Re: Giving a presentation on memetics

From: John Wilkins (
Date: Wed 30 Nov 2005 - 02:48:01 GMT

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    On 30/11/2005, at 6:52 AM, Dace wrote:

    > Ben,
    >> I'm an undergraduate University student in Derby, England. As part of
    >> my coursework for the Philosophy of AI module I am studying, I am
    >> giving a presentation on memetics, which is an area of great interest
    >> to me.
    >> Does anyone have any ideas? Or any advice about the talk in general?
    > You might want to bring up the concept of agency. In pursuing
    > replication,
    > memes become causative agents within human culture. The result is
    > that
    > human agency is displaced by memetic agency. Instead of rationally
    > determining what we believe, we let memes do our thinking for us. An
    > obvious example is the rise of Nazism in Germany following World
    > War I. The
    > Nazi meme successfully replicated because it enabled Germans,
    > including
    > Hitler, to expel their shame and anxiety by shifting the blame for
    > defeat
    > onto Jews, Roma, etc. Just as natural environments select for some
    > species
    > over others, the psychological environment of post-Versailles Germany
    > selected for the Nazi meme. Wherever human agency is displaced, for
    > whatever reason, memes must pick up the slack.

    I think this is wrong for two reasons - one is that memes are not agents - they don't "think" any more than genes "strategise". The other is that whether or not agency is involved here (and in biology many organisms surely are agents with intentions and goals: the lion wants to catch the gazelle, and equally the gazelle doesn't want to
    *be* caught), evolution occurs. An evolutionary account of culture is irrelevant to the distinct issue of whether agents are involved.

    John S. Wilkins, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Biohumanities Project
    University of Queensland - Blog:
    "Darwin's theory has no more to do with philosophy than any other
    hypothesis in natural science." Tractatus 4.1122
    This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the
    Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
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