Re: emperors old clothes

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Thu 20 Mar 2003 - 15:13:19 GMT

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

    At 09:56 PM 18/03/03 -0800, you wrote:
    > > From: Keith Henson <>
    > >


    > > 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.

    Perhaps this is just semantic. I agree that the humans are perverted
    (turned as above). Do you agree that the agent of that perversion is the meme? Thus you could say something like "the perversion of humans by memes is a serious problem."

    >The meme is just promoting itself
    >and knows nothing of "perversion" or any other human concept.

    Including the human concept of "promoting itself." If a meme causes behavior which results in more copies of itself (in comparison to rival memes), it can be thought of as "promoting itself" in the same sense that a gene that builds organisms that are better at reproducing (and making copies of the gene) can be thought of as "selfish," because over time such genes becomes more common in the population, replacing rival genes.

    >It doesn't even know we exist. Until recently we had no inkling of it

    Concepts similar to memes go back maybe 50 years or more. Not last week, but certainly recently on a historical scale.

    >But that's true generally of the unconscious, not just memes.

    "The unconscious" would need to be expanded for me to understand why you bring it into a memetic discussion. Sorry.

    snip (add back to a reply if you think I snipped something I should not have)

    > > 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.

    I certainly have no intent to "reduce culture to genes." Culture is emergent, based on the spread and persistence of non-genetic information in a population of animals--and there are examples outside of primates. But I doubt you would disagree that the various levels depend on the lower levels, physics, chemistry, genes, cells, organisms (and species) up to culture. Or that there can be feedback from level to level. In the case of culture, we humans have had it so long that it has fed back to shape our genes. I.e., memes to break rocks into sharp edges replaced genes for sharp teeth millions of years ago.


    > > 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.

    You lose me. I thought you were advocating that above.

    > > 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.

    For the life of me I can't understand why you would make such a statement. Meme, culturegen, replicating information pattern, element of culture, what's the difference if you understand what is going on? Would it have been better to use RIP as an acronym? Would culturegenetics or RIPetics have been better than memetics?

    > > 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.

    "Alive" and "living nature" are less than precise terms. We agree that a cat or dog is alive. This has been extended to cells. But what happens when you get down to a virus? Or a gene? A computer virus? Are they
    "alive" or not? I think it is bootless to argue over definitions that are muddy at this level when we can agree on a general term, replicator, that is suited to the level.

    Keith Henson

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