RE: The Status of Memetics as a Science (another long post)

From: Vincent Campbell (
Date: Tue May 01 2001 - 14:27:28 BST

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    Subject: RE: The Status of Memetics as a Science (another long post)
    Date: Tue, 1 May 2001 14:27:28 +0100 
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    >> <I agree. The difference is real and important one. The
    >> I was refering to when I call the science one of the religions,
    >> the similarities of memetic structure. The science memeplex seem
    >> have better "truth-generating engine" then most of the religions
    >> 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.
            <Why, what seems to be a problem?>

            For me, terms like 'disciples' are pejorative, implying blind faith.

    >> But doesn't this conflict with your
    >> view that science and religion use the same processes of logic?
    >> think that was the phrase you used).

            <Nope. Logic by itself can produce enormous amount of completely
    irrelevant and
    > obvious truths. You need good filters to discern what is useful. In a way,
    > logic is one of the underlying mechanisms of truth-engine, but not the
    > only one
    > and not the most important one. Both religions use it (science and
    > god-ones),
    > but science seems to have developed a way to use that mechanism to change
    > itself every now and then (Kuhn's paradigm shifts) which most of the other
    > religions have not.>
            So are the filters of science and religion the same in your book?
    As I said in my other reply today, there may be internal logic to a train of
    thought, but if the premises are illogical in the first place, then internal
    logic becomes irrelevant. Science's capacity to change, is indeed one of
    its merits.

            <Weak from our, "scientific" perspective. From the perspective of
    Islam scheme
    > dominant in Afghanistan, it was a needed move.>
            Exactly- the basis of religious decision making is instrinsically
    weak, even if its extrinsically strong (rather like military notions of
    proportional response, where knocking out Saddam's radar stations doesn't
    affect Sadam's rule but offers a symoblic indication of authority). It's
    the intrinsic significance that matters to science.

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

            <Culturaly dependant far more then entirely arbitray. South has more
    right wing
    > racists who use Bible to support their view, North has more civil rights
    > campaigners who use their Bibles for their goals. And they use different
    > Bibles
    > half of the time anyway.>
            I'm not talking about the US, per se, I'm talking globally. The
    slave trade was legitimated on biblical passages, but so were civil rights
    movements from the US to South Africa and elsewhere. The question should
    be, why do movements on both sides of the race question utilise religion
    rather than other tools- because religion is fundamentally arbitrary in a
    way that science is not, and thus is malleable to virtually any end.

            <Ok, when I say new capacity for human behavior, and used above
    example, I
    > wanted to point out two things: first, those people had an experience they
    > are
    > never going to forget, and that most of the other people on earth do not
    > get to
    > experience. Irrespective of whether similar things happened before.>
            ... and? I don't get the significance of this. (I'm not sure I
    accept it either, but I'll wait for an exaplanation).

            <Second, I wanted to point out that if you didn't have religions in
    the first place, you
    > wouldn't be able to go around and destroy their symbols, no? So that is
    > again a
    > new capacity for human beahvior.>
            ...and? Again, I'm not sure what you're saying here. There's
    absolutely nothing new about destroying the idols of religion, or for that
    matter other icons- after all destruction of statues of Stalin (or Winston
    Churchill in May Day celebrations in the UK), aren't religious icons,
    they're ideological ones. This has been done for centuries, thousands of
    years even. I really don't know what you're saying here.

            <Yes, as far as I know, yes...still, geneticaly we are not very
    different from
    > those first proto-humans at all,>
            Well we not that different still from chimps, genetically speaking
    (or in numerical terms, as recently announced from fruit flies)...

            <... and the only (I suspect!) huge differences that we have are
    better developed brains and better resistance to diseases, and this last one
    as a direct consequence of the rise of civilization (and I am not talking
    about the modern medicine at all.)>

            Well, no I think this last point is wrong actually. There's a
    significant point of view that our sanitised society is actually making
    people more vulnerable to disease, e.g. rises in allergic conditions in
    children, falls in general disease resistence levels etc. Wade's also
    mentioned the organisms who've exploited our environmental changes, to our

            Incidentally, I don't know if anyone's died from bed bugs directly,
    but I suspect indrectly they could be pretty damaging to those with
    allergies or asthma (also on the increase in urban environments).

