RE: _Religion Explained_ by Pascal Boyer

From: Lawrence DeBivort (
Date: Fri 06 Jun 2003 - 23:13:28 GMT

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    Hi, Dace: I think I explained how we see the differences in my email: I'll restate here.

    Understanding: things consciously considered and meaning grasped.

    Mimicry: copying without attempt to understand; it is a reactive and unprocessed act.

    Influence: initiated by an actor and aimed at the beliefs or actions of a second party. To be successful in its influence, a meme has to meet certain criteria held (consciously or unconsciously) by the second party.

    Cheers, Lawry

    > -----Original Message-----
    > From: []On Behalf
    > Of Dace
    > Sent: Fri, June 06, 2003 4:57 PM
    > To:
    > Subject: Re: _Religion Explained_ by Pascal Boyer
    > > From: "Lawrence DeBivort" <>
    > >
    > > Greetings, all,
    > > There is yet a third alternative to 'understanding' and 'mimicry', and
    > that
    > > is _influence_. Memes, in our PoV, is much more about influence than
    > either
    > > (conscious, considered) understanding, or (reactive,
    > unprocessed) mimicry.
    > > If one only considers understanding and mimicry, it is not too
    > surprising
    > > that the notion of memes is disputed and seemingly inadequate.
    > How is influence different from mimicry?
    > > From: Keith Henson <>
    > >
    > > 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.
    > >
    > > 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.
    > Okay, you've sold me. I will read this book. It'll be interesting to see
    > how it stacks up against Barbara Ehrenreich's *Blood Rites.*
    > > >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.
    > I have to disagree. Many ideas, including the ones we're exchanging now,
    > have no life of their own, even metaphorically, and merely respond to the
    > mental life of we humans.
    > > From: Keith Henson <>
    > >
    > > At 12:28 PM 05/06/03 -0700, you wrote:
    > > > > 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.
    > >
    > > Which would you say applies to a person who has internalized
    > the baseball
    > > meme and knows how to play it?
    > If you grow up in the USA, baseball is a meme. If you grow up in
    > a foreign
    > country, it's an idea. Same goes for the English language. I
    > never had to
    > consciously make an effort to learn English. It all came through simple
    > imitation. But if you're Chinese, you don't get English through cultural
    > osmosis. You have to study it and learn it as a sequence of
    > ideas. I had a
    > philosophy professor in college who once worked in Japan. He said that
    > after a few years of struggling with Japanese, one day it just "clicked."
    > Suddenly he could speak fluently and never had to strain to understand
    > people. He had become part of the culture and shared in the habit of
    > thinking and talking in Japanese. At that point, Japanese ceased to
    > function as an idea for him and became a meme.
    > > > > 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.
    > >
    > > I don't buy that something can slowly shade over into being a meme.
    > Do you agree that conscious intentions, when repeated, ultimately
    > shade over
    > into habit?
    > > Just doesn't work as a way to define something that should be
    > very simple.
    > Memes are culturally shared habits as opposed to personal habits. I don't
    > see what's so complicated about that.
    > > > > 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.
    > >
    > > I can't deal with morphic fields, Scientology's space aliens, or
    > > supernatural spirits. Sorry.
    > No need to be sorry, you're just a bit confused here. "Morphic field" is
    > shorthand for "morphogenetic field," a standard explanatory tool in
    > developmental biology. The field concept is utilized to explain why one
    > clump of cells becomes, say, an arm, while another clump of cells develops
    > into a kidney, despite the fact that all the cells have identical
    > DNA. It's
    > generally believed that morphogenetic fields will ultimately be explained
    > according to genes, but don't hold your breath. Many developmental
    > biologists have given up this quest as a lost cause and are now fully
    > committed to mathematical explanations of fields. (Morphogenetic
    > fields can
    > be described with the same mathematical precision as electromagnetic or
    > grativational fields). The problem with this approach is that it seems to
    > imply that organisms are governed by eternal equations. Of course,
    > equations do not evolve. Thus Sheldrake proposed that fields are the
    > product, not of genes or of equations, but of past, similar organisms. As
    > organisms adapt, fields evolve. Ironically, Sheldrake's view is the most
    > easily testable and therefore the most scientific of the three
    > alternatives.
