Re: comparison/contrast of memes and engrams

Scott Chase (
Thu, 14 Oct 1999 10:25:38 -0700

Date: Thu, 14 Oct 1999 10:25:38 -0700
From: "Scott Chase" <>
Subject: Re: comparison/contrast of memes and engrams


On Thu, 14 Oct 1999 10:49:33 Mark M. Mills wrote: >Scott, > >At 03:22 PM 10/13/99 -0700, you wrote: > >>Coining terms like G and L-meme might add excess baggage where it might >not be >warranted. > >I'm not adding baggage, only recognizing primary forms of 'meme' used since >the >original 70s Dawkins description. G and L-memes are just shorthand for >definitions published last year in the Journal of Memetics. I use them because >they are explicit and anyone can go back to the source documents and authors. >Both Lynch and Gatherer are active on this list. I think Tim Rhodes first >coined the shorthand L-meme and G-meme. > >Here is the straight Gatherer-meme definition (G-meme): > >Meme: an observable cultural phenomenon, such as a behaviour, artefact or >an objective piece of information, which is copied, imitated or learned, >and thus may replicate within a cultural system. Objective information >includes instructions, norms, rules, institutions and social practices >provided they are observable. > >(Gatherer, "Why the `Thought Contagion' Metaphor is Retarding the Progress >of Memetics" > >Gatherer points out this is essentially the definition previously published >by Bill Benzon. > To me, this is what I tend to think of when the term meme comes to mind. Thanks for the refs. I kinda liked Laurent's article in vol 3 since I'm coming into this with my own conceptual baggage in tow. > >Second, the Lynch definition (L-meme): >MEME >A memory item, or portion of an organism's neurally-stored information, >identified using the abstraction system of the observer, whose >instantiation depended critically on causation by prior instantiation of >the same memory item in one or more other organisms' nervous systems. >(Lynch, "Units, Events and Dynamics in Memetic Evolution", > > I'm a little more cautious on this one, because IMO it competes with the historically antecedent term engram, as coined by Semon and used by Lashley, Schacter and others (BTW I *am* aware of the nasty sci-fi cult tangent this term has, but that is irrelevant to its legitimate usage). Maybe the neurally based memes discussed here are a subset within the engram-store. One of my interests is how the concepts might relate for one and if both can achieve an operational symbiosis of sorts. I'm open to ideas, since I have nothing set in stone.

I've just started rereading Blackmore's book. Today I also picked up Lynch's _Thought Contagion_ at my library for contrast and because I need to get more up to speed. I've got Durham and Dennett and Dawkins handy too. > >Some partisans of each definition advocate their ownership of the term >meme. I >take a middle view. I find usage of both valuable. > >What do you think of memetics? > It definitely intrigues me. I've been a student of psychology and biology for some time and I'm trying to figure out what kind of direction to take. My interests are varied ranging from evolutionary / developmental biology to sea turtle biology to memory research to memetics etc... I'm actually reading Leon Festinger's _A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance_ right now, since this notion appealed to me when I took a social psych course long ago. I wonder what kind of factor dissonance could be in human behavior. > >Do you think either usage will ever find >acceptance in Science or Nature? > > It's hard to tell. It could have application as a heuristic in the history of science or movements. I've been a long time reader of Jung's psychology. That's how I stumbled upon Semon's ideas. I've had an interest in how certain ideas from people like Ernst Haeckel, Hans Driesch, and recently Semon may have influenced Jung and secondarily this would fit with how Jung's own goofy ideas have influenced a certain number of people. For instance E.O. Wilson mentions archetypes a couple times in _Consilience_ and Theodosius Dobzhansky even discusses Jung's ideas briefly in two of his books. I have a very recent book called _Evolution of the Psyche_ which has a Jungian flavor and happens to include a contribution by none other than evolutionary psychologist David Buss. Unfortunately, Jung's ideas are not dissected for content and thus the very dubious parapsychological and synchronicity angles are ignored.

Even if you study formal evolutionary biology itself you can find certain ideas that have had varying degrees of influence ranging from the success of Richard Dawkins' selfish gene view to the failure of Richard Goldschmidt's systemic mutations and hopeful monsters (although Goldschmidt's idea of phenocopy may apply if you follow the related ideas of the Baldwin effect or genetic assimilation ala Conrad Waddington).

Well I've babbled up enough bandwidth :-)

Scott Chase

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