Re: meme as catalytic indexical

From: stunned (
Date: Sat 24 Jan 2004 - 01:53:07 GMT

  • Next message: Keith Henson: "Re: meme as catalytic indexical"

    Gooday Bruce!

    (sorry but this just reminded me of that Monty Python sketch)

    On Fri, 2004-01-23 at 19:13, M Lissack wrote:
    > Ted:
    > If you want to argue that "memes" mistakenly associated with
    > replicators and causes are a convenient shorthand to "explain" history
    > fine. But either explain why you reject Bruce's challenges, offer
    > another answer to them than mine, explain why my answer will not or
    > cannot meet Bruce's challenges or accept my reasoning that ONE way to
    > meet the challenges Bruce offered is through memes as catalytic
    > indexicals rather than as replicators. All I have done is offer one
    > possible answer to Bruce.
    > I await other positive answers to Bruce.
    > Dace <> wrote:
    > The mechanism of cultural evolution is exactly the same as
    > natural
    > evolution. The environment of the meme, which in this case is
    > the human
    > mind, selects some memes over others. Those that survive do so
    > because they
    > are more adaptable to changing environmental conditions.
    > Memetics is a historical science. This means that testing of
    > ideas is not
    > necessarily carried out in current experiments. The same is
    > true of any
    > evolutionary theory. For instance, our theories of how
    > galaxies form are
    > tested by looking out into space and viewing galxies at
    > various levels of
    > development. The theory of biological evolution is entirely
    > dependent on
    > our studies of geological strata and past-preserving genes.
    > Even before
    > gene studies emerged, we knew species evolved simply on the
    > basis of what we
    > found in the earth's strata. One species existed at a certain
    > era ! and a
    > "new and improved" version existed at a later era. That's not
    > to say
    > Darwin's theory wasn't tested many times over. But the testing
    > didn't occur
    > in the form of laboratory experiments. Darwin's hypothesis was
    > about events
    > in the past and was tested by searching for signs that these
    > events happened
    > the way Darwin suggested. If we hadn't found signs of one
    > species yielding
    > to a more adapted form-- if instead we found that all the
    > species were
    > created in the present form at roughly the same time-- then
    > the hypothesis
    > would have failed the test.
    > Incidentally, creationists have often labeled evolutionary
    > biology a
    > tautology because we can't conduct experiments to test whether
    > evolution is
    > occuring right now or predict what kinds of species will
    > evolve in the
    > future. Elliott Sober thoroughly refutes this view in *The
    > Nature of
    > Selection* (University of Chicago, 1984).
    > If cultural evolution is propelled, in part, by autonomous,
    > self-replicating
    > units called "memes," then we ought to see irrational elements
    > in culture.
    > After all, memes are not human and do not reason. If memes
    > have causative
    > power in the development of culture, then we should see
    > cultural forms that
    > make no sense and are potentially harmful, that don't promote
    > the social
    > good but simply follow their own imperative to survive. We
    > ought to see
    > pathological developments in culture that resist all efforts
    > to stamp them
    > out.
    > Indeed, this is exactly what we find in the historical record.
    > We see a
    > great many examples of cultural trends that take on a life of
    > their own,
    > that refuse to die even after the social context in which they
    > once made
    > sense have disappeared. Barbara Ehrenreich provides an
    > excellent example of
    > this phenomenon from the late Paleolithic. Up until the end of
    > the last Ice
    > Age, humans were commonly preyed upon by wild animals,
    > especially the big
    > cats. We developed weapons with w! hich to fight and kill
    > these beasts. But
    > when their populations were decimated at the end of the Ice
    > Age, along with
    > the great herd populations they mostly fed on, instead of
    > putting down our
    > weapons, we began wielding them against each other. The battle
    > mentality
    > took on a life of its own. Ehrenreich's thesis can be tested
    > against the
    > historical record. Indeed, the evidence for warfare goes back
    > about 12,000
    > years, to the end of the Ice Age, where it abruptly leaves
    > off. She
    > describes war as a meme that was unleashed 12,000 years ago
    > and has
    > successfully adapted to changing conditions ever since.
    > To take a more current example, NATO was devised to defend
    > against a
    > possible Soviet invasion of Western Europe. Yet, after the
    > collapse of the
    > USSR, NATO remained in place and even expanded into Eastern
    > Europe. The
    > idea of NATO is no longer subject to intelligent scrutiny but
    > has taken on a
    > life of its own. It's due to the success of the pro-NATO !
    > meme that our view
    > of the world has been re-framed such that NATO's continued
    > existence can no
    > longer be questioned. This meme has been selected as a result
    > of its
    > exploitation of the desire of US elites to maintain and extend
    > their
    > influence over Europe. The meme has exploited its mental
    > environment in the
    > same way that an organism exploits its natural environment.
    > As science is a facet of human culture, we should find
    > persistent
    > irrationalism even among the scientifically-minded. Again,
    > this is exactly
    > what the historical record reveals. Though the
    > Michelson-Morley experiment
    > long ago refuted the existence of a universal "ether," many
    > theorists, who
    > call themselves "natural philosophers," continue to reject
    > Einsteinian
    > physics. Ever since Einstein, physics has grown increasingly
    > at odds with
    > common sense. The "natural philosophy" meme succeeds because
    > it exploits
    > our desire to maintain a common sense physics. Thus a
    > discredited school of
    > physics persists on the basis of memetic propagation rather
    > than logic or
    > sense.
    > The dominance of physics in today's science has caused many
    > researchers to
    > assume that scientific evidence must resemble the sort of
    > evidence derived
    > from physics experiments. We might call this the "scientism"
    > meme. Thus,
    > instead of looking at the historical record for evidence of
    > cultural forms
    > that persist despite no longer making sense, we redefine memes
    > as semiotic
    > signs of environmental niches, because these can be analyzed
    > in terms of
    > "resources, energy flow, constraints, external and internal
    > pressures, life
    > and death cycles and rates, competition, cooperation etc."
    > This way we can
    > look like real scientists as we make lots of precise
    > measurements and
    > conduct statistical analyses while ignoring actual memes
    > altogether. Memes
    > are "repackaged as symbols" and "stripped of their causal
    > role," losing all
    > significance as they become subject to pro! per, "scientific"
    > study. In other
    > words, we save the meme by killing it.
    > Ted
    > ______________________________________________________________________
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