From: Keith Henson (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Date: Sun 16 Mar 2003 - 18:38:36 GMT
At 04:29 PM 15/03/03 -0800, Dace wrote:
> > From: "Alan Patrick" <email@example.com>
> > My thought was about memes that are "emperor's old clothes" memes, ie that
> > are still in situ even though their basis for existence is provably
> > do they work mainly by:
> > (i) having strong self-reinforcing elements, and/or conversely are good
> > preventing entry of new memes for long periods
> > (ii) "perverting" the vision of the meme-carrier so that he/she cannot see
> > reality
>Memes can't pervert their hosts. Perversion is strictly psychological.
>People are perverted, not memes.
I don't see the above as consistent. It is close to saying a string of DNA
in a virus can't pervert the functions of a cell and make the cell (and
consequently you) sick.
>Memes just promote themselves (and thereby
>crowd out competitors).
This is close to saying computer viruses only replicate and don't cause
harm. Certainly *some* of them (like the last really fast spreading one)
don't have a destructive payload and the damage they do is mostly related
to clogging the nets and denying services. But some will erase your hard
>Mental causation goes on at both the memetic and
>personal levels. In fact, it's carried on at three levels: memes, people,
>and groups of people. Each level has automonous, causal power, and each
>level can become pathological and dangerous.
While I agree that there are levels, I don't see memes as having autonomous
power. DNA information only effects the world when it is in an environment
where it can be replicated and transcribed. Memes have to be in a brain
before they can cause real world effects.
>As Dennett has finally
>realized, the attempt to use memetics as a way of "explaining" culture
>without resort to conscious agency can only discredit the emerging field of
I never realized that anyone was trying to use memes to explain
culture. Culture is the sum of information that is passed from person to
person and generation to generation by non-genetics means. Memetics is a
way to understand the differential survival of parts of that information,
but culture itself is explained by its usefulness to genetic
survival. (Try surviving without even chipped rocks!)
> > (iii)a "natural half life" exists for dominant old memes and they have to
> > fall below a certain strength before they are dislodgeable
>"Half life" is a chemical concept and has no bearing on biological
>evolution. So, it probably doesn't make a very good analogy for memetics.
It is more a mathematical term, and if you can graph the decline of a meme,
it would make sense to use it to describe the point where a meme that was
100 percent accepted had fallen to 50% accepted.
>Incidentally, the resilience of not only useless but actively harmful memes
>is the only way to study the subject scientifically. This is because the
>existence of helpful memes can be ascribed to the ordinary attributes of
>ideas, which passively replicate on the basis of their value from one person
>to the next. The point of memes is that they're "selfish." They
>self-replicate, just like genes. When an idea that's clearly harmful is
>also impossible to eradicate, then we know we're dealing with a meme.
I agree with you that actively harmful memes (hurting humans or their
genes) are extremely useful in the study of the subject. But I don't think
it is the only way to study the subject. The spread of useful new memes
and harmless ones also provides examples. Take the meme that stomach
ulcers are caused by Helicobacter pylori. It was difficult for that one to
get widely accepted because it ran into the established (though
unjustified) meme that stress caused ulcers.
An earlier example was the difficulty germ theory had in displacing the
previous ideas of "bad air" being the cause of disease.
The fact that a meme is incredible useful to its host does not prevent it
from being "selfish" in the "displacing others" sense Dawkins established
in "Selfish Gene."
I split off an example of this in "Memes of Ulcers and Bacteria" as another
thread after my reply got to twice this size.
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