Re: Watches & Necklaces

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Wed 28 May 2003 - 12:56:45 GMT

  • Next message: Wade T. Smith: "alterations"

    At 07:12 PM 27/05/03 -0700, Dace wrote:
    > > From: Keith Henson <>
    > >
    > > At 03:06 PM 26/05/03 -0700, Dace wrote:
    > > > > From: "rhiggins7" <>
    > >
    > > snip
    > >
    > > > > the disitinction here seems extremely arbitrary and
    > > > > contrived to propogatte an "Us vs Them" belief structure within the
    > > > > community.
    > > >
    > > >It's not the least bit arbitrary. Not all information flows memetically.
    > > >Much of it flows according to standard models of information transfer,
    > > >developed and refined over many years by social scientists. To claim
    > > >all shared ideas are memes is to defy conventional science.
    > >
    > > Let me help you with an example. "Objects fall when released" is
    > > a shared idea, but in most cases not a meme since it is learned by any
    > > small child playing with blocks. I.e., you don't have to teach this fact
    > > of life to each new generation because they learn it by experience.
    >"Shared" is too broad a term. I meant ideas or information transmitted from
    >one person to another. Not all of these are memes.
    > > >This is why
    > > >memetics is often rejected or simply ignored. To avoid confrontation
    > > >the well-established science of information transfer, we must define
    > > >which ideas are memetic and which are not, i.e. which ideas actively
    > > >replicate and which ones are passively replicated through standard means.
    > >
    > > "Culturgen" is a term predating "meme" which means the same thing. A
    > > culturgen is an element of culture that is passed on, like patterns of
    > > decoration on pottery or the means of making pots, chipping rocks to make
    > > tools or ways to make shoes. These culturgens or memes are no real
    > > to explain because they are useful to learn, but they do require being
    > > passed down as elements of culture. That makes them memes.
    > >
    > > "Bleeding" as a medical practice was harmful in virtually all cases, but
    > > too was a meme that was passed down from generation to generation. As a
    > > meme it did not induce behavior to teach others to bleed people.
    > >
    > > Now suicide cults memes are *clearly* harmful and they induce those who
    > > hold them to actively try to infect others. I think your claim is that
    > > only memes are those in this class, or others that induced behavior to
    > > spread the meme. There certainly is a difference between such classes of
    > > memes. There are genes known as segregation distorters that result in an
    > > all male population of mice that have similar effects. But they are still
    > > *genes.*
    >I don't mean to claim that all memes are pathological. But memetics is no
    >different than any other field. You learn a lot from pathological examples.


    >Yes, culture is by and large not pathological. Otherwise, it would be cult.

    Incidentally, my view of religions is that they are cults that have evolved from parasites into symbiotes. Typically takes 10 human generations or roughly 300 years. I think a major "function" of religions is to fill up the "religions meme receptor site" in human mental "space" so it is not filled with something more harmful. Having this receptor blocked with even scientology is better than getting into say Aum or Solar Temple.

    Come to think about it, that might be part of the problem with Islam. The memes making it up froze in the cult stage.

    > > I think the case is much stronger to consider all replicating information
    > > patterns in culture to be memes and *then* start fixing them along a
    > > helpful symbiote to nasty parasite spectrum.
    >Let's say someone asks you the time. You consult your watch and say, "Half
    >past five." While information has passed from one mind to another, no meme
    >is involved.

    Fully agreed. Not all such transfers are memes because the information passed is changing like the time or personal location and not persistently
    "replicated" in the sense directions are for making arrowheads, pots, shoes or for multiplying by nine.

    >The meme is the habit of wearing watches, and this habit is
    >successful because it exploits our need, in the context of modern, urban
    >society, to know what time it is.

    Not to mention the memes for *making* watches, or the particular memes for dividing the day into 24 hours or the hour into 60 minutes. You can see the evolution of time splitting memes in the historical record.

    >A pathological meme might be a
    >fashionable new habit of wearing a broken watch that's always set at half
    >past five. This meme, which would succeed by exploiting our need to be
    >trendy, might hurt someone under its influence because he forgets his watch
    >is dead and thinks it really is half past five, causing him to miss an
    >important meeting. So memes can be accidentally beneficial, but there's
    >always the potential for harm. Memes are essentially parasitical. Some
    >parasites, like mitochondria, turn out to be beneficial and symbiotic.
    >Others are pathological.

    You introduce way to much complication this way. Religious memes evolve to become less harmful (or die out). A meme can be harmful in some environmental circumstances and helpful in others.

    >The point is that with memes, human consciousness
    >is in the back seat.

    I think you may be overrating consciousness. Classic example being the classes of psychology students who would condition the professor to be on one side or the other of the stage. At the conscious level the professors were never aware that they were being conditioned to a location like rewarded rats. :-)

    >Only the most sickly culture is completely shut off to human perception and
    >intelligence, bound to its memes with no possibility of reflecting on them.
    >And even here the memes were once normal ideas or behaviors that made sense
    >at one time but picked up their own momentum and became ingrained and then

    Sure. Fashion and fads are often that way. The latest fad is splitting the end of the tongue. A bare midriff would be ok in the summer, but if it carried over into the winter . . . . But a definition depending on the effects of the meme in the environment sure makes it complicated. Bare midriff a meme in the winter and not in the summer? On what date (or temperature) does it change from meme to not-meme?

    >When an idea is exchanged purely through reasoned discussion, it's made new
    >in each mind. It's like a collection of beads that all look roughly alike.
    >When an idea travels memetically, however, it's more like beads on a string.
    >They don't just look alike. They represent a single thread of causation
    >that replicates the pattern from mind to mind.

    I think you *way* overrate "reasoned discussion." I am sure the Heaven's Gate people decided to commit suicide though what they thought was
    "reasoned discussion." Reasoning, logic and related mental tools are really useful, but like computers, garbage in, garbage out.

    >You don't have to think
    >about wearing a dead watch set at 5:30. You just do it. You do it because
    >all your friends are doing it. So you never intervene, laying claim to your
    >power of self-determination and reason. You just follow along, another bead
    >added to the necklace. It's this connection from parent to offspring that
    >marks the meme from the simple idea and memetics from conventional social
    >and cognitive science.
    > > There certainly is another spectrum you could rate them on. For example,
    > > really good joke would be more likely to induce people to spread it than a
    > > poor one.
    >A joke is an interesting type of meme because it requires reason but in a
    >form that's been perverted in some way. Though jokes are unreasonable, you
    >can't understand them without having a capacity for reason. They succeed by
    >exploiting our need for play, and the more playful, the more successful.
    > > How would you rate the method of multiplying numbers under nine by
    > > nine? It is so useful that parents are induced to teach it to their kids
    > > even if the schools don't.
    >Culture evolves through human intelligence as much as memetic competition.

    I am not sure what you mean by this statement. Part of the complication is that there are both gene and meme levels involved. Memes in human culture are totally dependant (so far) on people. People, even the most primitive, are dependant on different collections of memes.

    A meme that forbids human reproduction (Shakers) dies out unless it can parasitically recruit new members to the meme. Memes can die out simply by being replaced by better memes as when bow and arrow replaced throwing sticks or when spears replaced "killer Frisbees."

    >A cultural form that's fallen out of favor can be revived through human
    >agency, after which, once it takes hold again, may proceed memetically.

    While you make points that should certainly be considered, I think your model is a lot more complicated than a simple one of memes being replicating information in a broad sense and then considering the human psychological traits the harmful ones exploit.

    Ghod knows there is plenty out there to consider and try to understand.

    Keith Henson

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