The 4th Humour
uninfluential words from an uninfluenced man
Bile humour Apathetic hemetic Fluent indifferent Emetic Phlegmatic

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Sunday, November 23, 2003
Learning is not a Meme

I think it's time for a reminder.

Not everything is a meme.

The human mind learns by one of three ways: classical conditioning, operand conditioning, and imitation.

Classical conditioning is learning by association. The canonical example is Pavlov's dog, who hears a bell every time it's fed. Over time, the dog salivates in anticipation of food when it hears a bell. Normally the two events have nothing to do with each other, but the dog has learned that they do. In humans, the most obvious example that comes to my (preoccupied? thank the media) mind is sexual fetishes (why else would anyone ever want to eat shit?).

Operand conditioning comes in one of two forms: positive and negative reinforcement, or reward and punishment. Put simply, if you reward the dog for crapping in the yard and slap it silly for crapping on the couch, you're teaching it where to crap. Since the reward or punishment can vary each time, it doesn't necessarily overlap with classical conditioning, though it can.

Even without knowledge of memetics, parents these days really don't seem to understand these two very basic fundamentals. If the kid does something bad, he must be punished, no question! If you reward bad behavior (or worse, punish good behavior), it's just confusing, and no learning takes place. If a child doesn't learn, he can't change his behavior.

For some reason punishment is frowned upon nowadays, and the response to everything should be unending "that's okay" understanding. How is THAT supposed to work? Who are these hack psychologists with no knowledge whatsoever of basic neuroscience? (Ohh, right, they aren't scientists at all, but graduated in the humanities. My bad.) Of course, it doesn't help that the "that's okay" reward for failure is a highly successful meme, likely because is stalls conflict and makes everyone feel okay in the short-term.

Anyway, once again: not everything is a meme. If you can theoretically teach it to an animal, then it's not a meme.