RE: _Religion Explained_ by Pascal Boyer

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Thu 05 Jun 2003 - 23:24:12 GMT

  • Next message: Keith Henson: "Re: _Religion Explained_ by Pascal Boyer"

    At 02:19 PM 05/06/03 -0700, Ricard wrote:
    >Dace wrote:
    ><<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.

    Epidemiology provides a nothing more than a mathematical model for the change over time of the prevalence of a replicator, be is disease, genes, memes, or compute viruses. That's *all* it does. (A really impressive case was a recent computer virus that had a replication time of about 8 seconds.)

    Memes, every single one of them, depend on "standard cognitive features." Pascal Boyer makes this really clear in his book, which is much more on cognitive science than anything else.

    >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

    *All* ideas that are spread around to a lot of minds have "a life of their own." This is, of course, only metaphor.

    >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.>>


    >No, that's not it at all. Memetics studies how the future is influenced by
    >differential selection of replicating cultural elements. It is orthogonal to
    >cognitive science, not a replacement for it.

    Indeed. Cognitive science may eventually be up to the task of predicting what memes would do well in the meme pool given the common features of human minds. Again, Boyer's book is largely about the mental mechanisms, particularly inference mechanisms, evolution has shaped in our brains/minds. But memetics itself is only about replicating information
    (cultural elements) in human minds and the differential selection of that information.

    Richard Brodie, Aaron Lynch, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and a host of other authors including Lumsden & Wilson, have a very similar and
    *remarkably simple* "meme about memes" in our minds. We don't need to complicate the basic definition. There is *plenty* of complicated related subjects to consider, particularly the relations between genes, memes and humans (shaped by both).

    Keith Henson

    >Richard Brodie

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