Re: meme as catalytic indexical

From: Dace (
Date: Mon 26 Jan 2004 - 18:25:11 GMT

  • Next message: M Lissack: "Re: meme as catalytic indexical"

    > From: M Lissack <>
    > Bruce's 3 Challenges:
    > Challenge 1: A conclusive case study

    One case study, no matter how convincing, is never adequate. While there's no definitive number of case studies that must be established for a theory to be convincing, it's a lot more than one.

    > The purpose of this is to clearly demonstrate that there is at least one
    > process that is of an evolutionary nature, where `evolutionary' is taken
    in a
    > narrow sense.

    As I've stated, that cultures evolve is a perfectly banal point that no one disputes. The question is whether such evolution proceeds according to a process akin to natural selection of genes. Can culture be regarded in terms of autonomous units that are environmentally selected?

    > This needs to be robust against serious criticism. In my opinion this
    needs to
    > achieve the following as a minimum.
    > Exhibit a replicator mechanism - this needs to be something physical and
    > in the mind.

    Since we are dealing with human culture, not nature, this point is clearly bogus. There's no such thing as "culture" without mentality. Without a human mind to interpret it, a painting is just so many pigments and a song just so many soundwaves. It's all in the mind, folks. If you don't like that, go to another field.

    > The mechanism must provide a testable cause of the claimed evolutionary
    > process. It must faithfully replicate with a low level of error or change
    > there must be some variation). There must be no doubt that particular
    > inheritable patterns have been accurately replicated many times over.

    This is no different, in principle, from perusing the genetic and geological record for speciation. Of course, such speciation must be matched up with the environmental context that caused it to proceed in one direction and not another.


    > Challenge 2: A theoretical model for when it is more appropriate to use a
    > memetic model.
    > What is needed is some (falsifiable) theory that (under some specified
    > conditions) tells us when a memetic analysis is more helpful than a more
    > traditional one. Such a theory would have to meet the following criteria.
    > It would have to make some sort of prediction of when a memetic model was
    > appropriate - i.e. it had explanatory or predictive value - and when not.
    In other
    > words when it is helpful to model a pattern that has been copied as a
    >interested meme.

    If memes are real, then we will see cultural trends taking on a life of their own, even when they are harmful to human interests. Since cultural trends that are not harmful can be chalked up to individuals simply following their capacity to reason, the memetic model is appropriate in pathological cases only. That memes also promote normal cultural developments must be inferred from the pathological cases.

    Why, for instance, is there a growing international movement dedicated to eliminating vaccinations? We know that the incidence of whooping cough, to take a single example, declined considerably when most children were vaccinated, while in those countries in which anti-vaccination hysteria took hold, whooping cough rebounded to 19th century levels. We also know that only a minute fraction of children react negatively to the vaccination, nowhere near the number who would otherwise have come down with his horrible illness. It's one thing for a single person to be irrational. It's quite another when numerous people get drawn into the same irrational belief. The existence of such collective pathology tells us that individual minds can be colonized, so to speak, by a pathological meme. From this we infer that our minds are also colonized by benign memes.

    > The theory would be workable on information that was sometimes possible to
    > obtain, i.e. not based on unobtainable information (e.g. the composition
    > mental states).

    Such as hysteria? Again, there's no memetics without considering mental states. Nor would there be any such thing as a genuine psychology (as opposed to the fraudulent "psychology" of behaviorism).


    > Challenge 3: A simulation model showing the true emergence of a memetic
    > process

    While modelling a process is valuable, it doesn't prove anything (though the inability to do so would be significant). So too, the equations developed to describe a model don't prove that the process is literally determined by those equations.


    Like any other social science, the main thing is a theory of what we should find and then numerous case studies demonstrating that we do indeed find it. The central delusion of memetics is that it makes the study of culture into a "hard" science. Trying to do memetics like physics will get us nowhere.


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