RE: Inernal meme?

Nick Rose (
Tue, 28 Sep 1999 14:13:31 -0400 (EDT)

From: Nick Rose <>
To: JOM-EMIT Discussion List <>
Subject: RE: Inernal meme?
Date: Tue, 28 Sep 1999 14:13:31 -0400 (EDT)

> Aaron:
> As for the details of *how* the amygdala reaction pattern
> develops as a result of several year's exposure to
> someone using the word and also having the pattern, that
> is a matter for further neuroscience research.
> Derek:
> No, you haven't grasped my point. I'll try to explain
> again.
> If we have two subjects, and we hit both on the knee with
> a hammer, then both will feel pain which will be
> characterised at the neurological level by firing of
> afferent neurons etc. However, the neurological patterns
> are caused by the environmental stimulus, ie. the hammer,
> not by the fact that the two subjects are exposed to each
> other's presence. If one subject is not hit on the knee,
> that subject will not have the stereotypical neural
> reponse.
> Likewise with the threat words; the stereotypical
> amydalar activation is an environmental response, and is
> not in any way itself contagious.

My tuppence worth on this interesting strand...

I'm not convinced that neurological research will *ever* be
able to identify a meme. If a meme is defined as some sort
of imitated or least socially learnt behaviour - in order
to differentiate memes from other kinds of learning like
conditioning - then the neurological question is whether we
can identify neural structures which have been only been
'shaped' by processes akin to imitation and not other kinds
of learning.

i.e. when you look at the pack of neurons in the amygdala
(for example) can you with any confidence determine which
structures have been shaped by classical conditioning and
which shaped by social transmission and imitation? From the
neurons and synapses themselves I'd guess that you

Is it not more likely that every neural structure is shaped
by both non-memetic and memetic learning together? In which
case searching for memes by digging through the grey matter
will be a hopeless cause.

On a side issue, it seems that many people - and I'll
include Aaron despite his inevitable protestations ;) -
appear to confuse the selective processes which go on in
the brain (the rather mis-named process of 'neural
Darwinism') with the selective processes which occur at a
cultural level and form 'memetic Darwinism'. Evidence of
selection at the neural level is necessary for, but not
evidence of, memes, or memetic evolution - because it
occurs in animals which learn (through conditioning and
related processes) but don't socially learn.


Nick Rose
"University of the West of England"

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