Re: A review of "The Selfish Meme"

From: Scott Chase (
Date: Wed 25 May 2005 - 23:21:32 GMT

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    --- Ray Recchia <> wrote:

    > A review in parts
    > (I haven't posted in over a year, so for those of
    > you who don't know me,
    > I'm an attorney living in the rural northeastern
    > United States. I have an
    > undergraduate degree in biochemistry, and I have
    > been subscribed to this
    > mailing list for over six years)
    > Distin does a good job of skewering critics of
    > memetics, pointing out
    > misconceptions and logical errors on their part. I
    > was also pleased to see
    > her attack Dawkin's characterization of religion as
    > a parasite. Memetics
    > should ultimately be about the properties and
    > characteristics of ideas and
    > their transmission, not about the truth or accuracy
    > of a particular set of
    > beliefs. I would say that "The Selfish Meme" is
    > probably closer to my own
    > thinking than prior works about memetics. Distin
    > starts and keeps her
    > focus on mental processes, a welcome relief from the
    > half decade
    > distraction following Susan Blackmore's effort in
    > "The Meme Machine" to
    > make memetics a behavior only field. As I've
    > discussed previously, a
    > purely behavior focused memetics leaves us unable to
    > examine the
    > transmission of abstract ideas unassociated with any
    > particular type of
    > behavior.
    > Abstract ideas and abstractions in general are the
    > central focus of
    > Distin's book. Distin refers to them as
    > "meta-representations". "Representations",
    > according to Distin are our
    > mental concepts of specific items. So for example,
    > I might have
    > representation of a a stick. A meta-representation
    > is an awareness of a
    > property about the stick that can be applied to a
    > variety of situations and
    > sticks. So for example, recognizing that the stick
    > can be used as a
    > lever, and that levers can be used in a variety of
    > situations. Another
    > example of a meta-representation might be the notion
    > of "color" or
    > "quantity", specific abstracted qualities of the
    > stick or sticks that can
    > be applied to any number of different objects.
    > Memes in Distin's theory are meta-representations
    > that are replicated
    > between humans. Humans use representation systems
    > to replicate memes
    > (meta-representations). Language is representation
    > system that humans are
    > naturally pre-disposed towards, but we are also
    > capable of other developing
    > other representation systems, such as mathematics
    > and musical notation,
    > that are distinct from language but are somehow
    > offshoots.
    > I like the notion of meta-representations, and I
    > think that she is correct
    > in characterizing representation systems as the
    > major way in which
    > meta-represenations are replicated. Overall, I
    > think her book is an
    > important one that refocuses memetics on thought
    > processes.
    > Ray Recchia
    > (more in part II and possible III whenever I get
    > around to it.)
    Welcome back. I liked Kate's book. I need to re-read it sometime to re-acquaint myself with the details and maybe catch stuff (pun not intended ;-)) that I didn't first time around. I like her stuff on meta-representation especially, but I'm still an agnostic! Critical distance, man. Critical distance.

    I agree mostly on Dawkins getting carried away with the religion as mind virus stuff, but there are times when I've found myself leaning a little towards his view. Maybe it's the present climate in the US that's causing that for me (OK won't go too far down that hot button minefield). But overall I lean more, even as agnostic, towards the structural and functional side of religion in society (sans the contagious stuff). Plus I'm too fascinated by it in its varieties to take an overly negative view. Sure I'm no rasta, but how that emerged alongside Santeria and Voodoo in the Caribbean is something to be pondered. I just saw
    _Scream Blacula Scream_ last week and goofy as it was as a movie it got me thinking about Afro-Caribbean syncretism a little more, since voodoo was a subtheme in how Blacula (aka Mamuwalde) got himself restored to undead status, since he had burned up at the end of the first movie _Blacula_, due to sunlight. I can't recall off the top of my head, but wasn't the guy on
    _Nosferatu_ able to walk around in broad daylight? The tangent of vampire themes could be an interesting topic. How the heck did I get from religion to vampire movies in one paragraph?

    I've got a friend who's going to let me borrow
    _Blackenstein_ so my knowledge base of early 70's blaxploitation will increase just a little more.

    I think someone made a query on memetics and law quite a ways back on the list and I might have mentioned your name, because I remembered your background in law. Biochem also? That's an interesting combo. Ever do DNA evidence stuff?

    Another law guy JM Balkin wrote that book _Cultural Software_ that I mentioned on the list several times. I need to try to have a go with thaat book again some time.

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