Re: Little Dutch Boy

From: Chris Taylor (
Date: Thu 02 Feb 2006 - 11:05:58 GMT

  • Next message: Chris Taylor: "Wham, bam, epigram"

    First off, I'm rubbish at replying a lot of the time cos I have too much work in the day and kids at night. Sometimes I can't help myself but that just makes a back log. C'mon lottery...

    But I do place huge value on the different perspectives we have on here and yours is as valuable to the gestalt as for example Ted's (but in rather different ways) or anyone else's, whether cluey and stupendously well-read (like so many on here) or clueless (but hopefully untrammelled by the fear of saying something stoopid). Me? The latter of course lol.

    Clearly that doesn't mean I should agree with stuff :D Friction produces warmth, agreement just leaves you chilly.

    This can go a bit far though -- a stand-up fight with personal insults is no fun (well I'm up for it actually, but it isn't terribly productive). For example, Kate sticking her neck out elicited some knee-jerk antireligious stuff that went much too far imho (respect for a different perspective ffs -- Ted throws belief into relief for us philos of soph and sciens), but on the whole it was a very interesting thread.

    What I love about this list (which btw is a lifeline for me, as I was always the bugger who would argue about anything, as much for the discourse as the conclusion and that is hard to get these days) is that we can go up a gear and discuss general principles without being bogged down by specifics. Sort of a prerequisite for anyone trying to shed light on memetics I suppose...


    > You are looking at this from the wrong end. Memes and teaching stories
    > *are* memes. Intercommunicating human minds are the environment for memes.

    Like Russian dolls. Memes within memes; memes made of memes. This is where the ecological analogies serve much better than the genetic/epidemiological ones (i.e. selection at the level of an ecosystem, which is generally both formed from hypo, and part of hyper ecologies (fast and loose with the terms sorry).

    > That environment changes and so do the memes that thrive or die out in
    > it. For example, a meme about a boy plugging a hole in a dike could not
    > exist before there *were* dikes. (I make the case that xenophobic memes
    > do well in stressed populations during the run-up to wars.)

    I still think that this must be nonsense. If the dyke broke, surely a child-sized digit is kind of the proverbial sticking plaster on a mortal injury? Obviously this keys into our notions of the 'greater good', but I'm sure there were many boys around that would've taken great delight in seeing a polder go back under...

    If this has any real sociological functionalist value, it is akin to the 'turn off a light to prevent global warming' / 'put your litter in the bin' thing; small acts can have big consequences (although on reflection, for this argument to work I think we'd need an army of Dutch toddlers and a dyke shot through like a teabag).

    > But the basic meme-theme of inclusive fitness oriented actions is one
    > that drives the propagation of this class of memes. I make the case
    > that such stories activate our own emotional drivers that would be
    > activated if we were in the (usually awful) spot of the protagonist(s).

    Now this gets at what really interests me about the EP analysis; ignoring specific behaviours, but thinking hard about how the
    'brain environment' (last really worked on by selection in the paleo-neolithic) might be structured to favour certain ideas; how/whether those ideas are kept in line by interaction with midbrainy stuff like emotions; how a meme pool might coevolve with its environment (the set of 'hosts') over a long time; and how a single instance of a mind can be deigned to actually generate memes internally that may never make it out (~memes) at many levels from an idea of self to muscle coordination.

    > Pascal Boyer says similar things about religious memes. In _Religion
    > Explained_ he provides list of "beliefs" that we can sort into those
    > that make plausible religious beliefs and those that do not. He does
    > not explain exactly *how* people can make such decisions, but we
    > obviously can.
    > He also makes the point that the kind of meme that becomes a dominate
    > religious belief depends on the level of the society. State level
    > societies have religions that are different in kind from the ones of
    > more primitive people.

    So is this like (ecology again) the one tiger to a mountain idea? Does organised religion in a sophisticated culture support more elaborate 'high maintenance' ideas? Shamans at the lowest level of extremely fragmented groups and an oral tradition just do 'worship the eagle that circles us on a daily basis', codices plus priests at the next level up, evolving ultimately to TV evangelism and megachurches at another). What sort of memes can evolve/invade/persist in these different environments?

    > I should reread his book with a deeper understanding of evolutionary
    > psychology.
    > Incidentally, Robert Wright, author of _Moral Animal_, an early popular
    > book on EP, says that popular authors have a better gut feel for EP than
    > any psychologist prior to the mid 1990s. That's because they are
    > turning on deep seated EP rooted emotions. Consider The Fellowship of
    > the Ring as an example.

    Lol. Is this not just something of an indictment of a century of psychology/psychiatry..?

    Cheers, Chris.


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