raisons for breakfast

From: Wade T. Smith (wade.t.smith@verizon.net)
Date: Mon 10 Mar 2003 - 17:01:58 GMT

  • Next message: William Benzon: "Re: The Electric Meme"

    On Monday, March 10, 2003, at 11:09 AM, memetics-digest wrote:

    >> It's good to see somebody else recognizing the "how" (proximate)
    >> versus
    >> "why" (ultimate) distinction. I recall, quite a while back, on this
    >> very
    >> list folks not recognizing the *importance* of "why" questions. IIRC
    >> they
    >> thought "why" questions were meaningless.
    > You have to understand something a lot deeper to get to the "why"
    > class of
    > questions. It took years before I realized the connection between
    > drugs
    > and cults can be understood using evolutionary psychology. Once you
    > understand that, a heck of a lot of other things fall into place.

    Things falling into place and finding the why's behind the how's also describes the genesis of my debating for the performance model. It seems it's rather a matter of what you want to mix in.

    raison d'etre-

    You see, I have a background in theatre, and in my tangential studies of aesthetics and music theory, I came to some sense of what the process of culture might be from the artistic viewpoint, especially the viewpoint of the artist. I read everything I could about dramatic criticism and aesthetics, everything I could from the artists about creation and performance, and philosophies and other writings from seminal creators.

    And then I encountered The Selfish Gene, and, something priorly half-lit became much more visible, but it was still not fully illuminated, and the hand-waving of the meme itself was very unsatisfactory. But the core- that culture was also, like life, to be held to darwinian mechanisms, was too attractive, and, yes, (perhaps unfortunately), felt too right not to be examined further.

    And in all the ensuing examination, all the 'meme in the mind' has ever felt like to me has been hand-waving. And none of it jibed in any way with the examples of performance and creation and performance theory and aesthetic theory and creative performance that I had read, and that I also felt was too right to not be examined further.

    The idea of memetics was one that, to me, seemed to consiliate the cognitive sciences with the aesthetic philosophies, and that remains its main attraction to me.

    The performance model fits this desire of mine the best, and is not hand-waving, does not invent new particles in its physics, and is highly examinable.

    And I rest with it. I have, personally, given up on any concept of cultural evolution via memesinthemind.

    And I think memetics should let the cognitive scientists do what they do- examine and discover the mechanisms of the brain- and it should let the aesthetic philosophies do what they do- examine and discover the mechanisms of artistic performance- and memetics should show how the two are working together to create cultures within human societies.

    Some of the virus mechanisms are valid perspectives for this. I don't think there is any argument about the viral effects, just the actual mechanism itself. The mechanisms of survival that are already in place are sufficient to allow viral infusions- no meme is necessary.

    But the viral mechanism is just that- a system of propagation. It says nothing about the purpose or quality of the 'virus'. We need to do comparative studies of cultures to do that, and comparative studies of cultures has always been a biased and difficult study. But, with a darwinian viewpoint, cultural success is more a matter of adaptation in a fitness landscape, with the added body of a culturally changing, as well as a physically changing, fitness landscape.

    So, what changes the cultural landscape? Human behavior does. What changes human behavior? Well, nothing- human behavior is a conditional process of human development and human behavior has been genetically constant for several thousands of years. The human beast has not evolved within recorded history. But what is the physical cultural landscape itself? And is that not what is actually changing? With every new tool, or music, or slogan, or dress, the normal behavior of the artifact-creating human is changing the cultural landscape, and the landscape itself is a recursive feedback loop of cultural survival.

    As Joe says- put enough self-conscious social creatures into a landscape, and a culture will happen, much in the same way the self happens in a brain. And this culture will have echoes and tremors of basic survival and developmental behaviors as its groundwork, and the artifacts created by the self-conscious creatures within the time/space of the cultural landscape will mutate and alter to fit that landscape.

    No need for memesintheirminds.

    Of course, if one's concept of self-consciousness requires a meme, then, well, there that is. Seems specious to me, but it is a reason to need one, I suppose.

    - Wade

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