RE: Darwinizing Culture: The Status of Memetics as a Science

From: Vincent Campbell (
Date: Fri Apr 27 2001 - 17:09:57 BST

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    From: Vincent Campbell <>
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    Subject: RE: Darwinizing Culture: The Status of Memetics as a Science
    Date: Fri, 27 Apr 2001 17:09:57 +0100
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    >> No, you're completely wrong here. All religions have
    >> relationships to reality in terms of things like appropriate
    >> particular rituals that should be performed, the iconography
    >> etc.

            <I am sorry, I do not agree with you. Their choice of dress,
    > etc. is very much culturaly dependant, and definitively *not*
    > arbitrary.>
            Why do Roman Catholic priests wear black but the Pope wears white?
    A lot of cultural behaviour is essentially arbitrary (e.g. why in some
    sports if you run into an opposing player do you foul them- football, but in
    others they foul you- basketball?). Perhaps I should clarify what I mean by
    arbitrary- Blackmore's hunter comes to mind. Blackmore give the example of
    people copying a good hunter because of the good hunter's increased social
    status, but people may copy elements completely unrelated to his success as
    a hunter e.g. the colour of his arrow feathers. That's what I mean by
    arbitrary. Another example- the particular movements, dress or incantations
    of different rain dances (an old favourite in my arguments) is arbitrary,
    because no aspect of that dance has any impact at all on the liklihood of it
    raining. That is not to say that particular movements don't have cultural
    importance, or social consequences, but at root they are arbitrary.

            Having said that's one of the reasons I think memetics is a really
    interesting area, for offering reasons why initial arbitrary decisions- in
    all sorts of spheres, not just religion- become the dominant, even the only
    decision to be made.

            <Again, I was never arguing that the religious point of view is
    > particularly succesful as far as giving you the power over environement
    > goes. I actually said quite the opposite, on a number of occasions.>
            But that's at the root of the difference between science and

            <Your usage of word arbitrary cofuses me. What is arbitrary in
    > developemnt of communal rituals? These do have a tendency to evolve or
    > devolve as the time passes, but *not* in an arbitrary way! The rituals
    > are very much the reflection of the contemporary culture that produced
    > them (Olympic games, modern ones, were started in the time of the
    > widespread proliferation of massive sport events at the turn of the
    > 19/20th century, for example).>
            See above comments.

            <Very arguably. If you have noticed, both of the symbols actually
    > associated with Christ. If they chose, for example, a banana, then your
    > statement about arbitrary use of symbols might stand to closer
    > scrutiny.>
            It's the weight of significance, or degree of association that is
    arbitrary. Ever seen 'Life of Brian'? The sequence where the crowd begin
    chasing him is what I'm talking about here. Decisions about which elements
    of Jesus' life are significant enough to turn into the dominant icon
    representing that fate are arbitrary in the sense that I meant above.

            <And there are reasons why the cross symbol prevailed over fish;
    > look how much the contemporary christianity is based upon the ideas
    > presented by the apostles, in which death, torture and pain were the
    > most common associations with the faith in Jesus as new Messiah.>
            I didn't say there weren't reasons, I said that at root decisions
    about significance are arbitrary. Once you've decided Jesus is the son of
    god, and not all the other sect leaders of the day, then it makes sense to
    equate things he did with appropriate practices etc. But arbitrariness is
    very dangerous- look at Islam, were different factions base their practices
    on different members of Muhammad's family. Entire nations run themselves on
    such decisions- yet on what are those decisions based?

            <I agree. The difference is real and important one. The similarities
    > was refering to when I call the science one of the religions, are the
    > similarities of memetic structure. The science memeplex seem to have
    > better "truth-generating engine" then most of the religions have, and
    > that translates into direct power that its disciples can wield. >
            I'm not personally keen on the language here, but there are those on
    the list who'd agree with this without as much reserve.

            <Which can be explained by the difference in "truth-engines" that
    > two organisms have. The religious truth engine is usualy very static
    > one, relying on the extrapolation of basic principles of that
    > particualr faith, most of which do not seem to offer any good insights
    > into the workings of the Universe. This is not necesarily bad by
    > itself, but if you compare it with the self-modifying, quickly
    > adaptable, engine of science, it becomes evident that they are not even
    > of the same level of magnitude as far as discovering the truths of
    > universe goes...
    > Again, the difference in truth generating engines is the only big one
    > that I can discern between science and religion.>
            Well, that's my point entirely. But doesn't this conflict with your
    view that science and religion use the same processes of logic? (I think
    that was the phrase you used).

            <Did I say that they don't have a problem with alternative faiths?!
    > Where? I seem to remember using the example of how *did* they deal with
    > the problem of visible remainders of other religions...
    > As for interpreting the religious texts as arbitrary pracitice, again I
    > have to disagree, because you don't have complete freedom in the
    > interpretation. The religions themself quite often contain specific
    > instructions on how they should be interpreted (Torah books, Koran,
    > etc..)>
            I think this was problem of syntax. My cynical point was that
    blowing up the Bhuddist statues because of the dangers of other faiths was a
    pretty weak excuse given the way they routinely treat people who are
    supposed to share their own faith.

            Interpretation of religious texts is entirely arbitrary- people have
    always, and will always, continue to utilise the inconsistencies, and
    internal contradictions in religious texts to support any cause they like.
    Think of the racists who use the Bible to support them, and the civil rights
    campaigners who do likewise.

            <Really? And on what sociological or psychological analysys of the
    > Talibans do you base that statement on?
    Not on a detailed psychological analysis, on an anecdotal basis of what I
    said before- they imprison or kill active opponents of their regime, so if
    they've no qualms about doing that, then blowing up statues is a whim.
    [Also partly on the basis of a recent piece of investigative journalism on
    UK TV, where a journalist filmed the taliban undercover and saw many of the
    fighters out in the sticks doing plenty of things that don't fit the formal
    Taliban line].

            <Yes, the idea of destroying them is not new. But the act itself, of
    > driving there with a bunch of tanks and artillery, and spending a week
    > shooting ancient Buddhas, that *surely* must be an expression of new
    > capacity for human behavior. How many people before them did something
    > like that? Can you imagine being one of them? Telling stories to you
    > children : Ayup, ya betcha, your Pa was right there, shooting the face
    > off, and sureee I'm proud of that! ;)
    > It would be incredibly funny, if it was not sad.>
            What about the destruction of idols after the fall of the Soviet
    Union? Or for that matter some 75 years or so earlier the systematic
    destruction of churches in the Russian revolution? Very similar events
    indeed. I'm afraid there's nothing new, and everything altogether typically
    human, about this kind of thing.

            Of course, if in the first place, the US hadn't armed them, and the
    UK hadn't trained them to fight the Cold War on another front, maybe this
    wouldn't have happened....


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    Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
    For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing)

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