Re: transmission

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Thu 22 May 2003 - 02:51:06 GMT

  • Next message: Gudmundur Ingi Markusson: "Test. Ignore."

    At 09:29 PM 21/05/03 -0400, William L. Benzon wrote:
    >on 5/21/03 8:02 PM, Keith Henson at wrote:
    > > At 11:54 AM 21/05/03 -0400, you wrote:
    > >> on 5/21/03 9:07 AM, Keith Henson at wrote:
    > >>
    > >> [snip]
    > >>
    > >>>
    > >>> Memes are in competition for a limited resource, human brains. This
    > is the
    > >>> main factor that makes memetics so interesting since memes can induce
    > >>> behavior that affects how many are carrying them. "Convert or die,
    > >> infidel!"
    > >>
    > >> This makes no sense. Sooner or later mentalist memetics gets around to
    > >> talking about memes as though they were living beings flitting about from
    > >> mind to mind.
    > >
    > > To some very limited extent they are. A virus is just a hunk of DNA or
    > > RNA. Is it a "living being?" If your cells are being converted to more
    > > SARS viruses and you need a ventilator just to breath, such nit picking
    > > questions are far from your concerns.
    >I'm not talking about viruses, I'm talking about "memes."

    Genes, computer viruses and memes are all members of the more general class
    "replicators." They operate in different media, but have many similarities. Much of what we know about one has analogies in the others.

    > >
    > > Dawkins' major contribution was to popularize the "selfish gene"
    > > paradigm. "Unthinking" genes and memes can be modeled as "striving"
    > > entities because of the Darwinian effect.
    >What, pray-tell, is the Darwinian effect? Praying to the East whenever
    >Darwin's name is heard?

    I explained it in the next paragraph I wrote. Perhaps I should have said
    "Darwinianism" or "variation and selection."

    > >
    > >> People say do things like: "Convert or die, infidel!" Arguing
    > >> that what's really going on is that memes are manipulating people for
    > their
    > >> own replicating ends is just silly. It was a bad idea when Dawkins
    > advanced
    > >> it, and it hasn't improved any for all the elaboration and repetition
    > it has
    > >> received by others.
    > >
    > > It is a clever shorthand that lets you say in a single word like "striving"
    > > the long winded logic of how evolution works to make some genes (or memes)
    > > more or less common as time goes forward. It was a good way to put a
    > > complicated explanation in a few words, but some people have a lot of
    > > trouble groking it.
    >It is possible to unpack the notion of a "selfish gene" into identifiable
    >mechanisms that we can manipulate with some skill. But the notion of the
    >"selfish meme" just lays their like a run-over dog. It's meaningless.

    Can I ask (without any rancor) what you are doing on a memetics list?

    "Selfishness" in Dawkins terminology is to be expected of thriving memes just as it is of thriving genes or computer viruses. The more interesting classification--in my view--is the relation of memes to humans, where they range from hard-to-get-along-without symbiotes to extremely dangerous parasites.

    >It seems that your groking is way ahead of your understanding.

    I can simply state what I hold memes to be and give clear examples of the way I understand memes. By the way, one of the meanings of "grok" *is* understanding.


    "Now take this one word: 'grok.' Its literal meaning, one which I suspect goes back to the origin of the Martian race as thinking, speaking creatures-and which throws light on their whole 'map'-is quite easy. 'Grok' means 'to drink.'"

    "Huh?" said Jubal. "But Mike never says 'grok' when he's just talking about drinking. He-"

    "Just a moment." Mahmoud spoke to Mike in Martian.

    Mike looked faintly surprised and said, "'Grok' is drink," and dropped the matter.

    "But Mike would also have agreed," Mahmoud went on, "if I had named a hundred other English words, words which represent what we think of as different concepts, even pairs of antithetical concepts. And
    'grok' means all of these, depending on how you use it. It means
    'fear,' it means 'love,' it means 'hate'-proper hate, for by the Martian 'map' you cannot possibly hate anything unless you grok it completely, understand it so thoroughly that you merge with it and it merges with you-then and only then can you hate it. By hating yourself. But this also implies, by necessity, that you love it, too, and cherish it and would not have it otherwise. Then you can hate- and (I think) that Martian hate is an emotion so black that the nearest human equivalent could only be called a mild distaste."

    Mahmoud screwed up his face. "It means 'identically equal' in the mathematical sense. The human cliché, 'This hurts me worse than it does you' has a Martian flavor to it, if only a trace. The Martians seem to know instinctively what we learned painfully from modern physics, that the observer interacts with the observed simply through the process of observation.

    'Grok' means to understand so thoroughly that the observer becomes a part of the process being observed-to merge, to blend, to intermarry, to lose personal identity in group experience.

    (About midway through Stranger in a Strange Land.)

    Keith Henson

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