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Re: [ontolog-forum] Dennett on the Darwinism of Memes

To: ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
From: John F Sowa <sowa@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Fri, 12 Apr 2013 08:55:28 -0400
Message-id: <51680440.4080903@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Ronald, Ali, Doug, Pavithra, and Pat,    (01)

In all the discussions and publications about memes, you can do a global
change of 'meme' to 'idea that has become popular' without changing the
meaning of anything in the discussion itself.    (02)

What the word 'meme' contributes is a keyword or search term that
links the documents in which it is used.  That is very helpful for
finding related discussions.  But, by itself, it doesn't explain
the underlying principles.    (03)

My complaint about the word 'meme' is that the analogy with genes is
more distracting than enlightening.  In the popular and academic talk,
nobody has found any unifying principle that is more precise or cogent
than the term 'idea that has become popular'.    (04)

> Memes operate through specialised clusters of social norms...
> I hope that discussing memes will draw attention to the essential role
> of norms in the functioning of every human information system, which
> distinguishes them from IT systems.    (05)

Those are good points.  The same could be said about "popular ideas".
What is essential to the term 'meme' is idea.  The notion of popularity
is accidental.  That suggests the central focus of the discussions
about memes should be on the mechanisms that promote popularity.    (06)

> [John Gray et al.] would argue that memes are propagated and selected
> not by some generic fitness factor, but by sustained, concerted efforts
> by individuals and groups, and gains in memes are more ephemeral than
> we may suspect...    (07)

Yes.  An advertising campaign for ideas.    (08)

> This further reminds me of the work done by the Koch brothers in creating
> a massive meme generating machine (aka echo chamber),    (09)

Yes.  The Koch bros and their use their so-called "Think Tanks" created
a giant hype machine.  The K bros are not stupid.  They graduated from
my old alma mater, MIT, and they contribute to some worthy causes such
as the Nova science programs on PBS.  But I noticed that Nova has never
had a program on global warming -- that's a "meme" they don't like.    (010)

Speaking of the K bros and MIT reminds me of an old cartoon, which
showed a complicated diagram of a hype machine.  On the left was
an input funnel for "raw hype".  Coming out on the right side were
nicely packaged lumps of "pure hype".    (011)

> A word is a thing, yes.  A word is not a string.    (012)

Instead of arguing about whether a meme is a thing, I suggest that we
just use 'idea' as the hypernym or supertype of 'meme'.  The question
I raised is whether there is anything more to meme than "popular idea".    (013)

> There are actual things, or acts or events and there are language
> specific words that represents them...    (014)

Yes. That is the distinction of language vs metalanguage.    (015)

But as I replied to Doug, I suggest that we agree that memes are ideas.
That shifts attention to the question whether there is anything more
to meme than just "idea that has become popular".    (016)

> I would argue [layered metalanguage] is not desirable. The world is *not*
> layered in this way, in fact. Language is as much part of the real world
> as architecture is, and words are just as real as houses.    (017)

I agree.  But signs didn't become relevant until there were
sentient beings that could respond to signs.  And even with the
higher mammals, metalanguage didn't enter the world until humans
developed the sign systems we call language.  So the distinction
of signs, referents of signs, and interpreters of signs is relevant.    (018)

> I would suggest that you might want to consider abandoning this layering idea.    (019)

Tarski recommended the layered approach for metalanguage as a simple way
to avoid paradox.  But that is a separate issue.    (020)

IKL (or any notation that supports metalanguage) requires something
like the 'that' operator.  The question of whether you stratify the
metalevels is an independent choice.    (021)

In fact, even with a semantics like IKL, which allows you to mix levels,
there may be useful reasons for distinguishing them for particular
applications.    (022)

John    (023)

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