Re: emperors old clothes

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Mon 24 Mar 2003 - 23:56:34 GMT

  • Next message: Keith Henson: "Human motivation"

    At 11:40 AM 23/03/03 -0800, Ted wrote:

    > > From: Keith Henson <>


    > > 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?
    >No. We are responsible for our actions and beliefs.

    While I agree that we are responsible for our actions (and perhaps beliefs) you and I may differ on the concept of "agent."

    > > Thus you could say something like "the perversion of humans by memes
    > > is a serious problem."
    >That humans allow themselves to be perverted by memes is a serious problem.

    Perhaps an analogy might help here. Humans are infected by nasty diseases, for example this recent SARS thing. Now there is a major difference between drinking ditch water that you know is likely to make you sick and being infected in a hotel elevator by someone who probably didn't know he was sick. In both cases microorganisms are the agents that make you sick. But in the first case (assuming you know about germs and had access to other water) you could avoid this behavior. In the second case, it is hard to assign responsibility to a person who has no idea they have just been infected with something lethal.

    Very few people know about memes. It has been a long term goal of mine to spread the meme about memes. As I said in 1987,

    "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."

    > > >The meme is just promoting itself
    > > >and knows nothing of "perversion" or any other human concept.
    > >
    > > Including the human concept of "promoting itself."
    >Self-promotion is not simply a human concept. It's the essence of life.
    > > 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
    > > gene that builds organisms that are better at reproducing (and making
    > > copies of the gene) can be thought of as "selfish," because over time
    > > genes becomes more common in the population, replacing rival genes.
    >Yes, that's exactly how I mean it.

    Ok, you are using "self promotion" as a short term for the above lengthy description. I stick such a long description in about once per article--like spelling out an acronym before using it.


    > > >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.
    >There's a great deal to our minds that we're not conscious of. It's in this
    >subterranean realm that memes operate. We're certainly not aware of memes
    >as such.

    I see your point, though I would say that memes are a lot closer to our awareness than a lot of other things that go on in our minds. For example, very few people are aware of the deep motivations provided by attention. The evolutionary psychology people think that we have evolved to be blind to many of our motives.

    >We're aware of ideas and beliefs and behaviors but not their
    >ability to propagate. We think of them as *our* ideas and beliefs, unaware
    >of their autonomy.

    Agree and as above, for the last 20 years I have been trying to educate people about this aspect of the elements of our culture (good, harmless and lethal).

    > > > > 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
    > > > > memes if they are being communicated and spread to new people.
    > > >
    > > >Not if the very concept of "meme" is unnecessary because we can account
    > > >the spread of ideas, behaviors, etc., without endowing them with any
    > >
    > > You lose me. I thought you were advocating that above.
    >Even if it spreads to many people, an idea is still not a meme if there's no
    >such thing in the first place. The key element of memes is that they're
    >"selfish" in the same sense as genes. If ideas are spread passively-- the
    >conventional view-- then memes don't exist.

    Genes, *all* of them, are selfish in the sense Dawkins ascribed to them. As times goes on they become more or less common due to the effects of selection. Memes are the same. From 1987

    "I have picked dangerous examples for vivid illustrations and to point out that memes have a life of their own. The ones that kill their hosts make this hard to ignore. However, most memes, like most microorganisms, are either helpful or at least harmless. Some may even provide a certain amount of defense from the very harmful ones. It is the natural progression of parasites to become symbiotes, and the first symbiotic behavior that emerges in a proto-symbiote is for it to start protecting its host from other parasites. I have come to appreciate the common religions in this light. Even if they were harmful when they started, the ones that survive over generations evolve and do not cause too much damage to their hosts. Calvin (who had dozens of people executed over theological disputes) would hardly recognize Presbyterians three hundred years later. Contrariwise, the Shaker meme is now confined to books, and the Shakers are gone. It is clearly safer to believe in a well-aged religion than to be susceptible to a potentially fatal cult."

    > > > > 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?
    >A meme is a self-replicating information pattern. It it replicates
    >passively, it's not a meme. It's just an idea, belief, catch-phrase, etc.
    >What you're doing is to promote the standard, pre-memetic view, and then
    >calling it "memetics" because you like the word.

    As I point out above, a meme being helpful or harmful is relative. I can even say something good about the memes behind the disgusting cult of scientology. They are good (helpful symbiots) to the extent they keep a person who has them from getting into something *even worse* (Aum, Jim Jones, Solar Temple, Heaven's Gate).

    > > > > 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
    > > > > 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.
    >Anything that's self-promoting is alive. Cells are alive in the sense that
    >they participate in a larger system which is self-promoting. A computer
    >virus, however, is not alive because it operates according to a blind,
    >mechanical process. While it may seem to be self-promoting, it merely
    >followes mechanical imperatives and has no self-nature.

    The exact same thing can be said about a virus that infects a cell. And at the root of it, every single activity that underlies what we call life is based on molecules that are acting every bit as mechanical as a wind up toy.

    I do see your point about memetics drifting off into self-negating abstractionism. I try to keep it focused by using examples and analogy.

    Keith Henson

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