Re: memetics-digest V1 #1468

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Sat 31 Jan 2004 - 15:27:49 GMT

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    At 09:31 PM 30/01/04 -0500, jeremy wrote:


    > Lashley's (1950)
    >thirty-year research agenda suggests that memes cannot be "a [distinct]
    >in the brain". Lashley found that the brain is a learning machine, with all
    >areas acting as worthy substitutes for any other area; lesions reduce
    >in proportional amounts (i.e., more destruction of brain, greater
    >complexity of
    >task --> more disruption).

    I am familiar with this work. It does not present any problems for memes being patterns, even distinct patterns in the brain. I could use holograms as an example, or better, Stego. A friend of mine, Romano Mochado, wrote this program which distributes the bits of a message into the lowest bits of a large graphic image. The fact that you can't see a text file distributed into the low bits of an image does not prevent it from being there.

    Same way with memories or learning. They certainly are distributed widely in the brain. There is also no doubt whatsoever that they are there. Just like the Stego program can recover the bits in a text message learning/memories can be accessed by the brain. This is demonstrated every time a person recalls and uses the combination to a safe or a password to log onto their computer. (Or a phone number, or the way home . . . .)

    >(Note also that Scientologists like engrams. If you ever wanted proof that
    >Scientology was "not truth" -- and, therefore, "unsustainable" under my
    >comments about "long-term validity" and "short-term credibility" -- see the
    >official Church of Scientology page about engrams at
    > From the perspective of
    >Lashley's findings, despite Tom Cruise's "apparently credible" endorsement,
    >Scientology is necessarily bunk.)

    Unfortunately, just because something is not truth, bunk even, does not prevent it from being sustainable for a long time. Mormonism come from much the same memetic background as scientology. It's been around over 150 years now. Scientology depends on evolved in psychological traits, particularly attention rewards. (Which is why you get relatively high numbers of actors in it, actors are *highly* rewarded by attention, that's the reason they became actors.) Scientology is so nuts that it depends on an all out effort to suppress public information about it.

    I am under a court order not to tell you where to find out just how nuts and dangerous scientology is. In fact, a judge ruled that I can't even provide evidence of scientology's criminal actions to law enforcement. (Because it's a *copyrighted* criminal instruction manual.)

    >I grant that "meme as actor" has a physiological influence that will be
    >determined by the equipment of the individual who receives and decodes the
    >memetic message, leading to patterns of brain activity that could be
    >engrammatic-ish in the individual. But if memes can affect the physical
    >and aren't simply "ideas", then where do we draw the line? (And a line
    >must be

    Except for rare special cases, memes *are* simply ideas. We use the word in preference to "idea" when we are talking about the replication of elements of culture. Ideas, memes, in a brain do affect the physical world, but they are not really "actors" any more than genes are. We use the language of purpose and such words as "viewpoint" as shorthand for much longer explanations. The effects of replication and selection are such that memes or genes that are "are good at both" become more common. The effect is "as if" they had volition to increase in numbers of copies, but this is just metaphor.


    >This is also how
    >I'm going to tie this discussion into my earlier mention of Scientology,
    >that seems to be the en vogue topic around here.
    >Tom Cruise left the Catholic Church for Scientology because it offered him
    >something he perceived as being valuable. Perhaps he did this because Mimi
    >Rogers, whom he married shortly thereafter (i.e., a credible source),
    >him. Or perhaps he did this because he was disillusioned with
    >Christianity and
    >wanted something spiritual that also seemed rational.

    As an inadvertent student of this subject I can assure you that "rational" is not a word that comes to mind when discussing scientology. That cult, and as far as I can see all cults, captures the attention-reward pathway in human brains. That's the same pathway captured by drugs--which is why cult members show a lot of behavioral similarities to drug addicts. There is a paper where I expand on this topic here:

    >But, either way, he
    >literally took Scientology's ideas to the bank, as they took him to the
    >cleaners (which is likely, given what the German government has been

    You could support a heroin habit a long time on the kind of money people spend on scientology. People like Cruise spend hundreds of thousands being brainwashed into thinking they are infested with the spirits of murdered space aliens.

    >But Cruise's decision to mortgage his immortal soul wasn't
    >irrational from his perspective: there was some kind of cost-benefit analysis
    >that came out in favour of leaving one "church" for another. However, this
    >isn't what happens when Cruise talks about Scientology: People believe him
    >because he's beautiful (Halo effect) and because they feel they know him
    >(prosocial relationship). Decisions made on that basis have nothing to do
    >rationality, but with dreams....
    >Tom Cruise isn't worth listening to because he "knows stuff". But we listen
    >anyway. Tom Cruise has apparent credibility, enough that we're willing to
    >overlook his questionable beliefs so long as we can gaze instead at his rock-
    >hard abs.

    The very existence of "celebs" and their limited number comes from our long evolution in small tribes and the multiplier effect of mass media.

    >How far does our willingness to suspend disbelief go?
    >Judging by our armchair method of measuring meme-ness, Tom Cruise is a better
    >generator of memes (2,130,000 pages)

    On a par with web pages mentioning "Bill Clinton" 2,460,00, but way below God with 59,000,000

    >than Richard Dawkins (105,000), Charles
    >Darwin (791,000), and David Bowie (973,000) but not as good a meme
    >generator as
    >Britney Spears (4,470,000), Shakespeare (5,920,000), or the concept of
    >Evolution (16,100,000).
    >While this does return some of my faith in humanity (of course Shakespeare
    >Evolution are important sources of memes!), it disturbs me that David Bowie
    >should rank so low.


    Keith Henson

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