Re: virus: Re: sociological change

Alex Williams (
Tue, 24 Dec 1996 10:40:21 -0500 (EST)

> I see where I contradicted myself. Is it too late for me to say that the
> dolphin was "trained" instead of using the memeish word "infect"?

What /is/ training except the infection of a simpler, only dimly
understood set of meme-complexi with meme-responses that get triggered
by outside patterns?

> I am almost ready to accept your point that animals have degrees of
> culture. But, again, animals cannot abstract their culture into memetic
> packages, we can't really see it as memetic.

Humans don't, or didn't, abstract their ideas into meme-packages
either, not until the first memeticist pointed out the abstraction and
how to use it. Its a meme, like any other. (The reflexive tower of
memes we've already touched on as part of its power.) The observation
you're lacking here is that animals (and humans) /themselves/ don't
abstract their culture into memetic packages, observers do, in both
cases. When a human mother takes her child to its first Catholic
catchecism (to use the religious example), we can trace the infection
of memes and how they're reinforced, how they're conveyed. When a
mother wolf taker her child out on its first hunt, its my contention
that the same sort of memetic analysis is quite possible, its just not
been done yet.

> I know this sounds incredibly narrow-minded, I can't help it. I am
> struggling to come up with an example of something (a monkey cave
> painting, a miniature doll made out of grass, some consistant chain of
> signs or sounds that is originated by a species in order to convey ideas
> *to us*. (Because, frankly I think it would be neat if there were some)

Why in the name of Hades should they want to talk to /us/? :)
Seriously. How long had humanity domesticated animals before someone
actually started research into whether or not those sounds they made
were communication, and how could we get into it? Does your dog run
up to you when you get off work and jump around more than he does if
you just step out for a minute? Does he do something spontaneously,
based on his own needs or observations, like scratch on the door when
he wants to go out?

Let's take up dolphin training. WHY is the dolphin so readily trained
to do the things we tell them to do? Part of it is that they're
basing the behaviours on things they `already know how to do,' things
in the wild, but could it be that /here/ are your researchers from the
dolphine culture, thinking they've found a way to feedback with us and
getting snookered by /our/ stupidity? We don't know. We /can't/
know, until someone enculturates dolphin, which might simply be

> And I think it is important that the memes of animals would have to
> originate from the animal culture, or from some attempt on their part to
> communicate with us on their own motivation, using the technologies at
> their disposal. Because, if you accept that animals have cultures, then
> in order to properly observe them and learn from them you would want to
> avoid tainting it. Autumn? You're an anthropologist right? Can you halp
> me out? I'm confusing myself:)

See above; for domesticated animals we already have a catalogue of
behaviours that are tied to some kind of `integrated culture.'
Canines, being pack animals in the wild, may be the best instance of

> I totally agree with you here-- except that the interpretation is *our*
> memes not the dolphins. The painting is an unstable text.

Further, the interpretation is /yours/, not mine. My interpretation
is mine, not /his/. And so on. Memes cannot be embedded in `meme
spoor,' as text and painting and any other artifact of meme-complexi
are. In /every/ case, whether the origin be human or dolphine, the
painting is an unstable text. If we had a novel, dictated by a
dolphin, it would still be an unstable text.

> Yes. I agree again. And until the last stage- the moment where we ask
> the dolphin "what did you mean by that?" and it responds-- the painting
> is not a dolphin meme. It is a human meme.

It isn't even a human meme unless you want to recant your support of
the Zanderian Heresy (ie. `conduit theory' and the statement that
memes do not exist save in the mind).

> I see your point, but I don't know if there is any way of allowing
> memetics to "colonize" that gray area.

It gives you a method of abstraction, it gives you a toehold and a way
to start studying the culture by identifying meme-complexes and memes
whose presence you can observe in the behaviour of the hosts. Its a
start, which other means of study don't even allow that much for.
(That's, technically, unfair to say; there are other, non-memetic
researches involved in dolphin intelligence/communication research
without even a hint of memetics.)

> if it were two human cultures, and we couldn't speak a common language
> but felt we could interpret each other's paintings-- it would become a
> cultural appropriation issue. Frankly neither culture would be able to
> sufficiently decode the abstractions without a cultural informant. And
> even when a cultural informant is present-- the issues get so crossed
> and misinterpreted because they also get filtered through religious and
> political biases-- of which we are only recently making ourselves aware.
> Just look at how anthropology has changed in only the last twenty years.

Precisely; how much more difficult would it be for two entirely
different species, with widely different experiences and perceptual
frameworks to communicate through that cultural distance?

[Does this qualify me for a degree in xenopsychology, yet? Chair at
Harvard, maybe?]

> Do you know the painting (I am always bringing up paintings aren't I? I
> have no idea why I am suddenly doing this...) That painting, by the
> french surrealist, of a pipe and the words "this is not a pipe" written
> underneath?
> At some gut level, I feel it has something to do with this debate, but I
> have to take some time and put it together....

Names. Names are Power Words in the underpinning of our culture,
probably because language played such a part in its development. `A
rose by any other name would smell as sweet.' Whose intention is more
important, the creator that says `this is not a pipe' or the observer
who sees and assigns the Name `pipe'? What if `this is not a