Re: I know one when I see one

From: Dace (
Date: Tue 29 Oct 2002 - 18:52:08 GMT

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

    > From: Keith Henson <>
    > > At 11:52 AM 27/10/02 -0800, Bill Spight <> wrote:
    > >
    > > >Ted:
    > > > 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
    > > > we've always used. It's their self-replication that marks them off as
    > > > 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
    > other. :-)
    > "Replication, variation, and selection" leads directly to the "selfish
    > gene" metaphor.

    Let's say a computer program is replicated numerous times with slight variations. The one that best does the job is automatically selected. Where's the self in this process? "Replication, variation, and selection" implies selfish behavior only in the context of life. Without this context, we can treat the entire process in terms of simple mechanics. That genes and memes are functions of life, not automata, is essential to understanding them.

    > From: Bill Spight <>
    > Dear Ted,
    > Ted:
    > > Who says I'm personifying memes?
    > Ted:
    > > Memetics is a hypothesis that culture can be reduced to its "atomic"
    > > structure, that the indivisible unit of culture, and not human
    > > consciousness, is what provides its guiding principle. This unavoidably
    > > endows memes with *self-nature*, as *they use us* for their own
    > > propagation. To deny the "selfish" nature of memes is to abandon
    > > memetics. "Meme" would cease to have a unique meaning and could just
    > > as easily be replaced with "word, habit, tune," etc. The question of
    > > memetics is the question of whether these elements of culture carry
    > > own momentum, their own *drive to reproduce*. If not, memetics is
    > > finished.
    > Emphasis mine. All of the emphasized phrases are personifications.

    Not at all. All living things exist in themselves. Life is all about self-nature, from bacteria on up. To exist in oneself is to have the capacity to use the environment or other organisms for one's own ends. The drive to reproduce is universal to life and can be expressed in terms of genetic self-replication. The gene makes use of cellular "machinary" to have itself divided and copied. The gene is in charge. Reductionists therefore define the gene as the seat of the organisms's self-nature, though this is never made explicit.

    To endow genes with self-nature, goal-oriented behavior, and reproductive drive is not at all to personify them. As I stated in another post, we jump to this conclusion because we're in thrall to a meme according to which humans hold a monopoly on self-like characteristics while the rest of nature, including our own bodies, consists of blindly operating matter. We get this meme from Thomas Aquinas via Descartes.

    > It is true that Dawkins and others also personify memes. However, he
    > does not claim that the metaphors are scientific description.

    He claims that genes are indeed selfish, just not in the human sense. Though lacking self-awareness, they operate in pursuit of their own goals.

    > > That genes self-replicate is the cornerstone of modern biology.
    > Do the genes for blood type replicate themselves? If so, how?

    All genes replicate themselves in the process of cell division. Keep in mind that I'm presenting the reductionistic view here. Instead of claiming that genes utilize cellular machinary to replicate themselves, we could just as easily say that cells divide up the genes so as to self-replicate. Regardless of how we approach the question, self-nature can't be eliminated entirely. If we squeeze it out of one place, it pops up in another. That's life.


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