Re: i-memes and m-memes

Robin Faichney (
Tue, 31 Aug 1999 16:40:21 +0100

Date: Tue, 31 Aug 1999 16:40:21 +0100
From: Robin Faichney <>
Subject: Re: i-memes and m-memes
In-Reply-To: <>

In message <2CDFE2C8F598D21197C800C04F911B2034934F@DELTA.newhouse.akzono>, Gatherer, D. (Derek) <>
>>But what explanations? Can you give me an example, in the format above, of
>>a situation where behaviours are the main object of study, but bringing
>>brain entities in is in some way necessary for a complete explanation?
>It depends what kind of explanation you're looking for. In the general
>case, it seems obvious that the channel through which memes travel from
>one behavioural instance to another, necessarily involves the brain. I
>really can't see any advantage in denying that, and I presume you don't
>want to do so.
>Something has to be happening in the brain in order for limbs, etc. to move,
>of course. But that's about as far as I'd be prepared to take it.

I didn't realise you were quite so radical. So do you think the meme
sort of winks out of existence at the end of the relevant behaviour,
than magically winks back into existence at the beginning of the next
instance? (Sorry if that seems offensive, but I honestly don't see the
alternative, if there is one.)

>The only reason to talk about the brain in individual
>cases that I can think of right now is to explain selection and
>mutations that occur between one behavioural instance and another.
>Why? For instance does a misprint enter and leave the brain? Dawkins'
>example of memetic mutation in the 2nd edition of The Selfish Gene, involved
>a misprint in an article by EO Wilson, and one in the Scottish Student
>Songbook. So where's the brain here?

The "Wilsonian" misprint is in the references section of Sociobiology,
and also that of The Selfish Gene (1st ed.). Dawkins' conclusion is
that "Wilson and I had independently introduced the same mutant meme!"
(2nd ed. p328) Which is the substitution of "theory" for "evolution".
Dawkins' suggests that the most likely explanation for the coincidence
is the influence of the title of a very famous book on evolution. So,
to pursue this further, we would have to look at interference between
memes while "stored" (that word may be a little too passive in its
implications) in the *brain*.

As for the Scottish Student Songbook, that is also a mutant meme, the
correct title being the Scottish Student's Song Book. A less
significant mutation, in terms of its potential effects, than the one
above, but perhaps no less interesting. There are actually two
mutations: the dropping of the possessive, which affects the meaning
(though only very slightly), and the concatenation of the last two
words, which does not. I would guess that, in general terms, your
mutation probably coincides with more modern usage. This analysis could
get quite complex, and I will not pursue it further, but I will point
out that it would seem to make sense to point out that it almost
certainly occurred in your brain, rather than anywhere else, and if we
did want to pursue the matter rigorously, then we would have to know
what else was going on within your brain at the relevant time.

To sum up: brains are relevant to memetics at least because they provide
an arena for memetic interaction, which is obviously not to say there
are no other relevant factors.

Robin Faichney
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