    >>> <Since the battleground of our modern drug industry against
    >> > 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
    > > area.
            <If all the knowledge is memetic, then there is your answer. If not,
    then this:
    > a meme of fighting the bacteria with antibiotics has been present in our
    > medical culture for a number of years. It has always been devising new
    > antibiotics, and is behind today's research into the same. Now the
    > widespread
    > use of antibiotics in inappropriate way (specialy in US), has led to an
    > accelerated evolution of certain bacteria, with the primary mechanism
    > affected
    > being their ability to resist the antibiotics. You can see an idea, that
    > through use of humans, directly influences the genetics of a number of
    > species,
    > which then again influence that idea, and the whole function recurses
    > again...>
            Perhaps, but knowledge per se isn't automatically memetic. It comes
    back to the utility conundrum. I'm not interested in human practices that
    spread because they work, have overt utility, but in those that spread
    despite not having overt utility. That doesn't mean they spread by
    different mechanisms necessarily, but I feel we'd get a clearer insight into
    cultural evolution if we could work out why specious cultural practices

            As an aside to this, I was watching the World Snooker championships
    yesterday (BTW snooker is pool for grown ups :-)), and saw two players using
    a new kind of shot (the commentator actually stated is was a new shot
    becoming popular wih professional players). It involves playing a safety
    shot when very close to the object ball, and hitting the cue ball on the
    very edge, with the very edge of the cue tip (thus moving the balls only
    very slightly but not pushing them- which is a foul shot in snooker). It's
    usage as a safety shot seems very evident. I suppose to some the question
    of its origins and where and when it began to pass that threshold of an
    innovation to become one that's beginning to spread through the game is of
    particular interest. For me, why it spreads is straightforward, and not
    nearly as interesting as, say, why the game itself has persisted and spread
    (the spread has been culturally shaped).

            Of course, in the grand narrative of this thread- the interal logic
    of this new type of shot for snooker is clear, but the game itself, in terms
    of its rules, and the allocation of points to colours etc,. are essentially
    arbitrary (unless someone would want to examine social-cultural/semiotic
    significance of the use of white for the cue ball etc.).

    >> 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
    >> 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!).

            <What does it mean most effective? And what does that have to do
    with dominance?
    > Bacteria have been around on this planet since beginning of life; but we
    > still
    > refer to the Age of Dinosaurs, Age of Theraspids, Age of Trilobites,
    > etc...although there were far more bacteria around then in earlier
    > ages...That is
    > why this short period of about last 5000years is the Age of Men.>
            Yeah and many bacteriologists probably get quite annoyed about our
    tendency to designate ages by extinct species. Effective in the terms of
    natural selection. What it means in terms of dominance... well, that's my
    point entirely. I think you're using the term dominance inappropriately. I
    don't think it's an appropriate term to use in relation to humanity's
    position vis a vis other species. I think I know what you mean, but I think
    you're using the term too loosely.

    >> I'll bet you a tenner it wouldn't work :-)

            <Sure. I accept. ;) One needs only to burn out the atmosphere, and
    that would do
    > the trick for practically all of the life on this planet; and if we nudge
    > the
    > Earth out of orbit, nope, no life possible again...>
            That was, until recently, accepted wisdom, but arguably it's now
    conjecture. Recent hypotheses suggest that some bacteria, as I said, might
    be able to withstand outer space locked into rocks.

    >> 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.
            <But sharks are on the endangered species list (after almost 200
    million years
    > of being the Big Guys in the sea!!) because of us; cheetas are almost
    > extinct,
    > too, and not even by high tech hunters or heavy industry; how many people
    > die
    > out of bed bugs?!>
            See above for bed bugs, but this is missing the point. The
    environmental impacts affecting other species that are down to us, are
    undoubtedly having detrimental impacts on humans also. Our possible
    solutions to those problems are different in character, i.e technological,
    but not automatically more effective that some simple organisms' capacity to
    cope with environmental change that we create. Remember many of these
    changes aren't deliberate, but emergent out of our attempts to expolit the
    environment, and are actually clear indications of how badly we utilise
    environmental resources, often wiping them out before we realise that we've
    nothing in their place (Easter Islanders wiping out of trees springs to

    > <I want to point out that species dominance does not imply at
    > all that every individual member of the species is dominant over every
    > other
    > life form on the planet. As long as a species can, and does, succesfuly
    > take
    > over natural habitats of any and every other species, you can call it
    > dominant.>
            I didn't think you meant on an individual level. But again, as Wade
    stated there are plenty of organisms that have hitched a ride on our
    environmental manipulation of habitats- bacteria, viruses, fungi, insects,
    birds indeed there are probably example of all major genera that have
    exploited our manufactured environments.

            Look, I'm not disputing the destructive (and constructive) capacity
    of humanity, only that such capacity constitutes dominance. Even relatively
    obvious species that appear to be dominated by us, e.g. domesticated
    animals, are at least as subject to the whims of simpler organisms (e.g.
    prions that cause BSE, or Foot and Mouth as is currently ravaging the UK),
    as are we. It's just too simplistic a description of our relationship to
    the rest of nature to say we are dominant. And, from that, it becomes
    erroneous to then claim that 'dominance' is because we have culture (which I
    believe was your original point).


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