Re: Memetic Parasitism

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Thu 21 Jul 2005 - 23:59:59 GMT

  • Next message: Scott Chase: "Re: Memetic Parasitism"

    At 05:32 PM 21/07/05 +0100, you wrote:
    >Chris Taylor wrote:
    >>Sorry -- EP still won't wash, and I've been partially party to
    >>most of the recapitulations of the arguments supporting it.
    >I don't think Keith's explanation was wholly dependent on its EP element.

    Actually it is. I can't blame people like Chris for rejecting EP out of hand. It is a profoundly depressing subject.

    >What I liked was two things: first the "memeoid" idea;

    Having a word for a human behavior such as suicide bombers does not imply that you understand it. I coined the word 20 years ago and it was only in the mid to late 90s that I had enough EP background to even start to understand it. The reason I was motivated is a saga in itself--kind of like people who get cancer sometimes become experts on their particular variety of cancer. I had a cult after me which isn't much better than cancer.

    >and secondly the distinction between this level of obsession, and tbe
    >psychological reasons why some people might become so obsessed.

    >The psychological side of the distinction doesn't need to be limited to EP
    >for that distinction to hold up, I shouldn't have thought - although
    >actually yes I would be interested in Keith's longer version of it.
    >I guess to a certain extent we're all capable of putting ideas/ideals
    >before genetic self-interest; or at least capable of putting ourselves
    >through short-term pain for long-term gain (think of gruelling sports
    >training regimes, tedious revision for exams, the pain of childbirth,
    >etc.). The question is why some people go to such extremes. What I
    >thought useful in Keith's post was the distinction he made between a study
    >of the extreme obsession itself, and a study of the reasons why some
    >people might be susceptible to it: pulling apart the memes and the minds
    >that act upon them.

    I would put it the other way around. Memes more often act on minds than minds act on them.

    Evolutionary biology makes the bold statement that every characteristic of every living thing came about as a result of evolution, that is random variation and non-random selection. That includes traits for behaviors in humans, ones as simple as drawing a hand back from a hot stove to as complex as our esthetic judgment of landscapes. Underlying behavior is neurological hardware and that hardware was and is still being shaped by selection.

    "In this view, the mind is a set of information-processing machines that were designed by natural selection to solve adaptive problems faced by our hunter-gatherer ancestors."

    The reason for the focus on the stone age is that all of our ancestors lived as hunter gatherers in little tribes up to the beginning of agriculture. There is good reason to expect there has been heavy selection pressure especially on northern farmers since then, but the stone age was 500 times as long and evolution is a *slow* process. Thus for the most part our psychological traits are those that made it more likely the genes of our ancestors would get into the next generation in a stone age tribe.

    Psychological traits include motivation.

    My motivation.

    Kate's motivation.

    Chris's motivation.

    And if you write about what motivates people, self included (and are unlucky enough) you too could be condemned by a high court judge--who himself it is a first class example of human motivations that were selected in the stone age.

    Ask yourself what motivations are most likely to get your genes into the next generation in a stone age tribe?

    Keith Henson

    >>>Keith Henson wrote:
    >>>>"Keith Henson has coined the name `memeoids' for `victims that have
    >>>>been taken over by a meme to the extent that their own survival becomes
    >>>>inconsequential ... You see lots of these people on the evening news
    >>>>from such places as Belfast or Beirut'. "
    >>>>End notes Second Ed. Selfish Gene.
    >>>>"Memeoid" is descriptive, but memetics is small a frame to get to the
    >>>>root of *why* people are susceptible to lethal memes, particularly ones
    >>>>that lead to behavior such as becoming a suicide bomber.
    >>>>Understanding *why* takes evolutionary psychology to explain or at
    >>>>least try to explain where humans got these really strange
    >>>>psychological traits.
    >>>>I have been ranting about EP, conditional behavioral switches and why
    >>>>humans are susceptible to certain classes of memes at some times and
    >>>>not others for years on this list.
    >>>>It's not a comfortable subject.
    >>>>Keith Henson
    >This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the
    >Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
    >For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing)

    =============================================================== This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing) see:

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