Re: A more "sciency"-sounding mysticism.

Mark Mills (
Sat, 3 Apr 99 14:28:51 -0600

Subject: Re: A more "sciency"-sounding mysticism.
Date: Sat, 3 Apr 99 14:28:51 -0600
From: Mark Mills <>
To: "Memetics List" <>


>It seems to me that the notion of a gene is an abstract notion, but that is
>not incompatible with the fact that genes have determinate physical

I certainly don't have this worked out. It is of great interest, though.

I can only make sense of these semantic difficulties by using the notion
that all information is generated in the brain via sensual experience of
tokens. Nothing is transmitted in the sense of 'radiation,' we each
generate information/meaning independently based on biologically given
cognitive systems. Communication and thought are token processing

If one starts with this perspective, the first question is this: 'how do
we distinguish individual tokens from the vast spectrum of experience.'
You allude to this problem with you examples of different cultural
classification systems. Clearly, we have a wide variety of options.
Cultural evolution is exhibited in the history of fossilized human tokens.

I like your logic, but would expand it with more data. Ape use of sign
language tells us something about our token systems. Ape language
research has shown that apes can assimilate human cultural classification
logic, specifically the 'plant/animal' distinction of English speaking
humans. This strongly suggests they have much of our biological equipment
for tokenizing experience. In cultures without this culturally configured
distinction, I'm confident apes would master the alternative system with
their usual ability (a 2-3 year old retarded child).

I'd also expand your dataset to include robot research. Robot
programmers have a very difficult time providing a robot with the
learning/classification capabilities of primates (apes and humans).

Additionally, I'd include the biological oddities of language
acquisition. Language is not taught but assimilated independently by
children. All children can create creole from their linguistic
environment. Windows of opportunity exist for language acquisition, past
which language cannot be acquired. Some individuals can learn multiple
linguistic systems, others cannot. Multi-lingual individuals lose the
capability when extreme senility occurs.

It seems fairly clear from all this data that our biology grants us both
an inherited classification 'ability' and the flexibility to configure
the talent in a wide variety of ways. Additionally, it seems all
primates have an inherited capacity for tokenizing their sensual
experience. Human ability for tokenizing experience and token expression
is far more advanced than apes, but it seems obvious that token
utilization is evident in all apes. It seems difficult to avoid
including 'tokenizing ability' in our biological inheritance.

The silly exercise of reading a list of colors (red, blue, pink, etc)
printed in colored ink different than the word's meaning demonstrates how
unconscious our tokenizing process operates. Anyone reading a list
printed in this confused color order will find it difficult to 'read' the
word rather than state the color experienced. We seem to do what comes
easiest biologically unless a great deal of training over-rides nature.

Your examples, salt and sodium-chloride are token names. From a
cognitive point of view, salt is more direct than sodium-chloride. Salt
is identified via unconscious tokenizing. We don't need much conscious
deliberation. The semantic token 'salt' emerges rather directly from the
experience. Sodium-chloride is identified indirectly via chemical test
and semantic token interpretation (reading test equipment, outside
research, historical data, etc).

Both salt and sodium-chloride are still tokens distinguished from the
vast spectrum of experience, though. To identify either, we must rely on
our biological gifts for token discrimination.

Not all experience is tokenized unconsciously. We all experience a
variety of emotions, sensations, moods, etc. To share these experiences,
we must tokenize them for communication purposes, but we recognize the
difficulty and inadequacy. After our attempts to tokenize experience
which resist convenient packaging, we often use the meta-classification
'concept' or 'abstraction.'

I avoid the term 'abstraction.' Some would use 'abstraction' in the
Platonic sense to refer to a non-physical reality that somehow guides
reality. Plato said that all 'real' horses (the tokens) are 'shadows' of
the abstract reality. Thus the abstract is more 'real' than experience.
I think this a common use of the term 'abstraction.'

In my view, Plato was noticing that we all share a biological tokenizing
heritage that seems to transcend individuality or culture. One might
claim that there are no 'guiding abstractions', only un-tokenizable
experience. In this sense, abstract is the least 'real' aspect of life.

Since many people hold the Platonic view of 'abstract' (perhaps a
biological preference), the terms is too easily mis-interpreted for me to
be comfortable.

Getting back to the nature of 'genes' and their relationship with the
term 'abstraction,' I view DNA as a 'token' and Open-Reading-Frames (OFR)
or genes as messages on the token. By messages, I suggest my lack of
ease in tokenizing the patterns that DNA expresses.

Are the OFRs 'real'? Certainly they can be measured with lab equipment,
so they are 'real.' On the other hand, they are not subject to direct
taste, touch or sight. Additionally, they are not clearly understood in
a functional sense. They may participate in a variety of protein
creating process.

Someone here on the list suggested we distinguish 'things' from
'patterns' by identifying physical independence or separation. 'Things'
are separate, 'patterns' can overlap. In this sense, DNA is a 'thing'
and OFRs are patterns. DNA can be isolated, OFRs cannot.

The means by which we recognize 'separation' are both biological and
cultural. Thus, there will be wide variation in how individuals divide
experience into things or patterns. The Buddhists, for example, say
everything is interconnected, nothing is separate. Things and patterns
distinctions are merely a linguistic convention, an arbitrary tokenizing

All in all, I find it unnecessary to use the term 'abstraction' in the
context of gene/meme analogies.


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