Re: last issue of JoM

From: Scott Chase (
Date: Fri 27 May 2005 - 21:27:44 GMT

  • Next message: Kate Distin: "Re: last issue of JoM"

    --- Derek Gatherer <> wrote:

    > The last issue of the current incarnarion of JoM is
    > out:
    > Please excuse spelling mistake in the title of my
    > article (ooopps...)
    Hi Derek. Not kissing up, but I thought your article was the most constructive and reasonable of all of them. More on that later.

    There's certain things that grate on my nerves about the ways some memeticists approach their discipline. One of these pet peeves is exemplified by a rhetorical game played by Marion Blute in his article. What ever problems may exist with the gene concept, at least it has a good track record, from the pre coinage days of Mendel's factors, through the rediscovery and coinage of the "gene" through the modern synthesis and molecularization of the gene. I've tended to lean more towards the molecular and developmentally relevant conceptions than the evolutionary conception of Williams and Dawkins myself. If there's some fuzzy nature to the multiplicity of gene concepts, I think its a lame rhetorical strategy to say we should give the meme concept a similar break. Memetics must fight for itself without pointing to genetic fuzzy wuzzies.

    Blute also reveals the linguistic bias I've seen in memetics focusing on the "digital" encoding of linguistically relevant units such as phonemes and letters. Sure words are important but what are images? Chopped liver?

    Plus I'm not so sure I'd emphasize the importance of listening to parents over media or peers. What if your parents are rabid racists and your friends are more progressive (or minorities) or the media is conveying more inclusive messages? What if your parents are ignorant and peers are smart and concerned for your well beng and telling you things at odds with what the parents are saying?

    What if personally conveyed information (such as from friends) is leading you towards doing damaging stuff like trying dangerous drugs and media sources such as television news or afterschool specials are pointing to the dangers of such drugs?

    I do like that Blute brough up the emerging and important study of inteface of ecology, development, and evolution.

    David Dirlam's article also grated on my nerves for different reasons. Funny how he mentions Lashley for pointing to lack of a analytical unit in psychology. Maybe so, in toto, but Lashley was one of many who was searching for a unit of memory (the engram) and as I've said before the internalized meme (your nemesis) and the engram are in the same boat, but at least the engram doesn't have the extra Darwinian baggage to struggle with if the boat capsizes (bad analogy?). For an "in the noggin" approch to memetics, the neuromeme competes with or at least is complementary to the engram. Funny how Aunger left this one hanging in his book, dismissive of the engram and Lashley. See my previous detailed posts on this... Eminent (or prominent?) neuroscientist Steven Rose says he's hunting for Lashley's engram in _The Future of the Brain_ yet is dismissive of memetics. Should I value Aunger's approach or Rose's to this topic?

    The best neuromemetic approach I can sink my teeth into is that of William Calvin and he gives much respect to *psychologists* such as Lashley and Hebb. Heck, his hexagonal thingies are indebted to Heeb's cell assemblies and Lorente de No's anatomical observations and notions of reverberatory cicuits. There do seem to be cortical columns consistent with Calvin's theory.

    Anyway, Dirlam is using the rhetorical point that since psychology seems to be in trouble, it's opportune time for memeticists to pounce. Shall they colonize psychology like the Universally Darwinian sociobiologists and EP'ers or just save the day with the meme as magical unit of psychology? It's a little ironic that Dirlam is bashing psychology for fluffy concepts. How would academic psychologists in fields like social psychology, motivational psychology, or developmenntal psychology cotton to the notion of memeplex or think about gene or viral analogies for ideas? I especially loved the irony of Dirlam saying memetics has a history of self-criticism. Maybe some memeticists are self-critical, but are all of them? Is Dirlam?
       Edmonds, in his article, has a good point to make about whether memetics gives any "added value" to understanding phenomena. Using memetic lenses to recast phenomena in a new light might not actually illuminate anything more than cause confusing shadow effects (Plato's cave argument). One can mistake metaphor for reality. Edmonds is pretty harsh about the prospects and seems to be proclaimimg memetics effectively dead, but maybe we should check for vital signs. Can we feel a faint pulse still? Hmmmm...

    I think memeticists should approach things with more humility (am I breaking an ironymeter here?), instead of plotting invasions of other disciplines for territory to conquer, which seems to be what Dirlam was hoping for. If psychology is floundering due to funding problems or theoretical difficulties, can the memetic troops be rallied to the Jolly Roger. Will they need to do battle with the EP'ers first?

    Anyway, I liked your article because you're giving respect to other disciplines. That's important. Focusing on what has been done already in these disciplines could bear fruit. Sociologists, psychologists and historians might have important stuff to say and have laid the groundwork upon which memeticists could do a little tweaking here and there or do some good old fashioned Popperian falsification as you say. My *ad nauseum* tangents into history over the past several years always had a bit of the memetic approach at least implicit if it wasn't obvious. See my recent challenge on the topic of Ernesto "Che" Guevara's iconic image, for instance. My recent reading o body dysmorphic disrders and body image also carries a tad of the memetic blarney at least implicitly.

    Though agnostic on memes, it does bring some of the disciplines I'm interested in together, so I continue to follow it and though critical I see some stuff that's not too bad. I think that stuff that the critics like Dan Sperber and Maurice Bloch have to say is important and I have one of those tension of opposite things going on where I'm trying to grapple with the complexity of it all without succumbing to the simplifying allure of a single approach.

    So...if the journal is switching hands, what will become of the discussion list?

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