Re: virus: Re: Inter-species memetic transfer

Dave Pape (
Wed, 12 Feb 1997 23:06:42 GMT

At 14:41 12/02/97 -0500, Glenn wrote:

>>From: Dave Pape <> said,
>Memetic transfers within non-human species are fairly well documented.
>Seasonally-changing songs are transferred from whale to whale around the

This was one of the examples my animal behaviourist acquaintance mentioned.
If only I hadn't get too drunk to remember the next day... doesn't the
dialect-of-song trick also work in birds? Avian culture? Avian memetics?

>Gorillas trained in ASL will teach it to their children.

Ah, yeh... they don't seem to develop a generative grammar though- I know
the research in this area was pretty hotly contested- but, whatever, if you
accept the possibility of non-linguistic (or proto-linguistic, being
generous to Washoe, Nim Chimpsky, Coco and their kids) memetic
transmission... then maybe the possibility for a very patchy chimp culture
is there.

>Chimpanzees teach each other simple technologies they've invented - such as
>fishing for ants by poking sticks into ant-hills.

Good, I was trying to think of chimp examples of cultural learning. Again, I
like examples like this, because cognitive categorisations, like "culture is
human" are always clumsy.

>I've even heard it suggested that humans sometimes transmit actual
>information with that annoying jibbering they constantly make...

Did an experiment like this last night. I went round to Simon from work's
house- first time I'd visited. He and his girlfriend are cooking mushroom
pakoras, and the batter isn't thick enough, so it falls off the pakoras as
they fry. I wonder over to the fryer, out of my tiny skull on booze, and
drizzle some free batter onto a frying pakora. Without me actually saying a
word, Simon (my friend from work) picks up on the idea and starts doing the

I'd been hassling him about memes at work for a while, and when he catches
himself pouring the liduid on the mushroom thing he twigs: Meme! We gesture
one of his other friends over, Dan, and demonstrate the action. He copies
it. Second memetic transfer; no words.

Because I was a bit trollied I was doing good evangelical work for the
Church of Virus, I admit. BUT I did have my views on what constitutes a meme
shaken up a bit.

IE maybe human culture isn't qualitatively different to chimp culture (in
that they both involve learnt survival strategies transmitting from head to
head)... maybe it's just the interconnectedness of human culture that's
quantitatively richer, due to language, writing, publishing, electronic comms...

Dave Pape
Ran out of sig. ideas.

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