From: Dace (email@example.com)
Date: Sat 13 Dec 2003 - 19:46:10 GMT
> From: Keith Henson <firstname.lastname@example.org>
> At 03:28 PM 08/12/03 -0800, Ted wrote:
> >Ideas are subject to human intelligence. Memes follow a more natural,
> >Darwinian path.
> I don't see the distinction. Perhaps you could provide an example
> illustrating the difference.
I think treatment for severe mental illness over the course of the 20th
century provides an excellent example. By the 1930s mental institutions
were becoming overcrowded, and psychiatrists began looking for quick and
easy ways to cure people so as to get them out of the hospitals. Enter the
lobotomy. In the mid 30s a Portuguese neurologist named Egas Moniz
developed a method of reducing anxiety and rage which entailed boring holes
in patients' foreheads and injecting alcohol through the holes. When this
proved inadequate, he began to inserting an instrument similar to an apple
corer into the skull and twisting it around. This procedure was modified
over the following years to become was is now known as a lobotomy. It
proved to be incredibly popular. It was considered a miracle cure. There
was no evidence to show that it worked.
The lobotomeme spread by exploiting people's desire for a "scientific"
solution to the mental health crisis. As a meme propagating under its own
momentum, it was not subject to intelligent scrutiny. People wanted to
believe it, so they did. However, it was eventually selected out of
existence. Lobotomies were replaced by drug treatments, which originally
were hardly better than surgical interventions, but eventually proved to be
effective. Rather than carve out the prefrontal lobe, Prozac simply
inhibits the reuptake of serotonin. The lobotomeme never had a chance in
the face of legitimate treatments.
> > > I think what you are mixing in here is the mutualistic to parasitic
> > > of memes.
> >A meme is a habit of thought or behavior which is shared rather than
> >personal. That's really all it is. A habit perpetuates itself under its
> >own momentum without the need for individuals to continually re-evaluate
> >on its merits.
> I really don't understand this last sentence. You seem to be contrasting
> memes-habits with something that does need continual re-evaluation.
Lobotomies became a cultural habit. Patients and their families came to
expect them, and doctors expected to perform them. No one stopped to think
that maybe the operation was a horrifying and completely irrational assault
on the integrity of human beings. The lobotomy represented a far more
severe form of insanity than the psychoses it was intended to cure. By
contrast, current anti-psychotic medications must be tested and continually
re-evaluated for their efficacy.
> >You simply think or behave the way you always have before.
> >It doesn't matter whether the habit is helpful or harmful. What makes it
> >meme is that it's cultural rather than personal.
> If "cultural" mean widely shared pattern of information that you learned
> from others in some way, and "personal" means an information pattern you
> have not shared I think we are in agreement. And I have long argued that
> memes range from helpful to harmful.
> >That said, pathological memes are useful to memetic studies for the same
> >reason that brain pathologies are useful to neuroscientists. The
> >can tell us a lot about what is normal. That a particular behavior
> >through a population doesn't tell us it's a meme if it happens to be
> >and therefore can be explained according to human reason.
> I see a continuum along the harmful to helpful axis. Further, it is
> situational. As an example, consider the meme of playing some card
> game. In moderation it may gain you useful social contacts, perhaps with
> the opposite sex and is therefore useful. In the extreme, you play so
> that you fail to make a living and starve or fail to reproduce. Is card
> playing a meme in some cases (harmful) and not in others where it is
> helpful? I just can't logically deal with categories that shift this way.
I don't define memes as necessarily harmful. Habits can be helpful or
harmful. In fact, habits are indispensable, be they personal or cultural.
We can't think about every little thing we do, as individuals or societies.
It's not that all memes are harmful but that harmful memes are clearly
memes, or they wouldn't persist. We infer the existence of normal memes by
demonstrating the existence of harmful memes.
> >However, if a
> >belief or behavior is clearly pathological, then we can't ascribe it to
> >human agency and must recognize that it spreads under its own agency,
> >that it self-replicates rather than passively replicating.
> I also have a hard time ascribing something like "agency" to a meme. Memes
> are just information.
In that case, "meme" is nothing more than a word, a more user-friendly word
than "information" but having no meaning beyond it. Memetics thus becomes a
science of nothing.
> They have to be loaded into a brain/mind to have
> real world effects. Same thing with a virus powder, or a listing of
> one. It has no effect at all till it gets into a cell and "exploits" an
> environment rich in the chemicals and molecular machines needed to make
> copies of itself.
Yes, and a virus does make copies of itself. When a cell nucleus is
generating viruses, clearly it's the virus that has agency rather than the
> >For instance, in *Paralysis to Fatigue: A History of Psychosomatic
> >in the Modern Era,* Edward Shorter discusses, among other things, the
> >19th century fad-diagnosis of "spinal irritation." Doctors believed that
> >irritation to the spine could cause peripheral motor problems such as
> >paralysis. Over the years, reports of paralysis began to increase,
> >among women. Shorter explains that women were more suggestible in regard
> >psychosomatic paralysis because Victorian social arrangements denied them
> >careers and independence. They were, in effect, socially immobilized.
> >paralysis meme spread among women by exploiting their sense of social
> >paralysis, which they unconsciously manifested in their bodies. It's not
> >if they consciously decided to make a political statement about their
> >condition by pretending to be paralyzed. So the agency is clearly in the
> >behavior itself-- and therefore memetic-- rather than the person.
> I don't know how much credence to put in what sounds like a Freudian
"Guilt by association." Is the argument correct or not?
> It might be right but it just doesn't feel right in EP
> terms. As a similar example, the various eating disorders that have
> cropped up in recent decades are thought by some to be memetic in origin.
I don't think there's any question that eating disorders spread memetically.
But they did not originate memetically. They began as a result of
individuals deciding under their own free will that they would rather not
eat (or vomit what they do eat) than be fat.
> > > Memes under the term "culturegens" was a legitimate field of study at
> > > least a decade before Dawkins give the same concept a catchy name.
> >Memetics remains a "cult" science outside the mainstream. And there it
> >shall stay until it stops trying to airbrush people out of the picture by
> >reducing cultures to memes (or to "culturgens" or whatever).
> Cult or not, I don't see how you could get such a view of memetics.
In equating "meme" with "information," all cultural issues are reduced to
memetics. Pretty soon memes can explain everything under the sun. Anything
that can explain anything and everything explains nothing.
> > > Examples: "I have an idea, let's do face painting at the kid's
> > > birthday party." "The meme of face painting came from nowhere to
> > > part of the culture of childhood in the last two decades."
> >Then face painting is a meme and not an idea. It was an idea when it was
> >created, but once it "caught on," it became a meme.
> I don't see anything wrong with face painting being both. It is an idea
> when someone picks that activity out of many possibilities for a birthday
> party and a meme because face painting has become part of the cultural
> tradition surrounding birthday parties. ("Given the ages of the kid's
> friends, would pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey or face painting be a better
The question is why that idea in particular arises. Did you come up with
it, or did it come up with you? Of course it's an idea. It's a memetic
idea. It's a culturally shared, habitual idea.
> From: Keith Henson <email@example.com>
> Subject: Memetic engineers and leaders.
> Ted Dace makes the comment that memetics is not making progress as a
Oh, I wouldn't say that. I think we've made progress right here on this
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