    > (No one has ever devised a way of testing the hypothesis that organic form
    > arises from DNA. It's simply assumed by those who believe it.)
    > > >"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."
    > >
    > > Memetics is based on the same model as genetics. It is *well*
    > recognized
    > > that memes are subject to more transmission errors than genes are. If a
    > > meme (like baseball) is transmitted with extremely high fidelity, it is
    > > because there is much redundancy and/or error correction applied to the
    > > transmission.
    > Polichak's point is that information is altered through a variety of
    > cognitive factors having nothing to do with transmission errors. These
    > factors need to be considered in order to understand culture.
    > > Look, when you are concerned with mixing drinks you are not the
    > slightest
    > > concerned with the isotopic ratios of the atoms in the glass
    > the drink is
    > > being mixed in. Memetics is a way to view the spread and persistence of
    > > cultural information. At the definitional level is it just not
    > concerned
    > > with details at this level.
    > Memetics began as a way of avoiding social and cognitive psychology by
    > simply reducing culture to its particulate elements-- memes. Cultural
    > evolution, rather than being a product of human intelligence, results from
    > the Darwinian competition of memes to replicate. The irony is
    > that in order
    > to understand why some memes are selected and others are not, we
    > must study
    > precisely the cognitive factors that Dawkins hoped to avoid. Of course,
    > Polichak's critique is nearly five years old now, and the field may have
    > matured in that time. Aunger appears to be interested in
    > cognitive factors,
    > and I'm glad to hear that Boyer is as well.
    > > From: "Richard Brodie" <>
    > >
    > > Keith wrote:
    > >
    > > [Dace]
    > > >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.
    > >
    > > [Keith]
    > > <<Which would you say applies to a person who has internalized the
    > baseball
    > > meme and knows how to play it?>>
    > >
    > > Exactly. The fact of replication is indifferent to the
    > mechanics involved.
    > > Whether the meme is transmitted through brute force, like the Pledge of
    > > Allegiance, or though guided inference, like someone figuring out the
    > rules
    > > of baseball by watching the game, the meme is still replicated.
    > Or, to use
    > > Dennett's Intentional Stance, the meme replicates itself.
    > Let me give a simple example to illustrate my point. On another list I
    > recently made an off-the-cuff remark about the 2003 Reith lectures, which
    > concern neurology. These are truly amazing lectures that reveal, once
    > again, the incredible explanatory power of pathological case studies. I
    > wanted to express my gratitude to Lexie, who had directed us to
    > the website,
    > but I didn't express myself very clearly. Here's what I wrote:
    > "Fascinating. Gotta love those wacky brain diseases."
    > Needless to say, Lexie took it the wrong way. She thought I was being
    > sarcastic. Now, I'm from Kansas, where sarcasm is regarded as something
    > that only nasty, malevolent people from large, coastal cities
    > engage in. To
    > this day I often fail to recognize when people are being sarcastic, and it
    > *never* occurs to me that others might interpret my own comments
    > as anything
    > but perfectly earnest and friendly, if not a little eccentric, which is
    > really what Kansas is all about.
    > My point is that I tried to get across a simple piece of information, but
    > Lexie missed my meaning due to memetic interference. The sarcasm meme
    > replicates from mind to mind because it endows greater fitness in social
    > exchange (at least outside Kansas). If you realize someone is being
    > sarcastic, you're much less likely to be embarrassed after having
    > taken the
    > comment literally. So, this is clearly a meme. But the comment
    > I made was
    > in no sense a meme. It was just a simple piece of durable
    > information that
    > would have been accurately recreated in Lexie's mind had it not
    > been for the
    > interference from the sarcasm meme. It's not as if my positive
    > take on the
    > Reith lectures is now a meme competing for survival against negative takes
    > on the Reith lectures. When it comes to standard discourse, it's humans
    > beings, not the information they exchange, that have agency.
    > Ted
    > ===============================================================
    > This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the
    > Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
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    > see:

    =============================================================== This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing) see:

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