Re[2]: Robert Aunger essay

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Fri 14 Apr 2006 - 17:31:55 GMT

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    At 04:02 PM 4/14/2006 +0100, Robin wrote:

    >Thursday, April 13, 2006, 11:12:49 PM, Jesse wrote:
    > > In addition, memetics, in my opinion, should not and will not be a
    > total picture or explanation for human culture, but rather will become
    > the tool by which we understand how information transmits and changes
    > over time (strangely the electrical engineering courses I took in
    > communications principles gave me some interesting insight on memes from
    > this perspective).
    >I gave up arguing about this years ago, but maybe I should take it up
    >again. Memes are items of INFORMATION! Genes are extremely unusual in
    >being items of info that are stored only on one medium: DNA. Otherwise,
    >info can be and is stored and encoded in diverse formats. It might be on
    >DVD or video tape or in an encrypted zip file on your hard drive, but it's
    >the SAME film. Likewise, memes are encoded in behavioural patterns, neural
    >patterns, books and computers, etc, etc. It's not either/or but both/and.
    >Is there anyone at all out there, besides Tim Rhodes and (maybe) Jesse who
    >can see the sense of this?

    I see it, having made the same argument for years as well. I go a bit further that genes can be in any storage medium as well. The difference in these classes of information is that memes to have real world influence have to be in a brain, genes have to be in cells, and likewise a computer virus has to be in the proper computer/OS. Otherwise all three are all just inactive bits.

    Aunger is correct that memetics failed to become an academic discipline with the perks that entails. Instead, it make the jump into public common knowledge. (Google Results 1 - 10 of about 830,000 for memetics
    [definition].) But I don't think it has anything to do with "defining the meme," people understand it well enough. The problem I see is that memetics just isn't a big enough frame to ask interesting questions.

    Like "Why do we have cults?"

    Or "Why do we have wars?"

    Evolutionary Psychology, Memes and the Origin of War By H. Keith Henson

    Abstract: Evolutionary psychology and memetics are used to propose a model of war. Population growth leads to a resource crisis. An impending resource crisis activates a behavioral switch in humans allowing the build up of xenophobic or dehumanizing memes, which synchronizes attacks on neighboring tribes. Hamilton's criterion of inclusive fitness is invoked to account for the evolution of this species typical behavior. War as a species typical behavior in the EEA for humans is discussed, first as an attack response and second as unprovoked attacks. Unprovoked attacks are proposed to require the build up of xenophobic or dehumanizing memes. Evolved brain mechanisms are proposed to cause these memes to become more common when the subject population anticipates "looming privation." The well-known reduction in the ability of humans to think rationally in war situations is explained in evolutionary terms as a divergence in interest between the individual and his genes. The problem of avoiding wars is examined in terms of these mechanisms. Population growth at a higher rate than economic growth is proposed as the causal factor for wars in the modern world. This model and the "excess males" model make different predictions about where future wars will start. The model is then applied to analyze current events.

    (Unpublished, ask for a copy by email)

    Keith Henson

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