Halfway through Blackmore

t (MemeLab@aol.com)
Mon, 19 Apr 1999 10:28:46 EDT

From: <MemeLab@aol.com>
Date: Mon, 19 Apr 1999 10:28:46 EDT
Subject: Halfway through Blackmore
To: memetics@mmu.ac.uk

So far these are the distinguishing characteristics of her work to me.

Good initial refutation of accusation of Lamarkianism. She does this with
the copy the instructions vs.copy the product. I am not sure that this
entirely refutes the accusation, but it sounds convincing at this point.

Good breakdown of the cognitive significance of imitation - makes very good
distinctions between true imitation and social learning.

This is a negative as I see it so far - she may have more to say on this
before I finish the book, though her statements on this subject sounded
sufficiently conclusory that I am not expecteing more on this subject:

Failure to provide any more refined definition of meme beyond just imitative
behavior. She waffles around through some possibilities - talks about
memotypes in the brain and phemotypes in the cultural products, but then
concedes that there may not be a cultural analog to genotype and phenotype.
She cites "Campbell's rule" a lot as the excuse for not doing so. She cites
a lot of confusion amongst other memetics thinkers and suggests that she
wants to spare others from creating more confusion.

I am not sure that "Campbells rule" - essentially that memes are different
from genes so we should not look for too many similarities - provides enough
excuse to ignore making further refinements, and I was a little disapppointed
that she didn't at least attempt a few more herself. Specifically I think
that she may be wrong in suggesting there may not be meme phenotypes -
pheMotypes - and meme genotypes - memotypes.

Specifically implicit in the evolutionary algorithm, I would think that there
would naturally be different mechanisms more directly involved in selective
retention/remembering (genotype/memotype) and in natural/cultural
selection/deciding (phenotype/pheMotype). At the least, it would seem that
replicating populations that had more specialized mechanisms for each of
these functions would tend to be more robust than those replicating
populations that didn't. I don't think that Campbell's rule should be used
to ignore issues posed by the evolutionary algorithm itself, and natural
implications that follow from it. Indeed it would seem that suggesting there
wasn't some clear divide between the selective retention, and the natural
selection aspects of memes would lead us right back into the Lamarkianism
that she was trying to refute.

While she made some strides toward dispelling the notion of cultural
Lamarkianism, her failure to offer a pheMotype/memotype distinction made the
concerns about cultural Lamarkianism even more poignant. I think without
this, there cannot really ever be a science of memetics. I understand that
the area still seems murky, but I would have appreciated her taking a stand
in this area. I think that she made an excellent start with the
product/instruction distinction, and it would have provided an excellent
basis to extend and refine this into a greater scheme for memotypes and
pheMotype, but she declined to do so.

Certainly due respect can be given to other's differing positions on this,
and she can be respectfully tentative about her own conclusions, but by not
even trying I think she unwittingly confirms the accusation of Lamarkianism
that she started out so well refuting. It implies that indeed there may be
no distinction here, and she conceded this possibility herself as well. That
was a terrible concession IMO. Certainly not one that would give memetics
the best possible shot.

Anyhow, that aside, I do think she gave me some sharper insight on true
imitation vs. social learning, and I think her distinction between copying
the instructions vs. copying the product were very good. I think others
ought to consider her points on these issues carefully and should either
respond to them or incorporate them into any future formulations of memetics
theory. Those are strong points so far, and I will be looking for more.

My own thoughts on this memotype/pheMotype distinction, is that somehow we
are obsessing too much on the *location* of memes ahead of considering the
functions. I have also noticed some obsession with keeping the memotype in
the brain, and the phemotype "out there". Susan Blackmore seems to follow
suit in this obsession herself. The only thing that I am really sure about
myself is that that the ultimate point of selection pheMotypically is
actively made by US, which I think gets clouded over BOTH by insisting that
MEMOTYPE is in the brains AND that "self is an illusion". I do not doubt
that some aspects of pheMotypical function can occur outside the brain as
well, but to function pheMotypically they must have some intentionality
toward the ultimate selection which is performed by US within the environment
of our minds and in relation to ourselves.

As far as memotype is concerned, I do not think that it is so important
whether those functions occur inside or outside our brains. Dennet himself,
has alluded to the importance and the unique degree of human ability to
offload information into the environment for future use and to free cognitive
resources for more immediate tasks. I think this is almost as important as
humans' capacity for imitation, and for this reason as well, I think it
makes the location of memotypical function less important.

Certainly there are oral traditions where this would occur mostly within the
brains and be passed on orally without the aid of independent physical
representation. But it seems to me, the evolved capacity of humans to not
have to rely on this, has driven cultural evolution far beyond what strictly
oral culturals had achieved. This would lead me to think that in more
sophisticated cultures, memotypical functions would tend to occur more "out
there", where as in less sophisticated cultures, they would happen more "in

That is fine and well since memotypical functions are essentially passive.
Indeed it may come to pass if and when we develop artificial intelligence,
that humans will be able to even off-load the essential pheMotypical
functions as well. I personally think that humans should resort to genetic,
organic and other technological enhancements to our own intelligences, before
considering relinquishing these functions - but that is a normative from me.
In theory there is no reason why we cannot relinquish all of these functions
to technology, leaving humans with nothing but leisure function - assuming
the new technological order sees fit to keep us. These decisions, however,
are some time yet to come - but now is as fine a time as any to start talking
about them.

back to reading,


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