Re: Sue Blackmore lecture Wednesday 5.15pm London

From: Grant Callaghan (
Date: Sun 16 Feb 2003 - 22:07:05 GMT

  • Next message: Grant Callaghan: "Re: Sue Blackmore lecture Wednesday 5.15pm London"

    >Most of the time memes can be understood as just things we learn,
    >ultimately to the advantage of our genes.

    >But the pathological cases point out that "ideas (memes) have a life of
    >their own," sometimes to the detriment of the genes (and the persons)

    >Sorry to belabor the point, but understanding this model is what memetics
    >is about.

    Keith Henson

    While I agree with most of what you had to say, I see two points a bit differently. I would say that while memes do have a "life" of their own, that, too, is a metaphor for the fact that some memes are more attractive to people at certain times in their lives.

    Teenagers, for example, are attracted to thoughts of sex and girls and what life is all about while older people dwell less on these things and worry more about peace and stability in their lives. But this has more to do with the genetic chemistry of our bodies than anything else. Fashions, for example, in clothes and cars, etc., are tied to the quest for female companionship and less to just wanting something because it is there than the virus model implies.

    Many of the memes that cause harm to the individual are tied to aspects of socializing or looking for answers to what life is all about than a deliberate desire for self destrucion by those people. Drinking and drug use are mainly social activities people call "fun" in the beginning. It is only later that they discover the destructive aspects of what they are doing. Most of those people who are in the "searching for answers" mode think they have found something when they decide to join groups of other like-minded people based on a meme they find attractive.

    Sam Rose posted an article on his Billions of Minds list a day or two ago by a man who had become disillusioned with Buddhism. He seemed typical to me of many people who go out in search of something, find what they think are satisfying answers, then in the light of further experience and put off by the conflict of those ideas with the culture they were born into or live in, they turn to something else that reflects the changes in their lives and how they now think.

    The reason why religious and other memes are attractive to people is to satisfy their own desires and not due to the popularity of the memes they come across, except in a secondary sense that because other people are doing something, they may find their own answers in the same way. But not everyone is attracted to the same ideas.

    Some ideas spread among groups of people based on such things as where they live when the idea becomes available, who else is interested in it, what ideas it has to compete with within the mind of the beholder and the group with which he/she associates, and the emotions that are driving the person who comes into contact with the idea. The memes we choose come from the pool of memes available to us at the time. We choose them to use for specific purposes but the environment we live in has a great deal to do with the problems we need to solve and what we consider acceptable ways in which to solve them. A war monger won't find his arguments acceptable to members of a peace rally, for example. And vice verse.

    The young man who cares for little but women, beer and football will probably not be easily infected by religious memes while another who is lonely and discouraged with how his life is going might latch on to such ideas as a drowning man grabs for a straw. But, again, it is the disposition of the person that makes the difference between acceptance and the lack of it rather than the meme itself.

    In another sense, we are all exposed to hundreds or thousands of memes in various ways every day but only find a relative few useful to us in our daily lives. I think the people we decide to socialize with has more to do with the memes we act upon that the fact that we are exposed to them. We use the memes we pick up in the act of socializing and they most often satisfy social needs.

    A man might join a group to spend more time with a woman, but if he doesn't learn the language and the customs of the group, he will eventually be rejected as unsuitable to the woman and the group. If you're going to Rome you'd better learn to act like a Roman. Otherwise you'll be seen as a barbarian. Wearing the "right" fashions means wearing fashions that are approved by the people you want to associate with. Foreigners who don't
    "talk right" were talking all right when they stayed at home. They just don't talk right to fit into the society they aspire to.

    Elize Dolittle, for example could speak perfectly well when she was working the streets, but her language was not suitable for hanging out with high society. What professor Higgins gave her was a wholesale meme change. That took time, effort and desire on her part. She wasn't just "infected" with the new memes. She had been exposed to them for years before she decided to cultivate them (if you accept the premise of the story).


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