Re: Sticky Memes

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Tue 24 Jan 2006 - 22:16:30 GMT

  • Next message: Keith Henson: "Re: [Bulk] Re: Sticky Memes"

    At 03:27 PM 1/24/2006 +0000, Kate wrote:

    >Whereas there are other memes that are more "sticky" in the sense not only
    >of being harder to forget but also in defending themselves against
    >rivals. E.g. in language - not just natural but in other representational
    >areas like music and maths - the original system we learn seems to "get in
    >the way" of our learning an alternative later. So it's not just that the
    >meme itself is retained (as I've retained the flat earth or phlogiston
    >memes) but its "activity" - that's not quite right: its tendency for us to
    >act upon it - is sticky too.
    Memes, Evolution, and Creationism

    Copyright 1989, the authors. Copyright 1990 Institute for Memetic Research. A close version of this article appeared in Vol 1, No. 1 of the Journal of Ideas, September 1990.

    By H. Keith Henson and Arel Lucas


        "To sum up, our think ahead (and look back) capacities raise painful questions, for which our inference engines either invent "causes" or judge acceptable some meme obtained from others. The effect of these modules has been to open our minds to replicating "explanations" of our origin and fate. Religions and such "new age" philosophies as "cosmic consciousness" memes or beliefs satisfy the inference engines in most of us, providing explanations-- superficial or profound--to account for times before birth or after death."


        Anything statistically affecting survival can cause genetic bias to emerge if there is variation in the available genetic material. Edward Wilson and Charles Lumsden in *Genes, Mind and Culture* provide suggestions as to how units of cultural transmission may influence hereditary "biases" toward certain kinds of behavior via a cycle of both physical and cultural reinforcement over several hundred generations. It seems fairly obvious that if your tribe makes its living with chipped rocks, inability to learn how to chip rock will be bred out after a while. Likewise, we may have coevolved with religious memes to accept, and not question, the one of our tribe.

        "Memes of the religious class infect a majority of the people in most countries of the western world. The combination of widespread vulnerability to these memes and (normally) exclusive rule of one set of memes per mind has led one of us (Henson) to propose a "religious meme receptor site" in human mental space, with the usual properties
    (selective stickiness and exclusion) of chemical receptor sites. Selective stickiness means that only "religious" beliefs can occupy the site.

    "The "energy currency" to measure stickiness might be the lower level of anxiety from "solving" inference engine problems of the where-did-I-come-from/where-am-I-going kinds. Exclusion provides a test of what *is* a religious belief, and forces us to include (for example) communism in the class of competitors for the site. Unless our analogy is misleading, the "site" may be shaped/prepared by other memes
    (concepts) and experiences that are commonly learned in childhood.

    "Wherever it is in human mental space, the "religious meme receptor site" seems to be ROM like. That is, once occupied, programmed, or constructed, its content does not change, and its influence is not likely to change in intact people (though ablating a small area in the temporal region of the brain completely destabilizes beliefs of this category, according to Gazzaniga).

    "It is not that people never change religious beliefs, but rather that they are just relatively more stable in this aspect than say, political opinions. "Changing" religious beliefs seems to be more of a process of building a new mental structure and cutting the old one off from behavioral connections.

        "Religious meme receptor sites may be "close" in mental space to the
    "mortality censors" mentioned above. Religious memes may be protected by the censors, normally preventing us from thinking about (and potentially changing) beliefs near to this area.

    >You're right - this needs more thought!

    Been there, done that. :-)

    Keith Henson

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