Re: Internal meme?

Aaron Lynch (
Wed, 22 Sep 1999 14:00:06 -0500

Message-Id: <>
Date: Wed, 22 Sep 1999 14:00:06 -0500
From: Aaron Lynch <>
Subject: Re: Internal meme?
In-Reply-To: <2CDFE2C8F598D21197C800C04F911B203493AC@DELTA.newhouse.akzo

At 04:59 PM 9/22/99 +0200, Gatherer, D. (Derek) wrote:
>Those of you (all 6 of you) who are long-standing inmates of this list will
>no doubt be familiar with my scepticism concerning the existence of
>'internal memes', by which I mean memes defined according to Dawkins B
>'units of information in the brain'. I am however, willing to be persuaded
>that such things exist if the evidence is great enough. To this end, I am
>always on the look out in the neuroscience literature for anything meme-like
>actually in the brain.
>The best I have seen so far is:
>Isenberg et al (1999) Linguistic threat activates the human amygdala. Proc
>Natl Acad Sci USA 96, 10456-10459
>This describes how subjects were PET-scanned while being shown 'threat'
>words, like 'destroy', 'mutilate', 'whip' etc Controls were shown neutral
>words. It appears that threat words activate the amygdala bilaterally, and
>(the subejcts were all right-handed) the left parahippocampal gyrus/lingual
>gyrus, and also a small region of the left premotor cortex.
>So whenever you hear something you don't like the sound of, certain small
>regions of the brain are activated (insofar as PET signal indicates neuronal
>activation, which of course is a very indirect method). The activation of
>the cortex may even be part of some preparation to act on one's dislikes
>(eg. by running away)
>Meme or not meme?

Strictly speaking, this would count as *evidence*, not *proof* of a meme.
Further evidence would necessarily include demonstrating that exposure to
people who have "the same" internal reaction pattern correlates strongly
with development of that internal reaction pattern in new people. Areas of
investigation might include:

1. Demonstrating that having the internal reaction pattern correlates
strongly with enunciation of the words "destroy," "mutilate," "whip," etc.
Perhaps subjects could be persuaded to carry tiny recorders or digital word
recognizers around for a few days before and after the PET scans.

2. Demonstrating that prior exposure to those words correlates with
development of the internal reaction patterns. One approach might be to
find some remote region of China where there is a very low enunciation rate
of those words. Find out if the (expected) low incidence of the internal
reaction patters is exhibited by a large sample of those local Chinese
people. Then find out if infants adopted in from an English-speaking
countries/regions still do or do not develop the internal reaction patterns
observed by Isenberg et al.

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