RE: The Status of Memetics as a Science

From: Vincent Campbell (
Date: Wed May 02 2001 - 11:37:01 BST

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    Subject: RE: The Status of Memetics as a Science 
    Date: Wed, 2 May 2001 11:37:01 +0100 
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    >> You're not seeing this at the right level. Once
    >> falsifies a hypothesis in science, that hypothesis is rejected
    > >> a significant lidealisation, and simplification, of course). In
    >>other words,if it doesn't work it's rejected. Religion is about
    >>to believe, in many cases especially when lived experience and
    >>understanding seem to contradict those beliefs. That's
    Kiekergaard's absurd leap of

            <I am very much aware of that leap of faith; it is also needed for
    > science of today. Ask some religious people whether they believe in
    > science of today, and you will find out that their knowledge of science
    > is very much a matter of their own belief; similarly, non religious,
    > but also non-scientificaly minded people show that they cannot find
    > distinction between scientific claims and claims of pseudoscientific
    > quacks, sects, etc. (look at all those new age movements so visible
    > today). I am trying to show here that unless you are scientist
    > yourself, or very familiar with the theory behind it (in effect, a
    > priest of science ;), the differences between science and religion seem
    > imperceptible.>
            That's a different point though isn't it? That point isn't about
    the actual nature of scientific or religious modes of thinking but how they
    are perceived by the kay public. On this point I'd agree to some extent,
    certainly a major popular misunderstanding of science is its capacity to
    offer absolute answers (e.g. does BSE cause CJD, and thus is it safe to eat
    beef), when the main thing to actually learn from science is the contingent
    nature of knowledge. I think this stems from the fact that public atttiudes
    have been, and in many parts of the world continue to be, dominated by the
    cultural institutions of religion, and thus their absolutist way of thinking
    comes to dominate popular attitudes. People seem to be able to copy with
    the most extreme hypocrisies and mistakes of religious leaders, but when
    scientists say they don't have the answer to a question, they get

            <Never claimed anything else. They both require belief, though.>

            Religion requires belief, science requires evidence.

            <Might be that my understanding is fallible. Thank you for showing
    > what meaning of the word arbitrary you choose. I still do not agree
    > with your belief, though; religious rituals have not developed
    > arbitrarily, but with very specific goals in mind, and these goals
    > affected the choice of words, movements, dress etc. Just because you
    > can not prove that they really work (or do not work) reliably, does not
    > mean that they are arbitrary.>
            No, well, in the sense that cultural needs shape rituals, you're
    right. As I say I'm talking about at root the relationship to some aspect
    of the real world could be regarded as arbitrary. My comment about
    witchhunts, in the other post, is a good example. Declaring the condition
    victims had as being bewitchment was arbitrary from the point of view of
    what was really happening, but entirely consonant with cultural attitudes at
    the time. In the same way, sleep paralysis used to be interpreted as
    inncubbi and succubbi, whereas now, in the developed world at least, it's
    often interpreted as alien abduction.
            So, in that sense you're right to say cultural practices aren't
    arbitrary, so maybe we were arguing at corss purposes here.

            <What is external logic? Are you refering to the correspondence with

    > phenomena in the real word?>

            < What does that have to do with logic? And
    > how does that prove that choices are arbitrary? I don't get it.>
            Witch-hunts. If people are experiencing unusual pain, spasms and
    hallucination isn't it logical to first of all consider whether they've
    eaten something that's disagreed with them, or been bitten or stung bysome
    poisonous plant/animal? In other words, to look for something in the
    external world as a causal factor. I suspect that at the time of the
    witch-hunts they probably did do this, they weren't stupid, but their
    knowledge was insufficient to confirm such a cause. Yet the symptoms
    remain, and the need for cause is still there. What do people then do?
    They pick something out of their culture that offers another kind of
    explanation (e.g. angry gods, demons, or in this case, witches). Such
    decisions are, as you say, shaped by the culture, so they're not arbitrary
    in that sense, but they are in the sense of the relationship to what's
    really going on. In this case, the choice of witches was a product of many
    social factors no doubt, but the one factor that it had nothing to do with
    was whether or not witches were bewitching people or not.

            Perhaps I'm strictly using the word logic correctly, but perhaps
    that's because I'm not really happy with the use of logic in relation to
    religious practices.

            <OK, a compromise. It is the next step in evolution of religion. It
    > still based upon certain axioms (that scientific method produces truths
    > about universe, etc..)>
            But it categorically doesn't do this. Science doesn't offer truths
    about the universe, it offers contingent knowledge about the universe that
    just happens to at least appear to be rather close to what's actually going
    on out there.

            < that have to be accepted on faith>

            No, scientific knowledge is contingent on the available evidence.
    You shouldn't believe anything a scientist says just because they're a
    scientist- ask them for their evidence.

            <it offers
    > understanding of the universe and our place in it; it offers "true"
    > magic thorough its offspring, the technology; it even offers hope of
    > finaly understanding the secrets behind human mind (arguably, soul,
    > too)...>
            Some would dispute science's capacity to answer such questions, or
    whether the anture of scientific answers to such questions would satisfy
    people. Look at the debates about consciousness, for example.

    >> That's the point; evidence-free assertions of absolute truth.
    >> couldn't be more removed from what science endeavours to do (i.e.
    >> truths contingent of available evidence).

            <Different truth engines, as I said before. What are the reasons
    > such absolute dogmatism in religion, as opposed to the more flexible
    > one of science? I presume they are just different survival strategies
    > for the specific scheme. And I would most definitively not go as far as
    > to say that the strategy chosen by scheme of science is better at
    > survival; majority of the people of earth are still religious (in the
    > old fashioned sense - excluding those whose religion is science ;).>
            The adaptive qualities of religion vs science is a different
    question. Dogmatism in religion stems from it not working without
    absolutes. Imagine a religion where core beliefs were up to the followers-
    in other words where followers could believe what they liked. It wouldn't
    be a religion in any meaningful sense of the term. Religions require
    dogmatism, science requries evidence and since one can never obtain all the
    evidence you need to prove something absolutely true, then science is always
    going to be contingent, and in principle open to change if new evidence
    comes to light. And of course, this allows science to continue to exist
    even with significant disagreements between its members as to accurate
    explanations of different phenomena.

    >> Again, then I don't think you understand religions at all.

            <Might very well be so; please enlighten me.>

            Well, I have been trying, somewhat hamfistedly perhaps.

            <OK, so how is the theory of "mutated cells" and "mistaken copying"
    > different and opposed to the one you advocate (familial squabbles
    > leading to different interpretations)? Isn't one the subset of the
    > other?>
            I think you're applying the biological metaphor too literally to
    social processes here (one of the criticisms of some memetics). There's
    something sigificantly different in nature between genetic information in
    cells, and spoken/written communication between individuals. One, for
    example, would be motivated mis-interpretation of another's comments for
    personal gain- does that happen in genetic mutation? I don't think so.


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