Re: facets of meme-talk

t (
Thu, 26 Aug 1999 19:51:27 EDT

From: <>
Date: Thu, 26 Aug 1999 19:51:27 EDT
Subject: Re: facets of meme-talk


I think the way I perceive it, is a continuum of function. To use a dualism
metaphor for the sake of simplicity: The more "in here" (perhaps "cognitively
embodied" would be a good phrase to avoid dualistic delusions) we get, the
more we get into purely selective functions -- pheMotype (*we* make the
choices and the memes appeal to *us*). The more "out there" we get, the more
we get into selective retention -- memotype (it doesn't matter what appeals
to us if we do not act to replicate it in such a way that somebody else can
imitate it or otherwise replicate it). Behavioral manifestation being the
intermediary point between the two. Level two, with metalingual definition
represents an evolution toward greater fidelity in selective retention. At
level one we mostly have behavioral manifestation and imitation to rely on
for the memotypical functions.

It would seem that through direct imitation at Level one, culture would take
on more Lamarkian aspects (where alterations in pheMotype would more
necessarily lead to alterations in memotype). On the other hand, with the
evolution of writing and symbolic systems of representation, there would be a
shift in the direction of somewhat more Mendellian forms (specialization
between memotype and pheMotype). The immediate behavior and understanding in
transmission would have less impact on exactly what is selectively retained
as long as the symbolic representation in that selective retention remained
the same. Example: If I had to explain to you verbally Darwin's Dangerous
Idea without referring to the text, my particular understanding of it would
have considerably more impact on what was actually imparted to you than if I
just handed you the book and let you read it.

All of this said, however, and stepping back away from dualism, I wouldn't
say that it is as simple as memes being "in here" or "out there." Without
both aspects of a meme -- pheMotype and memotype, we do not have a complete
cultural replicator. Selfish gene theory, and therefore selfish meme theory,
require a complete replicator. Dawkin's gene is no just genotype or DNA.
Since he has plugged it into the genetic algorithm as the most basic
replicator (as opposed to plugging in individuals, groups, or species), it
has to fill that role. For the purposes of that theory we can no longer have
the simplicity of saying that genes are just DNA. When plugged in the
algorithm, "gene" must include BOTH genotype AND its extended phenotype.
Same with memes. Even if they are increasingly selectively retained in
cultural artifacts as we move through the cognitive/technological ranks, that
is not where the memes are exposed to cultural selection. That still happens
"in here." -- cognitively embodied humans.


P.S. as a dear friend of mine has more poetically suggested to me:
"We need to embrace our embodiment." To elaborate a little less poetically,
I would say that divorcing any concept of meme from the details of its
cognitive embodiment within us, effectively makes it a useless concept for
human culture. Artifacts by themselves, while memetically significant --
especially in considerations of selective retention -- cannot be the whole
enchilada regardless of where we actually start our investigations.

In a message dated 8/26/99 4:16:04 PM Central Daylight Time, writes:

> At 3:45 PM 8/26/99 -0400, <> wrote:
> >
> >3) "G-memes" - memes encoded into the environment, in cultural artifacts.
> >Gatherer claims that this was Benzon's conception of memes, though I have
> >some doubts that this is what Bill was talking about (perhaps Bill can
> us
> >straight?).
> I've got my conception from Hays, and here's what Hays said:
> In thinking about the evolution of technology, I see four
> categories on which we might build a theory: Concepts, minds,
> devices, and overt manifestations of knowledge. Mokyr chooses
> concepts and techniques:
> The idea or conceptualizaiton of how to produce a
> commodity may be thought of as the genotype, whereas
> the actual technique utilized by the firm in producing
> the commodity may be thought of as the phenotype of the
> member of a species. (p. 275 BIBLNOTE* )
> Concepts today are as abstract as genes were before the identifi-
> cation of DNA as the genetic material. If our theory must be
> built on this category, it will be altogether abstract; before
> accepting this outcome, I choose to explore other possibilities.
> Devices, of course, are entirely concrete: They can be touched,
> counted, inspected in detail. But as I said in the beginning, I
> am not satisfied with devices as the basis of a theory, because
> we could lose all of the devices and still have the technology.
> Let us see, then, what we can do with minds and overt
> manifestations of knowledge. Minds are abstract, but the overt
> manifestations are not. In rank 1, knowledge is manifest in the
> movements of a skilled adult performing a routine task, and also
> in the speech of adults. The child, watching and listening,
> comes to have a mind much like the minds of the adults nearby.
> In rank 2, knowledge is further manifest in written texts, which
> a new generation can read. Rank 3 has algorithms; they are
> manifest in calculations and in oral or written descriptions of
> procedure. Rank 4 has computation, that is to say, it has
> algorithms for the execution of algorithms. These are manifest
> in the action of computers and in lectures and texts on the art
> of computation and programming.
> These manifestations are accessible to the young in every
> rank, as they are to external observers who wish to construct
> theories. Beginning with rank 2, pedagogy appears to ensure
> orderly access. Rank 3 introduces laboratories for apprentice
> engineers and scientists. Rank 4 teaches computation in various
> ways, perhaps not yet in the right ones.
> Can we say, with the biologists, that minds do not alter the
> manifestations of knowledge that they receive? Or if they do
> make alterations, that they make them unsystematically--randomly-
> -as bodies modify genomes by exposing them to radiation or
> chemicals? Does an adult pass on to a new generation the same
> manifestations he or she received, unmodified by life experience?
> For the nonce, I submit that the parallel holds, at least in rank
> 1. Genomes mutate, and cultures change, but the persons involved
> cannot know the significance of changes they make--if they are
> even aware of making changes.
> Rank 2 cultures are aware of texts as manifestations of
> knowledge, and give overt attention to transmission of culture.
> The great examples are Classical Antiquity (Hellenistic), China,
> Islam, Russia, and the late Medieval period in which Scholastic
> philosophy flourished. It seems to me no coincidence that all of
> these cultures are devoted to continuation without change. Their
> success is an indication of the power of writing.
> For rank 3, we have only one full-blown example, the West,
> and here change and progress are slogans. What I propose is a
> change in the rules of evolution, as Levinson ( BIBLNOTE* ) put
> it. In growing up, the person is taught to learn. Adults, and
> in particular pedagogues, pass on to a new generation the same
> facility for learning that they acquired. No one is fully aware
> of this capacity to learn, no theory of learning accounts well
> for what goes on in schools, no program of educational reform has
> been remarkably successful. In short, minds in rank 3 are not
> capable of systematic alteration of the manifestations of knowl-
> edge that they receive _at the level of learning to learn_. But
> given the capacity to learn, rank 3 sapients collect additional
> knowledge and work on it. At this level, they are capable of
> systematic and deliberate modification.
> In a larger sense, the systematic and deliberate modifica-
> tion of knowledge by rank 3 minds is still blind variation, since
> any sapient has limited ingenuity and limited capacity for
> critical analysis of its products. The evolutionary epistemology
> of Donald Campbell (1960; see also Mokyr, pp. 276-277) retains
> its relevance in rank 3 progress.
> ******
> Alas, the full-text is all but unavailble as my website is down. But it is
> RANKS. 1991, 1993.
> William L. Benzon 201.217.1010
> 708 Jersey Ave. Apt. 2A
> Jersey City, NJ 07302 USA

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