Re: implied or inferred memes

Raymond Recchia (
Sat, 18 Sep 1999 18:58:38 PDT

From: "Raymond Recchia" <>
Subject: Re: implied or inferred memes
Date: Sat, 18 Sep 1999 18:58:38 PDT

Jake said:

>Correct me if I am wrong, I don't have my copy of MM real handy. But I
>that Blackmore called this "social learning" if I am correct, and she
>distinguished it from true imitation. In social learning there already
>exists a complex behavior (either operantly conditioned or instinctively
>"hard wired") and the organism simply learns a new application of that same
>behavior through seeing another. A bird see another bird pecking a cream
>bottle. There is no imitation because both birds already know how to peck
>for food. The second only receives information of another place to apply
>that behavior through observation. The rest proceeds through the usual
>interaction between instinctive behavior and operant conditioning.
>At least that is how I think she meant that. She was drawing a distinction
>between social learning and true imitation and was showing how they were
>significantly different things.
>If am misrepresenting any of this, please let me know. I am doing this
>solely from memory.

I'm not very satisfied with that distinction and I'm not very sure that was
what Blackmore was saying. I thought that what she was saying was that
birds were spontaneously engaging in this activity without imitation being a
significant factor. As I remember bottles of this sort appeared and birds,
having been exposed to this new element in their environment all responded
in a similar way by learning to peck them.

I can see three possible scenarios for these birds and the cream bottles:

1) All the birds spontaneously on their own learned to peck the cream
bottles. If this is the case then we can say that there was no meme.

2) One or maybe just a few birds accidently discovered how to peck at these
cream bottles. The likelihood of spontaneous discovery is very low compared
to the likelihood of acquisition through imitation. Then we would probably
say we have a meme.

3) Most birds are likely to acquire the cream pecking phenomena
spontaneously but are more likely to acquire it if they first see another
bird doing it.
I would personally draw a line here and say that yes, scenario 3 still
involves a meme. If imitation increases the speed by which the behavior is
acquired then a meme is present. If the line is not drawn there then we are
stuck with a very slipperly slope. Potentially any behavior or idea can be
acquired without imitation, although the likelihood of such acquisition is
different for each meme. E=mc2 is likely near impossible to acquire without
transmission of some memes from another person while using animal hides to
cloth oneself may have hypothetically a 50/50 chance of being acquired by a
person with no human contact. I think we are just better off saying that if
the likelihood of acquiring a behavior is increased through tranmissal via
imitation or language, and if in fact that behavior was so transmitted then
it is a meme.
In retrospect I see that the birds were a bad example for the idea I was
trying to explain. Seeing the other bird engaging in the activity and then
imitating it is pure A -> A meme translation. What I was after seeing the
other bird engaging in the activity and then deducing that it could be done
in different way, and furthermore being able to say that most birds upon
seeing the original activity could be EXPECTED to produce the new type of
activity as well. Thus A ->B and thenceforth B->B.

Raymond Recchia

Get Your Private, Free Email at

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)