Re: emperors old clothes

From: Dace (
Date: Wed 19 Mar 2003 - 05:56:11 GMT

  • Next message: William Benzon: "Re: Different words for the same thing?"

    > From: Keith Henson <>
    > > > >Memes can't pervert their hosts. Perversion is strictly
    > > > >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
    > > > consequently you) sick.
    > >
    > >Hi, Keith.
    > >
    > >Let's say you come down with a cold. Three weeks later you're infected
    > >the exact same rhinovirus that got you before. Now that your immune
    > >recognizes this particular virus, it quickly disposes of the germ before
    > >harm is done. Let's say you were in favor of the war against Vietnam.
    > >the time it was over you had learned your lesson. Thirty years later you
    > >were opposed to another aggressive war before the first shot was even
    > Your original statement was that memes *can't* pervert their hosts. Sure
    > some people are immune to certain infections or memes, but that does not
    > mean that genes/memes in general can't make hosts sick or cause the host
    > waste their life on some stupid meme. (Pervert as a verb has the meaning
    > of turning from an intended or original purpose. If at least one of the
    > original purposes of humans is to reproduce, then the Heaven's Gate memes
    > that induced men to whack off their nuts and later suicide was certainly a
    > perversion!)

    And the perversion is human, not memetic. The meme is just promoting itself and knows nothing of "perversion" or any other human concept. It doesn't even know we exist. Until recently we had no inkling of it either. But that's true generally of the unconscious, not just memes.

    > >If you're immune to national narcissism, the memes that carry its message
    > >can't infect you.
    > >
    > > > >Memes just promote themselves (and thereby
    > > > >crowd out competitors).
    > > >
    > > > This is close to saying computer viruses only replicate and don't
    > > > harm. Certainly *some* of them (like the last really fast spreading
    > > > don't have a destructive payload and the damage they do is mostly
    > > > to clogging the nets and denying services. But some will erase your
    > > > drive.
    > >
    > >Again, you have to be willing to let the virus in. If you think that by
    > >opening an attachment to an email you will win a fabulous prize, then the
    > >virus will gain power over your computer. The perversion lies in the
    > >who lets the virus in (and the person who created it) not the virus
    > >which simply does its job.
    > The last major virus that got loose didn't depend on humans at all, which
    > is part of how it managed a doubling time of 8.5 seconds. And while the
    > ultimate cause was something stupid a programmer did at Microsoft and
    > some virus coder did somewhere, the proximate cause of perverting all
    > computers from the data base task they were supposed to be running to
    > spreading the virus was this virus.

    It's just an analogy, Keith.

    > > > >Mental causation goes on at both the memetic and
    > > > >personal levels. In fact, it's carried on at three levels: memes,
    > > > >and groups of people. Each level has automonous, causal power, and
    > > > >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.
    > >
    > >Genes are self-promoting, and so are memes.
    > In a sense yes. Due to the effects of an evolutionary causal selection
    > loop, people can use the language of purpose to describe genes as being
    > self-promoting or selfish.

    All life is purposive. Every bacterium is purposive. Every assemblage of eukaryotic cells is purposive. Human consciousness is purposive, as are the memes that prey on it.

    > But you should keep in mind that this kind of
    > language is a shorthand for describing a causal loop, and that genes and
    > memes are not conscious entities that can be either "self-promoting" or
    > selfish.

    We've been over this before. Self-existence is the core meaning of life. Human consciousness places self-existence in the mind, as opposed to the body. That's our defining trait. Even apes, with their mental self-perception, still find themselves firstly in their bodies.

    > > > 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
    > > > but culture itself is explained by its usefulness to genetic
    > > > survival. (Try surviving without even chipped rocks!)
    > >
    > >Not being a genetic reductionist, I can't agree with this.
    > I am fairly sure you agree that humans (and their genes) would have the
    > devils own time surviving without culture. Memes are just elements of
    > culture and some of them are darned useful.

    What I can't agree with is the reduction of culture to genes. As Gould stressed in his final book, every level of structure-- gene, organism, species-- is an autonomous source of determination.

    > > > > > (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.
    > >
    > >The difference is that a radioactive particle is guaranteed to degrade by
    > >half in a certain amount of time, whereas a meme's duration is
    > A particle does not degrade by half in a time period, it either decays or
    > does not. No half way measures. :-) Now a large collection say 10 exp
    > 32 will experience about half of them decaying in a half life for that
    > isotope. But when you get down to a small number of atoms, the duration
    > of at least one of them is somewhat open ended as well. In practical
    > it won't matter if 50 years from now if one person in ten thousands thinks
    > that ulcers are caused by stress, the meme will be functionally extinct.

    The point is that memes don't have a set "half-life" as to when they'll
    "decay." They're undetermined. Not half-life but real life.

    > >We don't need the memetics model to account for the recognition that
    > >are caused by bacteria. Someone had an idea, which he or she
    > >to someone else. Since the idea turned out to be true, now lots of
    > >believe it. No need for "selfish" units of culture propagating
    > >But the prior belief-- that ulcers are caused by stress-- is not only
    > >but harmful. The extreme difficulty of uprooting this belief can be
    > >ascribed to the autonomy and resilience of the belief itself. Of course,
    > >bad ideas are memes, then every idea is potentially memetic. That the
    > >bacterial explanation of ulcers is a meme can only be demonstrated
    > >indirectly.
    > I don't see why. Memes *are* ideas that spread beyond the person who
    > thought them up. Good idea, bad idea, or inaccurate idea, they are still
    > memes if they are being communicated and spread to new people.

    Not if the very concept of "meme" is unnecessary because we can account for the spread of ideas, behaviors, etc., without endowing them with any agency.

    > The reason we use "memes" instead of replicating idea or replicating
    > information pattern is that meme is *shorter.*

    If that's all it is, then memetics is a crock.

    > It conveys in a short word
    > the connotation that the idea being discussed "has a life of its own,"
    > sharing in the character (and descriptive mathematics) of replicators in
    > general.

    Self-replicators. Remember, memes are alive. We're talking about life here. Without a firm understanding of living nature, memetics drifts off into self-negating abstractionism.

    > I appreciate your thoughts on the subject.

    Best regards,


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