RE: The Status of Memetics as a Science

From: Vincent Campbell (
Date: Wed May 02 2001 - 13:47:40 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 13:47:40 +0100 
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            <Well, then please tell me what is your problem there! There is no
    > to dance around so much...>
            I said quite explicitly, I don't think it's a correct term to use in
    describing our relationship to other species, because it's way too
    simplistic, and in some key respects, which I've outlined, clearly
    incorrect. I don't see how I could have been any clearer on that.

    >> That was, until recently, accepted wisdom, but arguably it's
    >> conjecture. Recent hypotheses suggest that some bacteria, as I
    >> might be able to withstand outer space locked into rocks.

            <I know that; but they can not reproduce at all in such a case and
    > need to return the planet to living conditions in order for them to
    > continute on. In every way, you have effectively killed and sterilised
    > the planet if you do any of the things I mentioned above.
    > Now is that relevant to the dominance question?>
            Well, no you don't need to return the planet to living conditions
    for them to carry on, that's the point. They do not need conditions to
    revert to current ones to survives, as they have the capacity to survive
    extremes of heat and cold, extremes of light and dark, extremes of oxygen
    excess and depletion etc. etc.

            I don't see the value in defining dominance (well, at all actually,
    but) in terms of highly implausible occurences. I suspect it is far more
    likely for a extinction level event to occur due to a large meteorite crash
    than for us to do it too ourselves. It's very much a 'so what?' kind of

            <Sure; that was what I was claiming also. But very rarely do we see
    > natural disaster, or some other animal species, producing such a huge
    > amount of problems, or change in environement, as we do. So yes, our
    > capacity for destruction is unequaled on this planet, and is one of the
    > factors why I claim we are dominant.>
            Dominance implies deliberate authoritative control, much of the
    major impacts we've had on the environment haven't been deliberate in that
    sense. Yes we're fucking the planet up, well whoop-di-do, aren't we clever.
    I just don't see why this important to you, other than to ascribe it all to
    culture, we seems equally wrong as calling us dominant in the first place.

            <Yes, and I answered to that in one of my previous posts; that also
    > shows our relative importance (compared to other species); same as
    > redwoods are the dominant species of redwood forests (everything else
    > seems to revolve around them, while the eco-diversity seems to be
    > rather poor), we create habitats for us, everyone who is useful to us,
    > and everyone else who managed to evade our attempts to destroy them
    > (for it seems that we only live peacufully with those who are useful).>
            But we can't get rid of those hangers on- we're not in total control
    of our environment, and altering environments to suit our needs, inherently
    suits the needs of a multitude of other species, many of which we wouldn't
    want to encourage. That is unlikely to ever change.

    >> Look, I'm not disputing the destructive (and constructive)
    >> of humanity, only that such capacity constitutes dominance. Even
    >> obvious species that appear to be dominated by us, e.g.
    >> animals, are at least as subject to the whims of simpler
    >> (e.g.prions that cause BSE, or Foot and Mouth as is currently
    >>ravaging the
    >> UK),as are we.

            <They are far more susceptible to our own whims (the example of that
    > calf that Blair saved springs to my mind)>
            Except that we were supposed to have slaughtered that calf, and it
    survived. So much for our dominance.

            <You could have stated that in the first place, no? ;P>

            I have done, at length.

            <If you disagree with an explanation of our relationship with
    nature, in
    > which we are the dominant species (by above mentioned criteria), then
    > state a better one! I am gladly going to use it if it is truly better!
    > Start by stating why do you believe it to be too simplistic a
    > description of our relationship with rest of nature,>
            I've done that already, with numerous examples. As with all
    organisms, our relationship to the rest of nature is essentially
    characterised by symbiosis. We often think we're in command, but there are
    lots of ways in which we continue to be as subject to other organisms as any
    other organism is. Regarding ourselves as dominant because we could kill
    everything if we wanted to, is both arrogant and redundant.

            < and why would that invalidate the idea that rise of civilization
    is behind our power
    > today. >
            I've done that too. If we're not dominant in any simple sense, then
    asking_why_we're dominant becomes a redundant question. We could ask how are
    we_different_to other organisms, and here it is a matter of degree, not of
    absolute differences. Other organisms are intelligent, other organisms
    communicate, other organisms, arguably have cultures and use tools. We have
    these skills to particularly high degrees, relative to other organisms, but
    these are all products of natural selection, not civilisation.

            <You could also elaborate on why you do not feel that current
    > explosion of memetic structures (and vectors) is the key factor behind
    > the power of our species.>
            First of all, I would have to say that memes are still hypothetical,
    not empirically demonstrated entities, and until they are they can't be key
    to anything (except hypothetically). If you think otherwise, the burden of
    evidence lies with you, not me.

            Second, again, the fact we have complex cultures is largely
    irrelevant to other species, except as indications of our intellectual,
    technological and communicative capacities, and these capacities are
    products of natural selection, not culture. Again, to argue otherwise would
    seem to require an awful lot of evidence.


    > =====
    > 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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    > see:

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

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