Re: Giving a presentation on memetics

From: Dace (
Date: Mon 05 Dec 2005 - 21:24:28 GMT

  • Next message: Derek Gatherer: "Re: Miroslav Hill responds"

    > From: Ben Dawson <>
    > On Tue, 29 Nov 2005 12:52:25 -0800, you wrote:
    > >You might want to bring up the concept of agency. In pursuing
    > >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.
    > >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
    > >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.
    > >
    > >ted
    > >
    > I'm curious about the last part of your reply: "Wherever human agency
    > is displaced, for whatever reason, memes must pick up the slack."
    > What exactly is human agency? If we look at memes as being the causes
    > of our behaviour in this way, then where does human agency come in?

    Memes are causative agents of human behavior precisely where human intention leaves off. We cede ongoing control over our actions when our behavior becomes habitual. Memes are habits that happen to be culturally shared as opposed to privately held. When we give in to unreflective cultural habits of thought and behavior, such as Nazism, human agency yields to memetic agency.

    > Is not all human behaviour down to meme agents? To use your example, you
    > put Nazism down to a Nazi meme, but surely people who aren't Nazis
    > would have the meme for "not being a Nazi", or a meme for being
    > something else that conflicts with the Nazi meme?

    People who aren't Nazis are just thinking for themselves instead of allowing a meme to exploit their psychological weaknesses.

    > I'm not trying to suggest that this is in fact the case, because I
    > don't know. I'm just interested as to what your viewpoint is. It would
    > seem as though this viewpoint is similar to Dennett's thinking on the
    > idea - ie that we *are* our memes and that free will is illusory.

    Incredibly, Dennett actually does believe in free will, which just goes to show how confused he is.

    > From: John Wilkins <>
    > On 03/12/2005, at 7:58 AM, Dace wrote:
    > >>
    > >>> 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".
    > > When I say "letting memes do our thinking for us," I'm speaking
    > > figuratively. Neither memes nor genes think, but they're both
    > > agentic, i.e. "selfish." In pursuing their goal of replication,
    > > both play a causal role in their respective fields.
    > Then you are replacing one metaphor with another,

    Selfish is a metaphor (hence the quotes). Agentic is not.

    > and in fact it
    > turns out to be the same metaphor. "Goals", "agency", "selfish" are
    > all based on a metaphor with standard human agency, and it fails in
    > evolutionary biology the same way it fails in astronomy.

    From bacteria on up, there's no biology without the recognition of goal-directed behavior.

    > What might
    > be misleading you is the use of game theory - the model of which is
    > the "rational egoist agent", but the *mathematics* of which happily
    > describe genetic evolution where there is no agency, no goals, and no
    > selfishness.

    A biology that reduces to math is not biology but math.

    > From: Ray Recchia <>
    > >Ted wrote:
    > >
    > >There's no cultural evolution without a shift of agency from meme to
    > >Like natural evolution, cultural evolution is characterized by punctuated
    > >equilibrium. Memes are nothing more than collective habits of thought
    > >behavior. When memes are in charge, culture stays roughly the same.
    > >when a new meme is unleashed as the result of conscious intervention does
    > >culture move forward. As agency shifts back from people to memes,
    > >equilibrium is restored.
    > Just thought I would jump in on this small point. The notion of
    > brainstorming for engineering or marketing ideas is a meme. The
    > method is a meme. The patent system is another. They are evolved memes
    > passed by cultural transmission that promote the creation of other
    > memes. Chromosomal mixing through sexual reproduction is an example of
    > something similar in biological evolution.

    I see your point. It's not that brand new memes appear with each human intervention but that the old memes evolve. And of course such evolution can also be spurred through random cultural "mixing." Thanks for the correction, Ray!


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