Re: the meme/brain problem

From: Dace (
Date: Wed 04 Feb 2004 - 21:49:48 GMT

  • Next message: Richard Brodie: "Virus of the Mind paperback"

    > From: M Lissack <>
    > too loose ted and not definable enough nor measurable

    When it comes to studies of culture and mind, the more precise the measurement, the more meaningless. As Galileo pointed out, you can't quantify that which is inherently subjective. The knowledge gained in the social sciences will never be as cut and dry as a physics equation, and it doesn't have to be.

    > how does the idea spread and does the how matter

    Ideas spread through imitation and communication. Show and tell.

    > how do you know its the same idea? and not just
    > similar word tokens?

    Miscommunication happens. This is one way memes evolve, similar to accidents in gene copying. Call it "memetic mutation." But this is the exception, not the rule. If it weren't for our ability to communicate accurately with each other, society at all levels would disintegrate. So too, we can imagine that what we sense has no bearing on what actually exists around us. Yet if this were the case we couldn't achieve anything, like getting lunch or peeing into the toilet.

    > the issue my article raises is actually a stark one:
    > will memetics be a field of study or just some pop
    > culture explanatory concept
    > answers like yours, keith's, richard's etc are based
    > on the idea that pop culture is "good enough"

    No. My answer is that accurate case studies are the basis of memetics. When examples of a phenomenon are collected systematically and subjected to extensive analysis, they cease to be anecdotes and become case studies. This is the basis of all epidemiology, whether social or biological.

    > Bruce's challenges are posed in the opposite belief.

    Bruce recognizes the importance of case studies and requests one definitive example. He also insists that we narrow the field by identifying where, specifically, the memetics model applies. I fully agree. I think the chief reason for the failure of memetics to be widely accepted as a science is its attempt to reduce all of culture to a memetic struggle for survival (and the corresponding illusion that this can render the study of culture into a
    "hard" science).


    > - --- Dace <> wrote:
    > > > From: M Lissack <>
    > > >
    > > > Ted writes:
    > > > "Its [memetics]role as a social science is to help
    > > > clarify the mechanics of cultural evolution."
    > > >
    > > > if this is the case then memetics has to have a
    > > unit
    > > > of analysis which can have a describable and
    > > > observable mechanics
    > > >
    > > > if all we have is "black box" mechanics we have
    > > > clarified nothing
    > >
    > > The unit of analysis is any belief or idea that
    > > spreads across a group.
    > > Let's take an example. I subscribe to a list
    > > devoted to the creation of a
    > > "standard upper ontology." For years the members of
    > > this list have talked
    > > about nothing but the creation of an ontology that
    > > can provide a common
    > > language for researchers in diverse fields. While
    > > they often drift somewhat
    > > into related philosophical discussion, one thing
    > > they've never done is to
    > > start talking politics.
    > >
    > > Until now. All of a sudden, they've been swept up
    > > in a discussion of Bush
    > > and the environment. It started when the first Mars
    > > rover landed. Someone
    > > thought it was neat and posted something about
    > > solving our population
    > > problem by colonizing Mars. Naturally, numerous
    > > people on the list were
    > > astounded that anyone could be so naive.
    > > Predictably, someone else remarked
    > > that we could hardly expect to terraform other
    > > planets when we can't even
    > > maintain a livable environment on this one. Pretty
    > > soon we were getting
    > > lessons on global warming. What happened?
    > >
    > > A meme is what happened. When the first person
    > > posted on a political
    > > matter, it reflected his private belief that this
    > > was acceptable behavior on
    > > a list devoted to ontology. By the time a few
    > > others had posted on
    > > politics, a shift in attitude had occurred, and this
    > > behavior was deemed
    > > acceptable. One person's belief had spread across
    > > the list, thereby
    > > becoming a meme. Along the way, the culture of the
    > > list had evolved.
    > >
    > > Why was this meme successful? Because it was
    > > selected by its environment,
    > > which in this case happens to be the minds of the
    > > participants. This
    > > notion, that it's okay to post on politics, appealed
    > > to listmembers at that
    > > moment. Note that the people who took up the
    > > discussion may not have
    > > consciously thought to themselves, "It's okay to
    > > post on politics." They
    > > were just thinking, "Someone's got to respond to
    > > this rubbish." But in the
    > > process, the meme dug itself in.
    > >
    > > To repeat, environmental selection can act as a
    > > mechanism of cultural
    > > evolution. The environment in this case is the
    > > mind. We can indeed observe
    > > the mind. As self-conscious entities, we do so
    > > routinely.
    > >

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