Re: I know one when I see one

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Sun 27 Oct 2002 - 23:53:39 GMT

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    At 11:52 AM 27/10/02 -0800, Bill Spight <>
    >Dear Ted,
    > > > > The question of memetics is the question of
    > > > > whether these elements of culture carry their own momentum, their own
    > > > > drive to reproduce.
    > > >
    > > > Bullshit.
    > >
    > > I don't appreciate this. Your comment reveals hostility. Where is this
    > > hostility coming from?
    > >
    >I apologize for the vulgarity, Ted. But I have no hostility towards you.
    >It's just that when you start personifying memes, talking about "drive
    >to reproduce," and so on, you are not only going off into la-la land,
    >you are setting up a paper tiger that is easy to demolish rather than
    >addressing what memetics is really about.
    > > You badly misunderstand memetics. Without "selfishness," in the sense of
    > > "selfish gene," the whole idea is shot.
    >What do you think the "selfishness" of the "selfish gene" means?
    > > If memes are just ideas or
    > > catch-phrases or tunes or habitual behaviors (like wearing a baseball cap
    > > backwards), then we don't need to refer to them as memes. Unless they're
    > > self-replicating, we can just as easily refer to them with the same terms
    > > we've always used. It's their self-replication that marks them off as the
    > > cultural equivalent of genes.
    >Genes do not self-replicate, either.
    >All that memes require is replication, variation, and selection.

    I think you are using slightly different words to violently agree with each other. :-)

    "Replication, variation, and selection" leads directly to the "selfish gene" metaphor. Variation in genes that build bodies more likely
    (selection) to reproduce (replication) are by definition "selfish." I.e., they become more common in the gene pool (selfish). Of course this is limited by evolutionary stable strategies where the existence of a certain number of one type gives rise to an advantage to another type. (see Dawkins)

    The same is true of memes. Memes for (whatever) become more common if they succeed in making the jump from one person to another for one reason or another.

    It is the pathological cases that make this so clear. The segregation disorder genes that lead to a population of all male mice. The memes that kill their hosts (Jim Jones) or prevent them from reproducing
    (Shakers). The model is not so well illustrated by the memes for making pots or shoes that contribute to the genetic survival of the host as it is by the pathological cases where memes kill or prevent host reproduction.

    My interest has moved memes per se beyond into *how* the pathological cases such as the Heaven's Gate meme got such a hold on people as to get them to whack off their 'nads. That took me far into evolutionary psychology.

    Keith Henson

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