Norms breed norms

Interesting, but not unpredictable behaviour.

Wow, almost two weeks since I last blogged – must complete the Soul Craft review.

Talking of graffiti – I’ve lived in places before with explicit zero tolerance of graffiti but where we live in Oslo at the moment, there appears to be a high tolerance of crude tagging as well as more elaborate “art”. To a Brit, Norwegian public behaviour can generally appear quite offensive – ignorant of personal space in public places – stepping out of doorways onto public side-walks, groups stationary or moving toward you taking up whole sidewalks, smoking in-your-face, standing or reaching between you and the goods in shopping aisles, as well as the ubiquitous queuing difficulties. Clearly just cultural differences of what is normally accepted behaviour.

Talking of queuing difficulties, we were back in the UK last week – in various bars in Keswick – and remarked on the contrast with recent Oslo experience. Even in bars three-deep with no formal (physical) queuing – the queuing actually happens in the heads of competent bar-staf and eye-contact amongst the punters with barely a word spoken – of course it breaks down if the punters don’t get the feedback on which to trust that the bar-staff are playing the game – then it’s every man for himself. No Norwegians to test it out on, but a couple of confused Americans in the mix. Of course the locals nudge the visible foreigners and whisper “you’re after him” and even “no, you were before me”. Americans of course have no trouble with politeness, but it can scare some.

10 thoughts on “Norms breed norms”

  1. I would agree with him and you too Sam if there were anything in “meme theory” that said there were any “instructions” to copy in the meme itself.

    There are information (which may include instructions) which may be copied, used to copy or used as instructions to copy. There instructions “how to” copy the meme if you like,, but no deterministic commands to “do it”.

    Strawman I’m afraid – as usual 😉

    The behaviour is not “in” the memes. (It’s the emergent stuff that gives rise to that … as he hints … bigger story … like the whole of evolutionary psychology.)

  2. The other “strawman” …
    If all you mean by meme is idea then why not use the word idea.

    Well yes it is synonymous (when used in context) but how is “idea” any more precise than meme. Using the word meme is simply saying that I am focussing on the replication aspect of its content.

    Meme is just a non-biological gene. Information is a synonym for gene. There is nothing in a gene that enforces the copying behaviour – just the recipe that works if it falls in the copying environment.

  3. Try this Sam.

    Why is “idea” not synonymous with “meme” ?

    A meme is an idea which … is easy to communicate and replicate, when it is introduced into an environment that “naturally” supports copying and communication.

    (The processes of copying, and the fidelity, foecundity and mutation in that communications process is complex, upward-and-downward-causal, emergent, etc … just like everything else in the living cosmos – but this has NOTHING to do with what a meme “is”, just natural processes. With memes, as with genes, there are memeplexes – extended genotypes and phenotypes – that are part of that “environment” in which the individual meme / gene finds itself. No meme or gene has clear cut boundaries – is an island.)

    (If I put my idea in a bottle and toss it in the ocean, it is unlikely to replicate and communicate very well – the bottle / sea environment is not very good for mememtic progress. If I put my idea in a blog comment panel which no-one is subscribed to, it will die. How hard can it be ?)

  4. Thanks for the e-mail link!
    I still don’t get what advantage ‘meme’ has vis-a-vis ‘idea’, and I see major advantages in sticking with the established vocabulary. To begin with, the language of memes brings in (especially in the Dawkins version) lots of mechanistic assumptions which I don’t accept; second, the key thing about ideas is that the medium in which they flourish is human consciousness (single and plural) – and there is therefore scope for human assessment and evaluation. The language of memes seems to want to do away with that. When you start talking about ‘replication’ of memes it raises all my hackles as it seems to dehumanise the process – and I don’t understand why you’d do that as you’re not a reductivist. So what is the advantage?

    (Whereas, talking about ‘memes’ in the sense of, eg, blog quizzes, seems very definite and clear and useful.)

  5. How does replication dehumanise a process ?
    Would you prefer reproduce, pro-create.
    It’s what humans do in acts of love.

    I’d accept the use of the word meme has been memetically changed by people using and misusing it – it’s why this is a very light-hearted disagreement (a Wittgensteinian joke) – but surely you can accept that what I am talking about is more than just the concept of idea.

    As to whether the human consciousness as the environment for flourishing for memes – so it is for humans generally, and their genes – human consciousness is not “separate” from our wholes is it ?

  6. BTW – forget the irrational emotive stuff for a moment and the aversion to Dawkins and reductionism and mechanisation … which I share ….

    Just focus on this sentence …. repeated from above ….

    A [meme] is an idea which … is easy to communicate and replicate, when it is introduced into an environment that “naturally” supports copying and communication.

    (And suggest another word for meme. It’s an idea with special qualities … usefully distinguishable from ideas in general.)

    If you like the dialogue, I can refine the language / definition.

  7. Seems like a meme is simply an idea that is easily understood. I would want to say that it is an idea that is generally acceptable to the people that understand it, ie bring back human judgement. That’s what seems to be missing in your definition.

  8. OK, now we’re talking.

    It’s not so much that it is “generally acceptable to the people that understand it” but we can refine this.

    The “generally / easily” aspect is OK, close enough ….. but, its the people and understanding aspect that is crucial. The human judgement aspect …. as you say (my main focus too).

    Some “ideas” are very easy to communicate & remember even before the brain has even established whether it “really” understands it, or has applied any judgement to the “true” quality of the idea at all. Having already grapsed the easy to recognise and communicate “immediate” aspects of the idea, that same human can easily re-transmit it, still before that judgement has come into play.

    The corollary is that ideas that are easy to remember and communicate are spread much faster than well judged ones. The more ubiquitous the means of communication the more significant this effect. Those rapidly spread ideas may not in themselves be “bad”, but they can drown out the development of harder to understand ideas – the communication and repetition are a kind of noise that interferes with judgement and understanding.

    (This is why people use words like viral and contagious. A new “tradition” can be created in weeks on the internet.)

  9. “easy to remember” can simply mean “fit” easily with existing patterns of understanding.

    (The “de-humanising” aspect of the idea taking on “a life of its own” is another aspect – but still not in the least dehumanising for me … we will have to look the at what a human, its knowledge and understanding really are before we can elaborate that … but not until we have the communication and judgement aspect grounded between us.)

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