RE: The Status of Memetics as a Science

From: Trupeljak Ozren (
Date: Wed Apr 25 2001 - 19:12:47 BST

  • Next message: Trupeljak Ozren: "RE: The Status of Memetics as a Science"

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    From: Trupeljak Ozren <>
    Subject: RE: The Status of Memetics as a Science
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    --- Vincent Campbell <> wrote:

    > <Well, first and foremost, the purely physical capabilities to
    > destroy.
    > > 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.

    I am not very knowledgable on the specifics of Ebola, but tell me, does
    it affect animals other then humans? Does it affect non-mammals? Does
    it affect everything on the surface of the planet? Could it concievably
    destroy all the surface life on earth? Is there any bacteria or virus
    capable of doing that? If no, then there is your answer.

    > 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?).

    Yes it was. But we as a species survived the last 4 million years of
    different diseases, and I do not see why we shouldn't continue to do so
    in the future.

    > 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)?

    Yes, we can survive global warming without the danger to us as a
    species, simply through the use of our (meme-produced?;) knowledge.
    That does not imply that it would be easy, or that *all* of us would
    survive. Energy expenditure for such an undertaking would be prodigous.

    > <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.).
    Difficult, yes, imposible, no. People lived in Siberia without our
    modern technology. With it, we can have civilization there without any
    doubt. I was refering to the more exotic places where one can find
    bacteria, like deep undersea hot vents, etc...

    > <And extermination of bacteria has never been our primary goal.
    > There
    > > 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.

    Since the battleground of our modern drug industry against the
    antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria is my favorite research ground
    into the specifics of meme-gene interaction, I must confess that I do
    not agree with what you say. The mechanisms for finding the new
    versions of (non-toxic) antibiotics have been improved substantialy
    with recent advances in combinatorial chemistry, coupled with modern,
    ultra-high throughput screening systems (some of them can
    cost-effectively screen through hundreds of thousands of compounds
    withing the single day!)(that is *not* the same as discovering large
    numbers of new antibiotics, but it *is* the first step in finding the
    new mechanisms of attack on the bacteria). As I said before, the
    variations on the theme of resistance to antibiotics or new mechanisms
    of attack on bacteria, can go on forever (at least it seems so, now..),
    and the only thing that describes succes is relative speed with which
    one side reacts to new developments. Bacteria are very good at
    surviving because of their high mutation rate, and high proliferation
    rate. We, on the other hand, have all the computational and synthesis
    power of our technology behind us.
    The race goes on.

    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).

    Nuclear sterilization of the planet would probably do the trick. Would
    it be cost-effective?
    > >> 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.

    What is the difference? Are we not the most dominant species on the
    planet, at this time? :)

    > 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.

    I don't subscribe to the theory that cro-magnons were necesarily
    smarter then neanderthals. When the two races came into contact, you
    could see huga advances and changes in the neanderthals culture,
    indicating the possibility that they could understand enough of the
    "high brow" cro-magnon culture to create their own variations on the
    theme. Their apparent less developed spoken language ability might have
    been crucial in determining the relative backwardness and lack of
    complexity of neanderthal cultures. Which ties down nicely with the
    meme theory; if the medium is more complex, and able to produce more
    mistakes in copying without invalidating the meaning too much, you get
    a very vital and robust, ever-changing, ever more complex culture.
    Just look at the science itself: its truth engine uses the modified
    process of evolution as a way to change itself constantly. And it does
    become more diverse, more complex, more able to tackle widely different
    In a way, religions seem to be the neanderthal cultures in the world of

    > >
    > <Look at a bunch of recent articles in Nature (and similar
    > periodicals)
    > > 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.

    That is all right. Neither am I. But I am putting up a good fight,

     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.

    Er, no, I claim that having the most complex culture makes us dominant
    in the sense of our ability to destroy, command the release of god-like
    amounts of energy, and adapt to environemet. These abilities, although
    culturaly dependant, are not part of the culture (at least not in the
    normal sense of the word).

    > <Another argument might be made that complex cultures are actualy
    > quite
    > > 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.
    > Vincent

    I agree. Half of the time I even believe in it. Other half of the time
    I am optimist...;)

    There are very few man - and they are exceptions - who are able to think and feel beyond the present moment.

    Carl von Clausewitz

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