Re: information transmission (fwd)

SOC MicroLab 2, UEA, Norwich (
Mon, 15 Mar 1999 10:33:48 GMT

Date: Mon, 15 Mar 1999 10:33:48 GMT
From: "SOC MicroLab 2, UEA, Norwich" <>
Subject: Re: information transmission (fwd)

I sent this message before, but it didn't get on the
"information transmission" thread (there's irony for you)

Forwarded Message:
From: UEA <>
Date: Thu, 11 Mar 1999 12:25:07 GMT
Subject: Re: information transmission


> 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?

Well, what I'm really saying is that this scenario only
becomes interesting when the number HASN'T been "recreated"
in me. There are a number of evolutionary phenomena which
could claim responsibility for this phenomenon. It could be
genotypic (I'm an elephant, and therefore have no concept of
phone numbers or language), phenotypic (I'm deaf), memotypic
(!?) (I can't speak English) or it could be a transmission
effect (I wasn't listening, an aeroplane went over when you
spoke, and so on). My point is, if you don't know
the reason why, then you can't discount the possibility that
it was a transmission effect that was responsible for the
lack of success of that meme.

> 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.

OK. Do you know of a letter in some Southern African
languages which we write as a question mark (!) and is
actually pronounced as a click? Why does this letter not
exist in our language - or any other language for that
matter? The answer is that the people indigenous to this
area and need to communicate over vast expanses of plains.
The ! letter gets transmitted better in this environment
(correct me if I'm wrong but I think it actually signals a
following vowel - which doesn't travel so well). Now why
does this happen - how did it EVOLVE? Your theory, I
believe, cannot answer that question, because it only talks
about reproduction of existing tokens.

> 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 > intentions.

Once again, what if the email was down? Your thinking would
not have been recreated, and it would have been nothing to
do with yours or my mind, or any "internal" attempts to
recreate knowledge. Your theory does not take into account
this kind of phenomenon.

> >The reason that transmission is important, especially for
> >evolutionary theory, is that things can take place in
> >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.

No, I said that without environments, there can be no such
thing as a survival differential, and thus no evolutionary
theory of information (which is what memetics is)

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
> halt.
> Am I close?

Yes and no. Yes, without transmission it can't be evolution.
But no, I'm a "Dawkins A - 1976" man (see Gatherer's 1998
article in JoM), so I think memes can be instantiated in
artefacts as well as human minds. As Dennett would put it, a
wheel of a cart is not only transmitting some cargo from one
place to another, it is also transmitting the notion of a
wheel to other minds.

Interestingly, from reading the rest of your mail (which I
haven't included here) it seems that your problem lies not
with the word "transmission" but with "information". I'd be
quite prepared to concede that the physical/notional nature
of the information as instantiated in the brain is different
from its nature whilst it is actually being transmitted. So
you can call them different things, and if you want to call
the stuff in the mind "information" and the stuff in the
ether (for want of a better word) something else (let's say
merely the token of the information), that's fine, but in my
view, they are both instances of the same meme.

so to really open a can of worms . . .

EITHER a concept of both is inescapable if we want to do
evolutionary theory, OR the fact of the matter is, that the
information you speak of is also nothing but tokens (I think
this is Dennett's line). That is to say, the mother doesn't
actually have the "experience" of the burnt finger in her
head, all she has is a token (a memory) of it. She can
encode this token into a transmittable form (pictures,
language, acting out the scenario), and depending on how she
encodes it (and which way the wind's blowing, so to speak)
the baby will get the idea (literally). It might be a token
useful enough for the baby never to get its finger burned,
but on this interpretation, it isn't the experience of the
burnt finger the baby has in its head, just a token of it.

cheers, alex rousso.

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Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
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