Re: what is a meme?

From: Douglas Brooker (
Date: Thu 29 Jan 2004 - 15:09:08 GMT

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    Chris Taylor writes:

    > That (split) post took a long time to say that this is a hard problem. It
    > also had some real howlers in it such as:
    >> it is impossible to get an account of social life by adding up the
    >> actions of individuals.

    Where’s the howler in it?
    > This sort of thing makes clear why this area _should_ be left to
    > biologists.

    It may make something clear to biologists. You must be one, no? What methodology did I use to reach this latter conclusion. Is it scientifically valid? What was the conclusion's empirical basis?

    Could you explain in more detail, for non-biologists, why biology takes precedent over other disciplines in this area? How can a biologist credibly refute the claims made by other disciplines when those disciplines are outside of the expertise of a biologist?

    >The danger of argument by analogies is clear, but while we are
    > finding our feet this isn't a problem. The argument about terms is just a
    > frame for the argument about the nature of the beast we seek to
    > understand.

    Is there a biological measure of when we "will have found our feet" so we will know when to stop using analogies. Will you make an announcement? Or, more likely will there just be the emergence of some sort of "consensus" amongst biologists, half-noticed, the kinds of intra-discipline consensuses that underlie hard (and soft) sciences, but which are largely unstudied or unremarked upon by scientists themselves. Or also likely, that the whole enterprise will be forgotten except in some future doctoral thesis about the history of marginal academic movements of the late 20th Century.

    If there is a metaphoric "beast" that you don't understand how do you know it is a matter for biologists? It may be of interest to biologists but for many it is not clearly a “biological” subject, and that biology can’t yet understand it suggests you’re ‘barking up the wrong tree’ or possibly unconsciously attempting to morph into social scientists: witness the phenomenon of the hyphenated biologist.

    You might consider inviting some anthropologists into your laboratories who will be able to describe to you the cultural activities in which biologists scientists engage while all the while you believe you are conducting science.

    P Rabinow, Essays on the Anthropology of Reason, Princeton UP 1997, looked at the French CEPH and suggests some of the fruitful work that can result.

    "the natives did not have a stable point of view but were themselves engaged in questioning their allegiances, their dispositions. Their culture was in the making. Further, it was partially my culture. Their self-questioning over how to shape their scientific practice, the limits of their ability to do so partially overlapped with my own scientifc practice."

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