Re: Creatures of memetics

From: Dace (
Date: Sun 17 Apr 2005 - 23:37:24 GMT

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    Hi Steve,

    > Dace,
    > why is it that so many people respond so
    > negatively to the suggestion that memes might be
    > "alive." Are we (in general) threatened by the idea
    > that there might be something higher than human on the
    > food chain? I don't know...

    Yes, this is the basic problem. We don't like to think that our own mental spawn can turn against us and hunt us down for lunch. Not a pleasant thought. But then it's no different from a virus. (I'm just coming off a nasty bout with the flu, and I definitely feel preyed upon). Like a virus, a meme has no life outside the context of a living organism. Memes are alive in the sense that they participate in human life, meaning that human consciousness is not the only actor in the mind. Sometimes our thoughts think us more than we think them.

    If the humanist fallacy is to deny that human agency can be compromised memetically, then the reductionist fallacy is to claim that a mind is nothing more than a collection of memes. But then, as Bill Spight pointed out, we clearly have ideas that are not culturally transmitted.

    > I don't claim any seceret universal truths. For all I
    > know, our concept of memes can be reduced to the
    > concept of electro-chemical "memories."

    We can certainly equate memes with memories, i.e. memories of beliefs, tunes, styles, behaviors, etc., but equating memories with electro-chemical traces in the brain is not warranted. A memory is not the same as a "memory trace." While it's true that in order to remember something, you must activate a particular memory trace in your brain, once you do so, the trace loses its definite configuration, becoming completely fluid and unstable. At this point, the trace must be reconsolidated. As neuroscientists discovered, if the process of reconsolidation is blocked-- either by an electric shock or a protein-inhibiting drug-- the memory is lost forever. Normally, of course, the trace is reconsolidated, and the memory can still be accessed in the future. But how does this work? How do we account for our ability to reconsolidate a memory trace after it has lost the configuration that made it a memory trace to begin with? Where's the information on the basis of which the trace can be reconfigured? The only possible solution is that we literally remember the past, and this is the basis on which the trace is re-established.

    Point being that when we remember, we aren't just looking up information in our brains. The memory trace is not the memory itself but a means of accessing it. Brains don't remember-- they just help us remember.

    See New Scientist, May 3rd, 2003 for documentation.

    > - --- Dace <> wrote:
    > > > From: Steve Wallis <>
    > > >
    > > > We seem to have that in common with memes, that
    > > some
    > > > are short sighted, while others strive for
    > > synergistic
    > > > benefits.
    > >
    > > Memes are neither short-sighted nor far-sighted.
    > > They are not sighted at
    > > all. A meme either replicates and spreads, or it
    > > doesn't and dies. It
    > > "strives" only to survive, to maintain its place in
    > > the living system, much
    > > like genes in an organism.
    > >
    > > > Just as we humans are entering a post-humanis era
    > > and
    > > > recognizing the importance of the environment (we
    > > > can't live without one), perhaps memes will learn
    > > that
    > > > theiy can improve their lot by helping we humans
    > > > (after all, we seem to be their environment).
    > >
    > > Memes have no idea what humans are. We don't
    > > register to them. We're the
    > > background they never look at, the wallpaper never
    > > noticed. Under pressure
    > > to replicate in a memetically saturated environment,
    > > memes have no
    > > "awareness" beyond this struggle. Oblivious to the
    > > roles they play in
    > > shaping our cultures and lives, they proliferate at
    > > the expense of our
    > > autonomy and our capacity for creative intelligence.
    > > The more they stamp
    > > our thinking, the more routinized and predictable we
    > > become. It's the herd
    > > mentality. Memes are creatures of habit, and to the
    > > extent that our minds
    > > are memetically colonized, so are we.
    > >
    > > People learn; memes replicate. That a meme evolves
    > > in response to changing
    > > cultural factors doesn't mean it has "learned"
    > > anything about actual human
    > > culture. A newly emergent meme is just another
    > > groove to settle into,
    > > another direction for the herd to take. Like genes,
    > > which impose traits
    > > onto the emerging organism without having to "know"
    > > it for what it is, memes
    > > just go about the work of self-replication and let
    > > conscious agents, aka
    > > people, sort out what's beneficial and what's toxic.
    > >
    > > ted
    > >
    > >
    > >

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