Non-memetic behavior (was Parody of Science)

Dale Fletter (
Mon, 16 Aug 1999 11:24:07 -0700

From: Dale Fletter <>
To: "''" <>
Subject: Non-memetic behavior (was Parody of Science)
Date: Mon, 16 Aug 1999 11:24:07 -0700

You'll need to pardon my paranoia; I hate getting flamed so I tend toward
the overly defensive.

My premises (ie beliefs at this moment) are that

1) Memetics is a supplement to genetics as a way to accelerate change
2) Memetics only applies to organisms that replicate using genetics or
something homomorphous with genetics
3) Not all behavior can be explained using memetics alone in that there is
some behavior that is genetically determined and some that falls into the
realm of chaos
4) Memetics may be the method of procreating an organism that transcends
the individual biological entity ie society rather than the human

We can explore these premises if you like or we can stick to your question
of examples of behavior that is outside the explanation of memetics.

I personally believe that dogs offer a better object of study than people
for the discussions of memetics so I will try to pull my examples from
their behavior. Dogs were bred over many generations for very specific
purposes; shepherds, retrievers, tracking etc. Even in the complete absence
of any possible memetic influence some of these behaviors will
spontaneously exhibit. We can further shape these behaviors but the genes
seem to contain some of them in the absence of specific shaping to represss
the expression. ie we implant memes to surpress otherwise normal behavior.
This would be an example of behavior that I believe is beneath explanation
by any theory of memetics.

Most of the behavior of animate and inanimate objects that is of interest
in the social science seems to be immune to mechanistic explanations. It is
like the various explanation for the motions of heavenly bodies at the end
of the geocentric era. You can continue to expand it to explain local
phenomena but the theory becomes so heavy that it begs for Occam's razor. I
do not want to dissuade anyone from trying to explain all behavior using
memetics however I believe that there is an inherent limit beyond which
memetics does not apply. My basic model is chaotic behavior. Water is
simple. Air is simple. Yet no one would ever consider trying to predict the
exact shape of a specific white cap. While it might be theoretically
possible to create a deterministic model which could do it, the creation of
a machine that could perform the calculation in real time begins to
resemble the thing to be simulated. There are inherent limits to
computability and the output of the mammalian brain is far more complicated
than the interactions of water and air. Hence, while there may be strange
attractors and probabilistic expressions for more advanced human behavior,
it would be difficult or impossible to ever tie this behavior to specific

Between these two extremes there appears to be furtile ground where
memetics is intuitively the obvious explanation. As I mentioned in my
premises, I take the memetic ability of animals as the genetic adaptation
which allows us to evolve our social organizations much faster than
genetics alone would allow. For this to make sense to me, I must think of
individual biological entities as analogous to cells in a living body which
individually are born, live, function and die according to local rules.
While each contains the same genetic material, the expression of that
genetic material depends upon local conditions. So therefore in my mind at
least, the collected memes of a society exist for the benefit of the
society and not necessarily for the benefit of the individual organism.
Obviously the genetic material as well must be preserved since the society
depends upon both but the door is open for a trans-humanist track where
eventually the society begins to shed its genetic root as it finds other
methods of creating the individual units of the society.

More specifically, I am drawn to the fact that the mammalian brain goes
through distinct developmental steps where the same stimulus (memome?) can
have very different effects. A trauma to a puppy during the early
socialization period can leave the adult dog untrainable. A puppy denied
exposure to human beings until after the 12th week will never bond to a
pack that includes humans (as is normally the case.) Clearly the memes that
these stimuli create attach virtually permanently to the genetic potential
of the animal. In particular, many "mothering instincts" actually turn out
to be learned behavior that is automatically replicated from bitch to
bitch. These strike me as the clearest example of specific memes I have
come across yet. Clearly the mothering techniques learned can not only
enhance the survival of the specific individuals of the dog society, it can
shape the nature of that society as well depending upon how later stimuli
influence this behavior. The basic behavior would be expressed in the
presence of a new litter yet it could be shaped and altered but probably
not extinguished by later experience.

I'll stop here and give you a chance to respond.

On Sunday, August 15, 1999 2:59 PM, Mark M. Mills []
> Dale,
> At 07:08 PM 8/14/99 -0700, you wrote:
> >Yes, you are correct that don't want to engage in an extended debate
> >whether or not there is non-memetic behavior. I would rather posit that
> >there is behavior that is memetic and behavior that is non-memetic
> >because I am not in trying to come up with a grand unified theory of
> >memetics as my introduction to the topic.
> That's fine. I was just asking for examples. No need to defend them,
> unless it serves your purposes.
> If you are going to use the term, you must have something in mind.
> >I believe that there is behavior
> >that is above memetic,..
> Great. Can you give me an example?
> >I could argue for both a memetic or non-memetic interpretation for
> >intra-generational slang. Children will do things with language for the
> >express purpose of differentiating themselves from their parents.
However I
> >find a qualitative difference between what these pre-adolescents do with
> >language and the effects of imprinting on the formative brain that
> >more permanently part of that person. Both memes that are held in the
> >brain? Perhaps one at a deeper level that is harder to displace and one
> >a more shallow level that can be knocked out by a later or stronger
> >What do you think?
> I'm not disagreeing with you, but your terms confuse me. You suggest a
> 'memetic and non-memetic' interpretation, give the slang example, and
> suggest both behaviors demonsrated are memetic (not meme and non-meme).
> As to my own thoughts, both the imprinting of linguistic symbols during
> early childhood and adolescent slang are memetic. I'm not sure I would
> the notion that shallow L-memes are 'knocked out' by stronger L-memes,
> there is certainly something physically differentiating the stability of
> each instantiation.
> >re: Websters, brain function and behavior--at its crudest level, a
> >brain/body system is a finite state machine that creates outputs that
> >depend upon the combination of current state and input. The output that
> >be observed by another is behavior. The current state is a combination
> >genetic wiring and learned behavior ie. neural connections. Regardless
> >how you want to define these things for everyday language, for memetics
> >this is the starting point unless you want to bring metaphysics into
> >which reaches beyond what I consider science. Do you see it differently?
> Sounds like a fine starting place for me, too.
> >What I was casually refering to as higher brain function (an admittedly
> >loose term) was just to make a distinction between behavior we might
> >in another species from what we might see in humans. Again, this is not
> >suggest that a good memetic theory might not include other species, only
> >that it is outside the scope of my interest to have an opinion that I
> >to argue. I just don't think I have the right to an opinion in light of
> >weight on this list.
> You have a right to an opinion! I was just asking what you meant. :-)
> Mark
> ===============================================================
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This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the
Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing)