RE: The Status of Memetics as a Science

From: Vincent Campbell (
Date: Mon Apr 30 2001 - 16:34:57 BST

  • Next message: Vincent Campbell: "RE: The Status of Memetics as a Science"

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    From: Vincent Campbell <>
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    Subject: RE: The Status of Memetics as a Science
    Date: Mon, 30 Apr 2001 16:34:57 +0100
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            <I am not very knowledgable on the specifics of Ebola, but tell me,
    > 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.>
            I don't know details about Ebola, but I suspect the liklihood of a
    bacterium or virus that destroyed everything else isn't likely. But, what
    do we have that can do that? A nuclear war would not, likely, destroy all
    land life. This bit of our argument is a bit semantic. I think you're
    over-stating it, but I know what you mean, so let's leave it at that.

            <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.>
            Well, again, perhaps a bit semantic, but technically, as a species
    homo sapiens has not been around 4 million years, and along the way various
    different strains of homo have lived and died including, as we've previously
    mentioned, neanderthals, who could have been around as recently as 40000
    years ago. I belive current estimates for the emergence of modern man put
    it at around 150000 years or so.

    >>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.>
            Well, I think that's the point- most bacteria need do little than
    keep on dividing to cope with global warming, we need to do a hell of a lot
    more, so enegery expenditure is not a sign of dominance (as far as natural
    selection's concerned anyway).

    >> 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...>
            Again relative energy expedinture- bacteria can live places we
    can't, not because technologically in principle we can't live in such
    places, but because the energy expenditure involved isn't worth our while.

    >> 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. >
            I'm interested in where you think memes fit into this medicinal

            <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.>
            Well, it's not my field at all, so I won't pursue this beyond the
    original point. The most effective forms of life are those that are
    extremely simple and requires extremely small amounts of energy to survive
    (they say now that, in principle, some bacteria could survive being locked
    in meteorites for millions of years- 'The Andromeda Strain' could be true!).

            <Nuclear sterilization of the planet would probably do the trick.
    > it be cost-effective?:)>
            I'll bet you a tenner it wouldn't work :-)

            <What is the difference? Are we not the most dominant species on the
    > planet, at this time? :)>
            Jump in the sea, and tell me you're dominant whilst the tiger sharks
    bite your head off. See if you can out-run a cheetah on the Serengeti, and
    then you can tell me you're dominant. Lie in your bed, whilst the bed bugs'
    excretea damages your lungs etc. etc.

            <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.>
            That they could copy is one thing- that they could innovate is
    another. There's little evidence in the 10s of thousands of years prior to
    cro-magnon's arrival, of innovation in neanderthal tools (as far as my pop.
    science knowledge of this subject goes). Clearly, howeverm the cro-magnon's
    had innovated these new artefacts, implying greater innovative capacity.

            <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.>
            The trouble is there just isn't enough evidence, and we'll likely
    never get it, as to the relative linguistic capacity of neanderthals, to
    evaluate the degree of importance of language skills.

            <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
    > problems.>
            I'm not sure what you mean here. Could you elaborate?

            <In a way, religions seem to be the neanderthal cultures in the
    world of
    > memes...:)>
            Religion and neanderthals... sounds like an insult to neanderthals
    to me.

    >> 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
    > 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).>
            One could argue that some, even all(?) of these elements are
    culturally dependent. Adaptation to environment, for example, is driven by
    biological needs (at root).

    >> <Another argument might be made that complex cultures are
    >> quite instable and liable to self-destruct from a variety of
    >> That would explain quite a lot, too...:)>
    > > >
    > >> Now, this could indeed be a very important point.
    > >
            <I agree. Half of the time I even believe in it. Other half of the
    > I am optimist...;)>
            Well it's the principle of entropy at the end of the day. No wonder
    Bolzmann killed himself, IIRC.


    > =====
    > 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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    > ===============================================================
    > This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the
    > Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
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    For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing)

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