transmission and then force their new host to transmit
them to other humans. One might say memes are like DNA viruses, except
they are 'information' bits instead of DNA assemblies.

Since I discount transmission, your evolution scheme comes to a grinding

Am I close?

My perspective doesn't start by defining memes to be an entity
'transmitted from one person to another like a virus.' I start by
looking at the mechanics of communication, mainly biology and physics.
With that understanding in mind, I look for how a genetic analogy mapped
upon this communication system might make sense of apparently
evolutionary change in culture.

After looking at the mechanics of communication, I don't see how
'information' can be transmitted. Thus, it makes no sense to support the
notion of a meme being 'information' packets transmitted from person to
person. The 'information transmission' construct will not advance our

Just so you don't think I'm tossing out the notion of memes or cultural
evolution, I'll lay out what seems to be logical. It appears that we are
born with 'mature' and 'blank' memes. At birth, a baby knows to suck on
a nipple and cry. These are expressions of a baby's 'mature memes.'

During childhood, some of the blanks are given form. If not formed
during critical windows, the opportunity to form the meme is lost. Thus,
if you don't play a great deal of piano by the age of 8, you can never
achieve the highest levels of performance skills. After puberty, the
ability to learn new languages declines dramatically.

In this perspective, memes are something we are born with. They never
leave. Fortunately, we have an almost infinite number of them.

The notion of 'meme populations' requires the same sort of 'trait'
identification that genetics requires.

One might say there is an 'ability to speak English' meme that we
inherit. One might ask what this meme mutated from. The 'ability to
speak English' has a certain survivability advantage, so natural
selection is involved.

I doubt that this is something you can recreate with much fidelity, but
there it is. If it helps, great. If not, just drop it.


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Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
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