Julian Jaynes,Snow Crash,Avatars,Memes,Linguistics

Sheldon Klein (sklein@CS.WISC.EDU)
Thu, 3 Oct 1996 15:28:31 -0500

The sci fi novel, Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson 1992,
makes use of Julian Jaynes notion of conscious in a form that
is used as a reversible tool in a virtual reality.
[Jaynes is not cited.]

The book is worth reading if only not to be 'clueless' in understanding
the rapidly changing background of rapidly changing events in the
electronic media-- Stephenson also introduced the concept of
'Avatars' as visual, 3-d iconic images representing virtual reality
interactors. [Avatar -older meaning pertains to earthly incarnation of
a deity, or some such] Avatars are already in the commercial world,
as a direct result of this book-- but limited, last I heard, to uploaded
picture of your head only-- attached to a body that may move through
virtual reality stores where purchases may be made.

[McCreery, are you there? next step-- Bespoke Avatars for a fee,
from commercial agencies, for web addicts.
"Rent-a-Samurai" ?

The sci fi novel, A Canticle for Leibowitz, by Walter M. Miller Jr, 1959
might serve as an example of what can happen when a bit of hard science
is treated as a philosophical/metaphysical artifact.

[The artifact is the blueprint of a circuit diagram found by the
survivors in a post-nuclear holocaust world--
Its scientific content is uncomprehended, and it is treated as
a saintly relic by a monk who makes an illuminated copy.

As for memes. Great idea. Borrowed from a portmanteau theft
from the very rigorous concept of 'genes' and its derived linguistic
forms, and the somewhat rigorous concept of -eme in linguistics
(where, pre-Chomsky, rather rigorous discovery procedures were required
to determine the acceptability of derived units --see Bloomfied, Hockett,
Nida, etc.)
and which anthropology borrowed to produce theoretical distinctions and
units and categories (-emic, etic) for which discovery procedures
comparable with the Linguistic usage of the concepts
[phonetic, phonemic, morpheme, lexeme, sememe, etc] was near non-existent.

The 'meme' concept is quite a useful one to stimulate ideas and
discussion, but the linguistically based linkage of concepts to
genetics and, implicitly, linguistics should not be construed to imply
anything resembling comparable operational rigor in the specification of
its unit.

Prof. Sheldon Klein sklein@cs.wisc.edu

Computer Sciences Dept. Linguistics Dept.
University of Wisconsin 1163 Van Hise
1210 W. Dayton St. University of Wisconsin
Madison, Wisconsin 53706 Madison, Wisconsin 53706