Re: _Religion Explained_ by Pascal Boyer

From: Dace (
Date: Thu 05 Jun 2003 - 19:28:54 GMT

  • Next message: Lawrence DeBivort: "RE: _Religion Explained_ by Pascal Boyer"

    > From: "Ray Recchia" <>
    > Unfortunately your narrowed definition is even more confusing. Why not
    > call it a T-meme? Or a sub-meme, or an P-meme. sub for subconscious.
    > The problem you have is that the same objections you raise for
    > consciously aware memes are raisable for those that are transmitted
    > subconsciously. You've sited a "recreation" phenonoma. That a meme is
    > not so much reproduced as created.

    Oh, no, I'm saying that memes are replicated from mind to mind, while typically ideas are recreated in each mind through the process of understanding. Replication involves mimickry more than genuine understanding.

    > In fact the article you site as authority for the notion that treating
    > consciously transmitted memes from the Skeptic raises more objections to
    > so called 'subconciously' transmitted memes. Something which you critize
    > the author for.

    Oh, I think Polichak is way off. But he does make one very good point: Memeticists aren't the only ones who study culture and transferal of information, and much of memetics is in conflict with older, traditional models.

    > You are aren't alone in your criticism of the Skeptic article by the
    > way. If you search the memetics list server archives prior to 2000, a
    > professor from Indiana states that the article misstates or overlooks
    > much of Lynch, Gabora, and Blackmore's ideas. So not only does the
    > assertion that study of conscious memes differ from subconscious memes
    > fail to coincide with the article, the article itself does not represent
    > the consensus view of academia.
    > In addition your example of religion points the necessarily arbritrary
    > nature of the distinction you are making. "Darwin's Cathedral" points
    > out that elements of Calvinism were intentionally created as a contrast
    > to the Catholic church which the founders thought was bloated and corrupt.

    Yes, what begins as idea becomes ingrained as meme. I'm saying that memes are simply culturally shared habits. Just as conscious thoughts become habitual and unconscious if repeated enough, cultural beliefs and behaviors and styles, etc., become memetic once they've been repeated enough times.

    > Acceptance of all ideas whether intentionally passed or not depends on
    > psychological factors. People choose to believe because the factors they
    > use have a psychological value to them. They choose to transmit whether
    > intentionally or unintentionally, for personal reasons.
    > Much of what I've been seeing from you has been of the nature of 'this is
    > a subconscious meme' because the transmitters really don't know why they
    > are transmitting it but you or someone else knows the real reason. I
    > submit that such evaluations on your part are subjective and unnecesarily
    > patronizing. Such evaluations suffer from the same flaws you use to label
    > the beliefs of others. So for example I am among those who believe that
    > your attachment to morphic fields is based upon a subconscious inability
    > to accept material determinism (even while failing to recognize that
    > morphic fields are just another version of it). Am I being subjective
    > and arbitrary?

    Yes, and the reason is that you haven't produced an argument that demonstrates conclusively that life is reducible to atoms and molecules. This is very important. *First* you establish that the belief in question cannot possibly be explained according to rational thought. *Then* you engage in a psychological analysis. If the belief is *clearly* irrational, we may examine the unconscious reasons for its acceptance.

    > You may indeed thinks so. Your analysis of religious
    > belief may strike others in the same fashion.

    I think you're refering to Keith's analysis.

    > I think that examining the differences between conscious and subconscious
    > cultural transmission is a potentially worthwhile endeavor. I suspect
    > that there are distinctions in both means of transmission and methods of
    > variation that may be worth highlighting. However, I see no reason to
    > ignore a broader evolutionary study of both conscious and subconcious
    > culture.
    > (Whew! Trial over adrenaline high. Gotta love it.)
    > Ray Recchia
    > >
    > > Hi Keith,
    > >
    > > I'm trying to narrow the definition of "meme" so that it doesn't apply
    > > every piece of information that passes from one person to another.
    > > There's
    > > no reason to invoke the concept of self-replication for most such
    > > information. Your approach flies in the face of standard social and
    > > psychological analysis. Can you explain why decades of research are
    > > wrong?
    > > I don't think either of us is in a position to do that, which is why I
    > > a definition that doesn't conflict with established science.
    > >
    > > Ted
    > >

    > From: Keith Henson <>
    > At 11:23 AM 03/06/03 -0700, Dace wrote:
    > >
    > >I'm trying to narrow the definition of "meme" so that it doesn't apply to
    > >every piece of information that passes from one person to another.
    > I don't see any reason you need to make such complications when there are
    > obvious cases where information (like telling a person what time it is or
    > where you are is not a meme since it is not persistent information.

    Okay. I'm trying to narrow the definition of "meme" so that it doesn't apply to every piece of durable information that passes from one person to another.

