RE: Memetics not tautological or circular

Gatherer, D. (
Fri, 04 Jun 1999 13:12:01 +0200

Date: Fri, 04 Jun 1999 13:12:01 +0200
From: "Gatherer, D. (Derek)" <>
Subject: RE: Memetics not tautological or circular
To: "''" <>


It doesn't seem at all far-fetched to me to
examine hypothesized mental contents and predict from that behaviors.
Polling, achievement tests, and driver's license exams are all attempts to
do just that, and appear to me to have at least some validity.


Cavalli-Sforza did include voting tendency (Republican vs. Democrat) as a
bi-allelic cultural trait in his magnum 1983 Science paper. Here the mental
content (for instance if I feel strongly right-wing) will correlate with the
behaviour (ie. I am likely to put my X next to Pat Robertson etc.)

The others are a little more difficult.

What memes do you infer from an achievement test? Suppose the test asks:
"What is the capital of Turkey?" You get the right answer straight away,
but I struggle to remember and fail the test. Half an hour later it comes
to me in a flash "Of course, it's Ankara!". Now what does that tell us
about our memes? Did you have the meme and I didn't? Did I have it later
when I remembered but not at the time of the test? Did I always have it in
some way but somehow couldn't access it? These are the kind of problems we
run smack into as soon as we try to start quantifying any kind of mental or
memory entity.

You see what I'm driving at here, Richard, is not that mental content
doesn't exist (no Skinnerian behaviourism from me), nor that the idea that
there are replicating mental entities is in any way particularly implausible
(I mean I held to Dawkins B for many a year myself....) but rather that it
doesn't stand up to close scutiny. The difficulty is methodological.

To what extent is the ability to drive a car memetic? Car driving, once one
has learned is cerebellar. While you're learning it's cerebral. Different
parts of the brain are involved depending on one's degree of expertise. A
driving test tests behavioural ability, not anything concrete inside the
head. That seems clear to me.

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