Notes on Susan Blackmore’s “The Meme Machine”.

It is a fun read so far. I am thru chapter 4.

I have enjoyed her report on reactions to the idea of meme.

I am reading the book with special attention to the problem of relative ontology. Some places assert that talk of memes is merely to invoke an analogy in the service of production of testable hypotheses. In other places, within such talk, the absolute existence of memes is asserted. I do not complain—I don’t how to do otherwise but the logician in me shudders to agree at once with:

Perhaps such mental gymnastics actually confuse some. I really don’t know. It bothers me; I think that it does not confuse me. Some resort to two fonts, one for each mode of speech.

This problem pervades other parts of science, even physics. Some presentations of physics relegate energy to a subsidiary position—merely a trick to ease certain computations. With a few ideas about energy one can say such things as “That can’t happen because there is not enough energy.”. Other presentations of physics, provably equivalent, start with energy (the Hamiltonian) and derive as parasitic concepts, what is fundamental to the earlier presentations.

A section in chapter 3 is titled “Sociobiology and culture on a leash”.
Many biologists who agree to speak of memes are inclined to argue that memes are ultimately beholden to genes. I think that such a stance can not even contemplate a scenario such as Hans Moravec’s “Mind Children” which are post biological constructs that may carry on many of our memes without us. The Biologists might at best declare this post life and beyond their horizon. The meme theory provides a smooth description of the scenario, which is very conceivable to me. In this regard the meme must be considered a strictly more general theory.

Blackmore argues that tits stealing cream don’t count as imitation. I don’t understand the distinction she makes. Neither do I understand her seeming desire to limit the degree of imitation in animals. I don’t see that it is necessary for her theory.

Blackmore remarks well on the difficulty of imitation. It requires that an animal associate the limb of another animal with its own corresponding limb. This is in addition to being able to voluntarily move the limb. There are several stages in a human becoming aware that he/she is a human and just how body parts and movements of others may be made to correspond to one’s own. This may be related to one’s own body image.

An interesting review by Liane Gabora