RE: The Status of Memetics as a Science

From: Vincent Campbell (
Date: Wed May 02 2001 - 13:06:34 BST

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    From: Vincent Campbell <>
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    Subject: RE: The Status of Memetics as a Science
    Date: Wed, 2 May 2001 13:06:34 +0100 
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    > <Disciple is a follower of discipline; how does that imply blind faith?!
    > But, OK, if that is true for you, no prob. I was refering to the
    > meaning of the word in relation to scientific view that one needs
    > disciplined thinking to produce scientificaly valid results, as opposed
    > to wishful or some other kinds of thinking..>
            A good example here of the kind of cultural influence you've been
    talking about. The literal meaning of disciple may be as you say, but its
    most frequent use, in my experience, is in relation to the 12 disciples, so
    that's the association I make with the term. You're quite right though.

            <Of course that filters of sc. and rel. are not the same; filters
    > the religions are rarely the same. I never claimed that logical
    > thinking always produces truths (and I specifically mentioned that most
    > of the religious premises are out there, meaning, hanging in the air,
    > etc..).
    > We at least agree that ability of science to change itself makes it
    > different from most other religions.>
            The ability of science to change makes it different from religions,
    full stop. (sorry, 'period', for our US chums)

            <What does it mean, intrinsically weak?>

            Perhaps I'm using the term too loosely. What I mean is that the
    causal assumption here (that big statues of Bhudda may cause conversions to
    Bhuddism, and thus are a threat to Islam) is very weak as a justification
    for the actions taken (i.e. where's the evidence that this is going on at
    all, let alone to an extent to warrant the statues destruction?)...

            < What is the meaning of "intrinsic significance"? >

            What matters to science, then, is trying to understand genuine
    causal processes, not ignore or obfuscate them, or offer erroneous ideas
    about causal processes. I don't know if that's any clearer or not.

            <I was talking globally, too, just using a specific example. And as
    > as I know, movements on both sides of the race question use (and abuse)
    > science to prove their point also. Science seems to be as malleable as
    > religious interpretations of morality are, mainly because science does
    > not deal in ethics and morality at all. >
            Only when science is deliberately misunderstood or falsified.
    Racists cannot use science to justify their arguments (Cavalli-Sforza talks
    about this in his recent book 'Peoples, Genes & Languages'). To a
    geneticist, 'race' is a highly meaningless term, in the way it's used by
    racists certainly. All that Bell curve crap, is social science, not science
    and highly problematic at that (there are some recent authors, mentioned in
    New Scientist who think they've solved the IQ problem by saying the missing
    factor in previous studies is the extent to which individuals influence
    their own developmental environment). I say this as a social scientist,

            <And the only fundamental arbitrariness of religion as opposed to
    > science that I can see, is a choice of truth generator. Even that seems
    > to be an evolutionary choice, and not arbitrary one.>
            Could you explain this a bit more? I've a feeling I'm going to
    disagree :-)

    >>> <Ok, when I say new capacity for human behavior, and used
    >>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
    >>> 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).

            <The original argument was that science offered new capacities for
    > behavior, while religions do not; I claimed that they do, and offered
    > an above mentioned example.>
            I though the initial point was that science was a religion like any
    other- which I've been disputing- not that science offered new capacities
    for human behaviour (which it clearly does). Your example, thus, doesn't
    demonstrate your point, since there's nothing new about it, and I've given
    several examples to show this.

            I suspect at root of destruction of religious or other icons, is a
    very simple adaptive behaviour related to territory, that humans have just
    extrapolated as we tend to do. I think we'd need an ethologist to confirm,
    but don't many animals actively destroy rivals nests etc.? At root, this is
    the same thing. A slightly more elaborate version of scent marking perhaps?

