Re: virus: Replication of Memes

Mon, 12 Aug 1996 15:37:23 -0500

Steve Upstill wrote:
> What I meant was that a meme must pass through
> communication channels to reach another host.

As we should expect of units of information.

> Therefore, it has to
> have some kind of structure that 1) can be reasonably packaged in a
> unit that is in some sense self-contained,

A meme is, by definition, a unit of cultural information which exhibits
a reasonable level of internal coheasion over time. Memes ARE said
units. They are not CONTAINED in them.

> and 2) can be expressed
> in a signal via some communications medium.

Here are some quotes from Fred Dretske's "Knowledge and the Flow of
Information." I not driving any point or thesis with them, as I'm still
not that sure of what you are trying to say. Just thought his lucid
exposition might give you a creative boost in formulating your point.

"[T]here is no reason to think that every meaningful signal must carry
information or, if it does, that the information it carries must be
identical to it's meaning."

"What one learns, or can learn, from a signal (event, condition, or
state of affairs), and hence the information carried by that signal,
depends in part on what one already knows about the alternative

"Roughly speaking, information is that commodity capable of yielding
knowledge, and what information a signal carries is what we can learn
from it."

"Information is a commodity that, given the right recipient, is capable
of yielding knowledge."

"It is, moreover, a commodity that can be transmitted, received,
exchanged, stored, lost, recovered, bought, and sold."

"[I]nformation is a question of what, and how much can be learned from a
particular signal, and there simply is NO LIMIT to what can be learned
from a particular signal about another state of affairs."

"How much information a signal carries is NOT a function of how much
information the recipient thinks it carries."

"For the amount of information containded in the signal depends, NOT on
the conditional probabilities that WE CAN INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY, but on
the conditional probabilities themselves."

Does Dretske's notion of information jive with your own? If we accept
Dretske's definition of information, what impact does this have on the
prospect of formulating a SCIENCE of memetics qua transmission of units
of information? That depends on what we mean by science.

According to Dretske, what is to be expected from any scientific theory
is "a more or less complete, precise, and systematic description of
those entities and processes underlying the phenomena of interest."

If we accept Dretske's definition of information and his criteria for
scientific theories, and if we take memes to be the information in
cultural transmission as opposed to the content of cultural signals,
then it seems unlikely that we'll be able to formulate a science of
memetics. An exhaustive description of the signal's content won't tell
us what information a signal contains, and so even if we know the
content of a cultural signal, we won't know what memes (qua units of
information) that signal conveys.

Of course, if we use Dretske's notion of information and if a honey
bee's dance or a termite's pheremones are to convey information, then
bees and termites must be capable of KNOWING things.

I have a problem with this, as I think knowledge requires justified true
belief, and I'm not convinced that bees and termites have beliefs.

Anyway, my point is that I don't understand your point. If I'm going to
understand, I'll need for you to define your terms; even the one's which
seem to have uncontroversial definitions, e.g. information, signal, and

I won't be back for at least a week, so take your time and stew it
over. Take care. -KMO

I'll be off the list for a while as I'll be moving shortly. Keep it
hot for me. Take care. -KMO
> My larger point was in questioning what seemed to me an over-emphasis
> on memes motivating their carriers to modify their behavior in order
> to pass on the meme. I think that what's more important is that the
> memes "fit in the channel".
> Steve Upstill