Re: Dennett article on post-modernism

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Sun 16 Mar 2003 - 17:11:48 GMT

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    At 07:27 PM 15/03/03 -0500, Scott wrote:

    >>From: "Grant Callaghan" <>
    >>Subject: Re: Dennett article on post-modernism
    >>Date: Fri, 14 Mar 2003 08:21:43 -0800
    >>Dennett seems to me to be playing the blame game with his assertion the
    >>everyone should be responsible for what other people do with the words we
    >>say and the memes we drop into society. In other words, I should be
    >>responsible for what you do with the memetic tools I invent or pass on.

    I said much the same thing at the end of MEMETICS AND THE MODULAR-MIND in 1987:

           "If most conflict in the world is an indirect effect of memes, memetics holds as much potential for reducing human misery as the germ theory of disease. Just being able to model the interaction between the Soviets and the West in terms of memes might go a long way toward making the world a safer place. It took at least 60 years for the germ theory of disease to be widely accepted, though, as anyone who has traveled much knows, it still has a ways to go in many parts of the world. What are the prospects in the near future for a similar acceptance of the meme-about-memes? If it were widely accepted, what changes could we expect to see analogous to public health? Would widespread awareness of infectious information make us less susceptible to dangerous memes? Can we separate ourselves from the memes that possess us?

           "Further exploration of the analogy between replicating information patterns and the ecosystems-epidemic models biologists have painstakingly developed for other purposes may provide badly needed insight into the origin and courses of social movements and the nature of meme competition/cooperation. If memetics develops soon enough, it may provide help in evaluating proposed solutions to current international problems, predict the course of troublesome social movements, and suggest solutions for conflicts between social movements. If this article succeeds in infecting you with the meme-about-memes, perhaps it will help you be more responsible about the memes you spread and less likely to be infected by a meme that can harm you or those around you.

    >>It reminds me of the problems being caused by old soldiers from Taiwan
    >>visiting their families in mainland China and bringing back a new
    >>virulent form of pneumonia that is sweeping the island. Should we blame
    >>the old sodiers who fled to Taiwan in 1949 and went back to visit their
    >>families one last time before they die? Or should we blame the
    >>mainlanders for catching the disease in the first place and passing it on
    >>to visitors? Why bother to blame anyone? It's all part of the world we
    >>live in and germs and memes will do what they always do -- propagate.
    >This points out the limitations in the pathogenic analogy for memetics.
    >Your blatant comparison of ideas to a diase organism fails to account for
    >responsibility as it connects to human behavior. We have little control
    >over what pathogens we might uknowingly pick up and spread.

    The operative word here is "unknowingly." I think we *are* responsible for taking precautions not to infect ourselves or others around us if we know we have been exposed. Assuming we are educated about microorganisms, we have a responsibility to avoid drinking ditch water if we can. Education about memes will impose the same responsibility for spreading ones that can harm.

    >We do have some control over how we relate to ideas and thus have some
    >level of responbility for consequences of implementation of our ideas. If
    >you went too far in the direction you're aiming at, we'd have to drop the
    >idea of responsibility altogether. In that case lawyers and prison guards
    >would be suddenly unemployed.
    >I don't think being infected by a bad idea would be a good defense to use
    >in a court of law.

    It depends on the circumstances. For example, being infected with memes in a capture-bonding (Stockholm Syndrome) situation looks to be as reflexive as pulling your hand back from a fire (evolutionary arguments are detailed in the Sex, Drugs and Cults article).

    Had I been the judge and understanding what I do now, I would have accepted
    "brainwashing" as Patty Hearst's defense for robbing a bank with the other SLA cult members.

    And it is interesting that people have a feeling for diminished responsibility in capture-bonding situations. There was no opposition to commuting or for pardoning Patty Hearst (quite the opposite).

    Similarly there is compassion and some understanding for Elizabeth Smart's failure to escape from capture and her resistance to being identified .

    >As for Dennett's new book _Freedom Evolves_, I've just started it and I'll
    >need to finish it befor I decide how I feel about his arguments. To begin
    >with, I've got no aversions to the notion that volition might emerged as
    >an evolved trait in a large brained species capable of language, thought,
    >and reasoning. Perhaps volition is an autapomorphy unique to our species.
    >If Dennett's talking free will, I'm all ears and interested in what he's
    >got to say.

    "Free will" is a topic which has been extensively debated on the net. I don't suggest it be rehashed on this list unless there are new meme related matters to be added. But here are a few pointers for you, you can find much more using "Marvin Minsky" "free will."

          "Many writers have also stated that some ability to freely chose our actions is obvious in daily life. But because it cannot be explained in any sensible scientific way, they struggle to find a way to have both. One writer, Marvin Minsky, writes that "No matter that the physical world provides no room for freedom of will: that concept is essential to our models of the mental realm. Too much of our psychology is based on it for us to ever give it up. We're virtually forced to maintain that belief, even though we know it's false." "

    There is a link in this article at the top of the page which is also good:

    Keith Henson

    PS. It seems very likely that advancing neuroscience will figure out the chemical basis of capture-bonding, that is the mechanisms for complete social reorientation to a new group in a few days. At that point, a person could be subjected to drug/hormone treatments that bonded them to a new group with a different meme driven goals and returned to the society they lived in before it was known they had been captured and turned this way. I.e., the age of chemical mind control may be at hand. (Shades of Heinlein's _The Puppet Masters_!)

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