virus: Re: sociological change

Autumn / Shatterglass (
Sun, 15 Dec 1996 17:40:58 PST

>So far, there are no non human entities that can transmit memes with
>level of sophistication necessary to build a culture.
>I know about the signing apes and the dolphins pushing buttons, but
>these (IMHO) don't count.

That depends very much upon your definition of what constitutes a
"Culture". In my own field (I am an Anthropologist) we differentiate
between the material culture (tools, objects, dwellings, and so on) and
the intellectual culture (mythology, political and social organizational
structures, construction of roles, status, that sort of thing...) of a

In terms of material culture, perhaps it is true that we, as humans, are
alone in our level of sophistication. However, when intellectual
culture is considered, our position is less clear. Several primate
species show extremely complex social organization, the ability to
invent, and certainly the ability to communicate information to their

It is my personal opinion that, for the most part, the inability to
translate the communications of certain aquatic mammals has led us to
disregard what culture they may possess. The trend has been to equate
"culture" with artifacts alone. Where none exist, our tendency is to
assume that no Culture exists... Perhaps if Megaptera novaeangliae had
developed a written language in place of an oral one humanity would take
his communication seriously. As for the transmission of memes, I see no
reason why M. novaeangliea could not accomplish this as easily as you or
I. His language, when broken into discreet parts, is as complex as any
terrestrial tongue. It is simply the translation that escapes us.

No doubt the creature's memes would be very different from our own. His
world and experiences are alien to the majority of the human race...
Thus I would guess that transmission of memes BETWEEN his species and
our own would be problematic... But that would not be the case amongst
his own kind.

All of this presupposes a degree of sentient intelligence. An level of
awareness that, I believe, the majority of animals may not possess.
Assigning that sentience to M. novaeangliea and certain of his kin may
be seen as a liberty on my part, but I find the complexity of social structure and language difficult to reconcile otherwise. It is a point which we in what might be termed "exo-"Anthropology have argued for many
years. It is a question which I also believe will not be solved until we
do have our translation.