RE: Words and memes: criteria for acceptance of new belief or meme

From: Vincent Campbell (
Date: Tue Feb 19 2002 - 10:10:33 GMT

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    From: Vincent Campbell <>
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    Subject: RE: Words and memes: criteria for acceptance of new belief or     meme
    Date: Tue, 19 Feb 2002 10:10:33 -0000
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            <Rational empiricists take for granted that the best thing to fill
    your mind up with is facts and good science.>

            Well, I think that's absolutely not what rational empiricists do.
    Nothing is taken for granted, everything is contingent on the weight of
    available evidence. It's just that the weight of availabe evidence for the
    utility of empirical testing of hypotheses_currently_ makes it clearly the
    most appropriate method by which to understand natural phenomena.

            <Classic literature, for one example, fills the mind with a variety
    > narratives describing various aspects and points of view about the human
    > condition. A healthy person synthesizes and references those narratives,
    > using them to deal with everyday events and create goals and aspirations
    > for the future. He or she uses them as guidelines for behavior and as a
    > reference to judge what is and is not appropriate. By making and
    > recognizing literary allusions, we smile and bond with others. This all
    > has real value although it's difficult to test empirically, if for ethical
    > considerations alone.>
            Well, we might worry about those reading 'The Turner Diaries' and
    "smiling" and "bonding". The utility of such things has been well worked
    through in uses and gratifications literature, which in turn borrows
    from/relates to psychology stuff on this kind of thing.

            The thing is when people make leaps beyond the world of fiction to
    fact, socially this is normally deemed unacceptable, whether it be shooting
    a celebrity after reading 'catcher in the rye', or beating somene up after
    watching 'a clockwork orange', but when somebody does this and claims it was
    the Bible that inspired them, they are deemed mad. The difference between
    Melville and Mark is that believers regard the latter as literal truth and
    kill themselves with poisonous snakes due to their interpretations of a
    disputed part of it.

            <A good religion is part of a default set of narratives. Rational
    empiricists get hung up on the myth aspect of religions, taking it on blind
    faith that a make-believe story cannot possibly have any value. This is an
    irrational position and a blind spot in the worldviews of many smart

            OK, RANT alert!

            It is perfectly understandable that people accept the irrational in
    the absence of rationally acquired knowledge (like the lightening/witch
    doctor example of Frankie's). What rationalists get hung up on is why
    people persist in irrational beliefs in the presence of empirically acquired
    evidence to the contrary. Further, it is the persistent contradictions in
    people's thinking that frustrates, and the fact that societies are geared
    towards privileging those irrational beliefs over and above all others-
    books are banned, knowledge is censored etc. etc. to protect the irrational
    beliefs of others. Who is that really benefitting? All it does is
    perpetuate systems of social control- some will always benefit from
    religions, many indeed most, will not. It is secular society that has
    advanced the standard of living of people in the developed world, whereas
    religion would like to keep people living in poverty in the belief that
    "spiritual" wealth, and wealth in the "afterlife" is preferable to the evils
    of material wealth (which are kept nice and safe away from the masses by the
    kindly priests who spend it all on themselves and their temples).

            It is also understandable that people choose the irrational over the
    rational in dealing with terrible traumas because it is often easier than
    facing the reality of events- like the woman whose husband died on the
    Pittsburgh plane who believes God put him on the plane to prevent the
    hijackers completing their nefarious scheme (as Richard Dawkins has pointed
    out, why didn't "god" give the hijackers heart attacks before they got on
    the plane, then all those passengers would have survived?). But this can be
    very dangerous if people think that way in many other areas of life (say
    when voting, or when acting as a jury member).

            Rant ENDS...


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