Thursday, October 06, 2005


Where I disagree with Susan Blackmore

my ideas about Susan`s ideas

It became a bit lengthy but I hope you will be able to get my point.

The email from Susan Blackmore
And what I strongly disagree with in her email

If you say that my screwed up mouth is a sign then you losing any usual sense of the word.

This is quotation from her email. I disagree with that type of answer because pretty often the usual sense of the word is one and the sense of the word used in a science is different. Typically, in economics when referring to capital economist does not mean money, but that’s exactly what normal people think.
There is a small problem with the screwed up mouth, is it a sign or not? I say it is. The facial expression is a signal, a sing giving the other person an idea about my feelings and the person can recognize whether I am about to start an attack against the person or not, there are several basic emotions and all of them have their facial expression which serve as a signal. This signalling is also observed by animals, a cat taking the fight position, or a snake, the opened mouth of a dog showing the teeth might mean a big danger.

On different messengers in the internet emoticons, smilies are used. Why?? Because they overtake the signalling function of a face. Usually they are small symbolic pictures of a facial expression, and basically everybody makes use of them because they enrich the dull conversation when using only typed letters.

This also shows the extreme importance of signs, signals. Speak about animals, the bird songs, the sounds of frogs, of deers and other sounds are signs, they represent a meme, e.g., danger, or preparedness to mating.

I can understand one problem some experts have with my idea of sings. They prefer extremely narrow understanding of the word sign. To these people I would suggest to think of a sing in a much broader way or replace the word sign by the word signal e.g., but realizing that signs then can be only a subsystem of signals; signals would comprise signs.

And you say memes get from one brain to another…well?? Do they??

Well what should I say?? If memes are not in the brain then I really have a problem. It would mean that all plays by Shakespeare were sort of flying through the air, absolutely complete and that Shakespeare was the one who accidentally succeeded in catching them and writing them down….well, if a man writes he has got his ideas in his brain anyway. So I really do not see how memes might be somewhere else, e.g., in a toe.

There might be a huge question where are the memes of smaller living creatures stored, so small that they do not have a brain. But for sure they have a kind of receptors for exploring the outside world; it might be possible that these receptors also store the memes.

A bit later I have found several lines by Dawkins quoted in on thesis, which absolutely explicitly say that memes do get from one brain to another. So I think that Susan did not pay too much attention when answering my email, which I consider a bit unhappy approach. And here the promised quotation:

Dawkins only gave a very simple definition of what a meme is. Most authors quote him by limiting his meme to a !unit of cultural transmission”. It can be interesting, however, to also add some words from the following paragraph of Dawkins` book to this early definition; more specifically the claim that memes “propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain via process which, in the broad sense, can be called imitation” (Selfish Gene 192). As this truly is the first definition, it is important to add this very specific factor of imitation which is usually not included when Dawkins´ definition is quoted.

This is a complete paragraph from thesis The Viral Aspects of Language written by Klass Chielens, in 2002-2003, at the University of Brussels, under the supervision of Prof. Francis Heylighen. Francis Heylighen is also one of the authors of Principia Cybernetica Web where he writes in an excellent manner about memetics and many further aspects joint with the oldest questions of mankind. So I would not assume that he would let a wrong idea to be published.

So this clearly shows that Susan Blackmore was not completely right with her question suggesting that memes sort of fly around. This idea seems to be pretty wrong. Memes are passed from brain to brain, this being passed over is the copying process

I prefer to call the memes the information that is copied.

Well, this term of definition might be quite ok and even the suggested direction of further studies to find out how the memes are copied seems perfectly ok. I suggest here that the memes are copied in humans in their brains. But how do they get there?? I think and there is plenty of evidence supporting my meme that the memes are transported by signs.

If someone disagrees then we must ask what actually a language is., or what is a piece of music written on a piece of paper. I think these are signs. Sings representing something: music, idea etc. The only way how a piece of music or an idea can be copied…that means to appear twice or more times and even get adjusted, changed a bit, is that the meme is coded into a sign or a set of signs which can be perceived by the receptors of the other brain and can be transported to the brain. Then in the new brain the meme will be tested first if it fits into the established set of memes having been stored in that brain already. If it is so we might then appear to like the piece of music or the idea. If the new meme does not fit into the memplex in the new brain it will be rejected, it will not be copied, and the author of the new meme will be called stupid.

It is generally agreed upon, and many authors including Susan Blackmore write about it, that a piece of music or its part is a meme. How can such a meme be copied? Well, how do we know that it is copied?? Does that meme appear twice or more times. Well yes, it does. Take a song which you learned as a child and you still can remember that song. It is generally agreed upon that memory is in our brain. But not only you remember that song plenty of your mates from that time remember that song too, in their brains, and then you teach your children that song and the song is stored in many brains then. So this might be viewed as evidence that memes are in the brain, at least in such creatures which have one, like in humans, dogs and other higher animals.

Bur how did it happen that you or I have that meme, that piece of music in our brain, how did it get into out brain? Music gets into our brain obviously in few ways: one is that you hear the music. If it is so, then the meme is translated into waves of pressed air. Your ears do not hear the music; they only react to the waves of pressed air. These waves move small hairs in the ear, which in turn evokes a reaction in the nerve and sends the signal about being moved by pressed air o the brain. The music which we hear is made in our brain where the neuro-signal is processed and understood as music. Music is not understood as music in the ear itself. If it were so, the ears did not have to be connected to the brain, they could work autonomously.

The second way is reading the music written in musical signs. Then the music gets into ones brains through eyes. This is usually the case if the musician reads that, he can see the notes and “artificially” he can hear the music in his brain. So there must be a “translating” process in musician brain which enables hearing music even when there are no waves of pressed air around.

What would this mean to humans? We could not remember anything which was passed to us by sounds via ears. This obviously is not the case in humans and dog, as both of them understand the order lay down.

The system is extremely complex. Just think of traffic lights, red light in a bar, red apple, green grass etc. According to the complex surroundings of a sign a different meme is evoked. If you see a red apple you would not want to stop and not to cross the street, but if you see the same red colour on the traffic lights you do stop and wait until the green light comes on.

The same can be demonstrated with the sounds: hearing the ambulance horn while you sit in your car driving home will automatically force you to pull aside. If you hear the same horn of an ambulance in a film on TV you just stay sitting and continue watching the film. So only the sound itself is not enough. There must be something more. Many small details which describe a certain situation are a complex of signs which evokes one meme.

So very often it is not only one sign which corresponds with one meme, but many signs create then only one meme.

Unfortunately, there are many more aspects of memes and memetics suggested by Susan Blackmore in her email to me with which I cannot agree. The complete idea about imitating and that dogs do not imitate is completely wrong. Dogs do imitate. If you wish your dog to get proper training, several first lessons are made so that your dog only sits and watches what other dogs, which are already well trained, do. Why do the dog teachers do that?, Well, the reason is simple: they know that dogs learn better when they can see what other dogs do, Which means dogs can imitate and learn be imitating.

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