            <You do not even try to understand, do you? I repeat, if you did not
    > have religions (or ideologies, whatever) in the first place, you would
    > not have one very specific capacity for human behavior, and that is
    > destruction of the monuments for that religion or ideology. All of this
    > only as an example of why the claim that science offers capacities for
    > h.b. and religions do not.
    > Now, if you have claimed that science offers MORE capacities for h.b.
    > then religion does, I might agree with you there. Anyway, not a
    > difference significant enough to prove that science is not a religion.>
    On the first bit, see above point. Again, the initial dispute was about
    science being a religion. I see nothing in your arguments to demonstrate
    this, despite my many indications of how science and religion differ.

            <The difference is quite a bit greater though, between us and
    > then between us and proto-humans, which is the reason why I claimed
    > humanity to have existed on earth for about 4 million years, in the
    > first place. Is it important for the rest of religion-science argument?>
            It may be if we require a resolution to the disagreement that is
    based on evidence rather than faith. If you want to believe science is a
    religion you're entirely free to do so. If you want to critically evaluate
    the processes of science and religion to genuinely compare them, then you
    need evidence. Of course, that in itself is indication of the difference
    between religion and science, but that doesn't seem to be good enough for

    >> <... and the only (I suspect!) huge differences that we have
    >> better developed brains and better resistance to diseases, and
    >> last oneas a direct consequence of the rise of civilization (and
    I am
    >> talking about the modern medicine at all.)>
    >> Well, no I think this last point is wrong actually. There's
    >> significant point of view that our sanitised society is actually
    >> making people more vulnerable to disease, e.g. rises in allergic
    >> in children, falls in general disease resistence levels etc.
    >> also mentioned the organisms who've exploited our environmental
    >> to our detriment.

            <I strongly disagree. Vast majority of the people on Earth do not
    > in sanitised societies. Conditions of life for almost 80% of humanity
    > are far worse today than they were when we lived in tribal societies;
    > diseases are still rampant, and are one of the main factors that affect
    > survival of specific groups of genes.>
            Well, doesn't this dispute your claims of dominance then? My point
    was about the developed world, where our presumption of sanitation etc.
    being generally beneficial has been problematised. This is well known in
    countries like the UK.

            <Although we have the technology needed to combat them, money for
    that is held in very few, very
    > weatlhy, countries, that do not give a damn about human suffering
    > elsewhere.>
            I wouldn't disagree with that.
            <Our current way of life in the first world societies might be
    > conductive to falls in general disease resistance, but on the
    > evolutionary scale, is way too short for genes to show that. Even last
    > 5000 years of civilised life (which generates an important factor of
    > survival: disease resistance) are short enough that this effect is
    > miniscule.>
            I wouldn't disagree with that either- but it contradicts your claim
    that increased disease resistance is a product of civilisation. Here too
    lies a problem for conceptions of human dominance- if we cannot adapt
    quickly to the environmental changes we have wrought, then we will not
    survive. The rate of change in the emergence of civilisation is too fast
    for genes to keep up, hence there are significant health problems that arise
    living in large cities etc. Hence, also the possible need for a new
    replicator to explain cultural change (the meme).

            Civilisation may allow greater survival rates, but that doesn't
    necessarily translate into greater disease resistance. Indeed it may
    maintain low resistance, as technologies allow the vulnerable to survive.
    When people become complacent about the need to use that technology, the
    incidence of some diseases increase again. This has been seen in the UK,
    where cases of TB have been on the increase again, despite mandatory
    vaccination in schools. Lots of kids don't get the jab, but aren't
    resistent, and those living in poverty conditions are thus susceptible to
    the disease.

            Resistance to disease and capacity to treat/cure disease are two
    very different things, aren't they.

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

            <Might be. Doesn't change a bit in my argument for dominance.>

            Well, it should.

            <As I said, if knowledge is not necessarily memetic, then proof #2.
    > And as for the spread of specious cultural practices, I agree, it might
    > be very interesting to find out.>
            It's not the idea that influence the genetic mutation of the
    bacteria or viruses, it's natural selection. Some members of a bacterium
    are killed by an anti-biotic, some aren't. Those that aren't eventually
    become the dominant strand, and thus the bacterium becomes resistent.
    Besides which, that 'idea' is not an arbitrary one, but one based on a
    contingent understanding of biological processes, and experimental evidence
    of efficacy.


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