Re: I know one when I see one

From: Dace (
Date: Mon 28 Oct 2002 - 19:28:13 GMT

  • Next message: "Re: I know one when I see one"

    > From: Bill Spight <>

    Hi, Bill

    > > > > 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.

    Who says I'm personifying memes? They are selfish in the same nonhuman sense that genes are selfish.

    > What do you think the "selfishness" of the "selfish gene" means?

    I mean it in exactly the same sense Dawkins means it. Here's an excerpt from an interview with Dawkins, originally posted by Wade back in January:

    From- Genes and Determinism: An interview with Richard Dawkins

    Jeremy Stangroom

    Stangroom: It is striking, I think, that after more than 20 years your work is still frequently misrepresented. For example, in a recent Guardian profile, it was stated that The Selfish Gene advocates the view that life is simply a means of propagating DNA, with every creature ruthlessly determined to continue its own life. But isn't that an oversimplification of your position?

    Dawkins: Actually, in some ways that's not an oversimplification! In the sense that tautologically the DNA which survives in the world, being a self-replicating entity, is that which survives. So we expect the world to become filled with those varieties of DNA that are good at surviving. And good means programming organisms to assist in that process. What is an oversimplification is to say, therefore, that organisms are expected to be selfish. Organisms are not expected to be selfish. "Selfish genes" is a way of saying that in the service of those genes organisms may be selfish, but the organisms themselves may be anything but selfish. You can assure, or at least assist, the persistence of selfish genes by making organisms show a whole gamut of behaviour, from being altruistic in extreme ways right through to selfish.


    But the fundamental rule that DNA is selfish and looking after its own interests shines through, and all else is complication...

    The idea of the selfish gene is that the organism serves as a vehicle for the transmission of "good" genes. Organisms may act selfishly in order to pass on their genes, but they may also act altruistically in the service of relatives who possess roughly the same genes. Either way, it all boils down to genes. The gene is the central actor in the story of life and evolution, not the organism. It's a reductionistic view (and totally at odds with Darwin, who stressed the centrality of the organism).

    Memetics is a translation of this thinking into the realm of culture. The central actor in culture is not the human being but the "meme" that uses humans as vehicles for its self-replication.

    If you think all this is "la-la land," what are you doing on a memetics list?

    It seems to me that you and many other memetics enthusiasts have strayed from the basic idea. Call it memetic drift.

    > > If memes are just ideas or
    > > catch-phrases or tunes or habitual behaviors (like wearing a baseball
    > > 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
    > > we've always used. It's their self-replication that marks them off as
    > > cultural equivalent of genes.
    > Genes do not self-replicate, either.

    That genes self-replicate is the cornerstone of modern biology. There's no sense trying to argue with this. However, we don't have interpret this fact the same way Dawkins does. Just because genes are self-replicating doesn't mean we must reduce the self-nature of the organism to the level of the gene. The self-nature of the organism expresses itself at every level of structure, down to and including its self-replicating DNA.

    > From:
    > Yep; 'selfishness' is a badly chosen and anthropomorphic metaphor, not
    > a concrete actuality.

    A perfect example of how memes can do our thinking for us. This is Cartesian dualism, which restricts qualities such as intelligence, feeling, selfishness, etc., to human beings and relegates the rest of nature
    (including our own bodies) to blind, mechanical operations. To find intelligence or selfishness in, say, bacteria or genes is therefore to be anthropomorphic. Descartes picked up this meme from Aquinas. God knows where he got it.


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