    > >There's no reason to invoke the concept of self-replication for most such
    > >information.
    > You can make a difference if you want to between relatively passive and
    > relatively active memes, i.e., ones that are replicated because they are
    > useful (shoes) or novel (new songs, fads) and ones that induced their
    > holders to go out and spread the cult meme.

    Ah, now you're complicating it. Nothing wrong with that!

    > >Your approach flies in the face of standard social and
    > >psychological analysis. Can you explain why decades of research are
    > Please cite such studies. I am not aware of any that refute the concept
    > replicating cultural information.

    It's not so much that Polichak refutes memes but that he demonstrates that ordinarily information is not replicated according to memetics models and cannot be understood outside the context of the human minds that transmit and receive it. Polichack studies instances when people control information, not the other way around. Let's go back to the article:

    "What is notably absent from Lynch's review and from the analyses of most memeticists is any mention of the research that has been done in two fields that are directly concerned with human information processing and the behaviors that result from the intake of information-- cognitive and social psychology. Researchers in these fields have been systematically investigating how humans receive, process and transfer information (Hunt, 1993)."

    Hunt, M. 1993. *The Story of Psychology.* New York: Doubleday

    "The idea that one can examine the transfer of information without regard for the systems sending and receiving it has been challened on a number of levels... Reddy (1979) argues that this inaccurate belief is based on the way the English language has developed, and refers to the mistaken idea that information is sent and received unaltered by the acts of sending and receiving as the conduit metaphor."

    Reddy, M.J. 1979. "The Conduit Metaphor: A Case of Frame Conflict in Our Language About Language." In A. Ortony (Ed.) *Metaphor and Thought.* New York: Cambride University Press, 164-201.

    "Cognitive psychologists developed and rejected as inadequate models of memory that focused on the properties of information and ignored the activities of the receiver and the context in which the information was received. They have also rejected as inadequate to explain the experimental data models that focus solely on the properties of the information and the processing it is given at the time of reception (Craik & Lockhart, 1972; Morris, Bransford, & Franks, 1977)."

    Craik, F.I.M., & Lockhart, R.S. 1972. "Levels of Processing: A Framework for Memory Research." *Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior,* 11, 671-684.

    Morris, C.D., Bransford, J.D., & Franks, J.J. 1977. "Levels of Processing Versus Transfer Appropriate Processing." *Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior,* 16, 519-533.

    "Kolers and Roediger (1984), after examing numerous controlled studies on human memory, conclude that it makes little sense to consider information to be remembered without considering the conditions and processes involved in receiving it and the conditions and processes involved in its retrieval
    (which must be considered if information is to be transmitted-- information that can't be remembered can't be passed on to others)."

    Kolers, P.A., & Roediger, H.L. 1984. "Procedures of Mind." *Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior,* 23, 425-449.

    "The factors that affect memory include such seemingly non-memetic influences like whether the receiving and remembering occurred under the same drug influence or not, whether it occurred in the same room or with the same experimenter, and so on (Tulving, 1983)."

    Tulving, E. 1983. *Elements of Episodic Memory.* New York: Oxford University Press.

    "Examining the research on false memories will effectively demonstrate the difficulties of separating information from information processing."

    Roediger, H.L., & McDermott, K.B. 1995. "Creating False Memories: Remembering Words Not Presented in Lists." *Journal of Experimental Psychology. Learning, Memory, and Cognition,* 21, 803-814.

    "Lynch (1996) uses epidemiology as a model for the way information is transferred from person to person on a relatively coarse scale (i.e., he is not concerned with perceptual, attentional, or the cognitive factors discussed above) extending the virus-meme analogy to methodology. Brodie
    (1996) and Dawkins (1993) pursue similar courses. It is not clear why they do this. For the past 50 years, social psychologists have studied specifically how people form and change attitudes and beliefs. Hundreds of carefully controlled experiments have been performed examing the factors that affect whether a person will be persuaded by information (or "infected" to use memetic terminology), how lasting that persuasion might be, and whether the person will actually act in response to the information to which they have been exposed (Eagly & Chaiken, 1993). One would think that this large body of research would form a much stronger starting point for memetic analyses than would an analogy to epidemiology."

    Eagly, A.H., & Chaiken, S. 1993. *The Psychology of Attitudes.* Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich College Publishers.

    Epidemiology provides a better model for memes than cognitive science precisely because memes are only a tiny subclass of transmitted information that is not influenced by standard cognitive factors. While ordinarily information must be regarded in the context of speaker and listener and has no self-existence outside their conscious minds, memes are discrete packets of information that change only through accidental mutation. Memes are ideas that have taken on a life of their own and are radically different from ordinary ideas, as described in cognitive psychology. But until memeticists make this clear, the field will continue to be dismissed by established scientific authority.


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