Re: memetics-digest V1 #1318

From: Reed Konsler (
Date: Tue 18 Mar 2003 - 13:18:47 GMT

  • Next message: Grant Callaghan: "Re: memetics-digest V1 #1318"


    "We don't need the memetics model to account for the recognition that ulcers are caused by bacteria...Since the idea turned out to be true, now lots of people believe it. No need for "selfish" units of culture propagating themselves. But the prior belief-- that ulcers are caused by stress-- is not only false but harmful. The extreme difficulty of uprooting this belief can be ascribed to the autonomy and resilience of the belief itself. Of course, if bad ideas are memes, then every idea is potentially memetic. That the bacterial explanation of ulcers is a meme can only be demonstrated indirectly."

    That's a false dichotomy. Ulcers are a symptom. The presence of ulcers is statistically correlated with the presence of certain bacteria. It's also correlated with ingestion of particularly acidic chemicals. It seems to be correlated with stress, to the extent you can quantify that.

    The proximate cause of ulcers is an increase in stomach acidity beyond the ability of the mucous lining to protect against it. There isn't any single ultimate cause, because (like most chronic medical problems) it's a result of an upset equilibrium. Anything, or any collection of things together, that upsets the equilibrium will cause the symptom.

    Because you come up with a new theory doesn't mean all the old ones are wrong.

    Because you create a "wonder drug" doesn't mean you have solved a medical problem.

    Another example. Many people are depressed. Depression has many causes: biological, psychological, and environmental. Depression is linked to reduced serotonin levels in the brain. That is a proximate cause and it can be treated using an SSRI like Prozac or Zoloft. These drugs are quite effective and a blessing, but it would be a mistake to think that the drugs have "fixed" the problem. There are not single theories or simple solutions. It isn't necessary, for instance, to choose between taking Prozac, praying to God for strength of will, meditating, and trying to get your life organized and on the track you want. You can do all at once.



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