RE: The Status of Memetics as a Science

From: Vincent Campbell (
Date: Wed Apr 25 2001 - 14:24:44 BST

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    From: Vincent Campbell <>
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    Subject: RE: The Status of Memetics as a Science
    Date: Wed, 25 Apr 2001 14:24:44 +0100
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    >> So, my questions are: What do you mean by dominance, firstly,
    >> then,
    >> secondly, how could/would memes per se allow for that dominance?

            <Well, first and foremost, the purely physical capabilities to
    > I think there is no question that we are the dominant life form on the
    > planet in that aspect.>
            It depends what you mean by destroy. Should an airborne version of
    Ebola (OK,a virus, but still a very simple organism compared to us) get out
    of Africa it could decimate most of the planets population. Just because of
    our increased medicinal capacity it does not prevent the likes of the Black
    Death, or the Flu epidemic occuring again (am I right in remembering the
    death toll of the flu outbreak in the 1910s was higher than that of WWI?).
    Perhaps this is a slightly pedantic point, I kinda know what you mean.

            <Second, the energy production/usage levels that
    > a life form has control over.>
            OK, I suppose this sounds reasonable.

            <Third, our ability to adapt (either us to
    > enviroment, or enviroment to us).>
            Well, certainly human's capacity for altering environments is
    extensive, but our capacity for adapting to environmental change (including
    those we cause) aren't physiologically any better than other mammals
    particularly. I suspect bacteria could survive the worst conditions that
    global warming might produce- would we (acknowledging the first bit of your
    other comment below)?

            <These were my main criteria for
    > claiming human dominance. Note, that I am not claiming any sort of
    > permanence for that dominance; I am not talking about future, or the
    > past, just now...
    > As for bacteria, none of the reasons for their bid for dominance make
    > any sense on (my) that scale. So what if they have been around longer?
    > Dinosaurs have been around longer then us, and look at them now. So
    > what if they live on places on this planet that we don't; taking aside
    > the factors of size, the only thing actually stopping us from living in
    > these places is that we have gotten the better territory (in a manner
    > of speaking) and that we have no need to fill the other niches. (yet)>
            I think this is disingenuous to bacteria. Living, for example, in
    the extreme conditions of Siberia is very difficult indeed even with our
    technological capacities (e.g. petrol freezing in the fuel tank, machinery
    not coping with the cold etc.).

            <And extermination of bacteria has never been our primary goal.
    > are easy ways for doing it, but the cost (and I am not talking about
    > money) would be unacceptably high; what good comes from eradicating
    > them all anyway?
    > If you are refering to the continual fight of antibiotics against more
    > and more resistant bacteria, then you shoudl be aware that as long as
    > our computational capabilities are higher then the equivalent mutation
    > capabilities for bacteria, we win. We can stand on quicksand, if we
    > paddle fast enough. >
            Except we don't. We're always behind the game as a report in New
    Scientist recently suggested, one new antibiotic still not in widespread use
    yet already has bacterial strains that are resistent to it. I doubt we
    could eradicate them all if we did indeed want to (and we certainly wouldn't
    want to eradicate those that with live with symbiotically, like the ones in
    our gut).

    >> Surely memes are related primarily to culture, thus does having
    > > >complex cultural capacity has a significantly positive impact on
    > survival?
            <It seems that it does. At least so far. The more complex cro-magnon
    > culture seems to have been able to completely take over the niche
    > previously shared by a number of other (proto?) human societies, all
    > with markedly less complex and (arguably) less developed culture.>
            Hmm.... yes, quite possibly. Physiologically of course neanderthals
    were better adapted to the then pretty cold European climate. As such
    cro-magnon needed other kinds of advantages, of which better language skills
    were arguably a part. Still that's only a survival advantage in relation to
    human species, not in relation to other organisms per se. There's also the
    issue of niche construction though- that cro-magnons were simply more able
    to utilise different kinds of environmental resources than neanderthals, due
    to the former's greater intellectual capacities. Language/culture needn't
    be the only factor, nor even the key factor.
            <Look at a bunch of recent articles in Nature (and similar
    > about the beginnings of culture noticed among different chimpanzee
    > groups in Africa. We just might be the very first complex culture of
    > this magnitude to rise on this planet (since we do not seem to have
    > found any remains of the previous ones), and we sure seem to be
    > dominant enough.>
            Well, again, I'm not sure you're basis for dominance is necessarily
    that sound. Having, apparently the most complex culture, makes us dominant
    in the sense of having the most complex culture, but that's pretty
    tautological. With no other complex cultures in other animals to compare,
    it's difficult to judge. It's not like the Roman circus where one could put
    a lion up against a tiger to see which wins.

            <Another argument might be made that complex cultures are actualy
    > instable and liable to self-destruct from a variety of reasons. That
    > would explain quite a lot, too...:)>
            Now, this could indeed be a very important point.


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