RE: Words and memes: Memes and religion/cults

From: Lawrence DeBivort (
Date: Sat Feb 09 2002 - 13:55:50 GMT

  • Next message: Lawrence DeBivort: "RE: Words and memes"

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    Subject: RE: Words and memes: Memes and religion/cults
    Date: Sat, 9 Feb 2002 08:55:50 -0500
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    My sense is that memes are value neutral. Memetics may help explain HOW
    systems of beliefs, e.g. religions, spread, but it does not favor such
    spread any more than it favors the spread of anti- or non-relgious beliefs.

    I _can_ see how figures in authority over systems that are largely
    belief-based would worry about the field of memetics, as it rather
    undermines the notion that beliefs are purely linked to truth and reality or
    some non-human authority, such as gods or religious tomes.

    Memes, as instruments of transmission of beliefs, are neutral in the same
    way that a hammer is: they can be used for purposes or effects that we might
    consider good, or bad but it has more to do with the designer and wielders
    of the contents of the meme than its intrinsic existence as the medium of


    > -----Original Message-----
    > From: []On Behalf
    > Of Keith Henson
    > Sent: Saturday, February 09, 2002 3:22 AM
    > To:
    > Subject: Re: Words and memes
    > At 08:09 PM 08/02/02 -0900, "Philip Jonkers" <>
    > wrote:
    > >Keith:
    > > > >We should be concerned with the pathological memes, cults and related
    > > > >social movements. Look at what the Pot Pol mutation off of
    > the communist
    > > > >meme did in Cambodia!
    > > > >
    > > > >Understanding that the religious wars in Europe were meme driven and
    > >given
    > > > >all the grief Nazism, Communism, and now splinters off Islam
    > have caused
    > > > >and are now causing, the study of memes and more important
    > *why* we are
    > > > >susceptible to memes like these should be a major topic of research,
    > > > >particularly modeling, with the output guiding public policy.
    > >
    > >Ray:
    > > > No offense but I think these are exactly the topics we need
    > to avoid at
    > >the
    > > > moment. First of all I don't want a developing memetics to become the
    > > > science of religion bashing and of everyone using it as a
    > tool to support
    > > > their political beliefs. One man's parasite is another man's
    > thoughtful
    > > > insight. One man's terrorist is another man's freedom
    > fighter. I am an
    > > > atheist myself but I have a couple of nuns in the family and the high
    > > > school teacher who had the most influence on me when I was
    > growing up was
    > >a > fundamentalist Christian. I have too much respect for these
    > people to
    > > > assume that their beliefs are just parasites and it frankly
    > upsets me when
    > > > people engage in that kind of simplification. After reading Joseph
    > > > Campbell's works I can see that religions play very important roles in
    > > > society independent of the truth of their premises. This
    > fledgling field
    > > > of study hasn't received a lot of public criticism because it
    > is presently
    > > > too low on the radar screen, but if it does pick up some
    > momentum a few
    > > > controversial over generalizations made here will end up
    > biting us in the
    > > > ass.
    > I dawned on me that I had made a similar statement way back in
    > 1987 in the
    > popular article I wrote for Analog: MEMETICS AND THE MODULAR-MIND. I dug
    > it up and found this 5 paragraphs into the article.
    > "As useful as these models may be, they are not without the potential to
    > seriously affect our cherished institutions. A good understanding of the
    > mechanisms of our minds and the dynamics that underlie the spread and
    > persistence of any social or political movement has the potential to
    > forever alter the way we think about all other social movements,
    > including
    > those of our own culture, religions, and nation. When viewed from the
    > perspective of tolerance that has been developing in Western
    > culture since
    > the Renaissance, the changes in outlook seem to be positive, but it would
    > not surprise me to find memetics condemned from the pulpit even more than
    > evolution has been."
    > >We all have religious people around us, in fact as far as I know I am the
    > >only atheist in the family! Although I understand that religion
    > was useful
    > >as a
    > >social glue in the old days, today, with increased communication, global
    > >cooperation, and mixing of ethnic groups I think religion is the major
    > >obstacle to achieve global peace and harmony and ultimately
    > global unity.
    > >Memetics
    > >identifies and emphasizes the irrational tenets of religions.
    > >Religions spread intergroup intolerance and fascist sentiments.
    > Memetics can
    > >help to paralize these nasty human traits by jettisoning religions and
    > >welcoming humanism.
    > Well, that's a nice idea. Let's take a look at it. Try
    > here:
    > Toward the bottom you will find humanists in the US at 29k for
    > 1990 and 49k
    > for 2001. The numbers are not very accurate since they were
    > based on about
    > 14 people in the sample in 1990 and 13 in the survey of 2001 (which was
    > half the size). For simplicity's sake, let's say they were doubling ever
    > 10 years and starting with a base of 50k.
    > 2000 50k
    > 2010 100k
    > 2020 200k
    > 2030 400k
    > 2040 800k
    > 2050 1.6 M
    > 2060 3.2 M
    > 2070 6.4 M
    > That seems like a reasonable size to have about the same level of
    > political
    > influence as the Mormons.
    > 2080 12.8 M
    > 2090 25.6 M
    > 2100 51.2 M
    > Which bring you up to about the level of influence the Catholics have in
    > the US.
    > I think you might be better off to try spreading the meta meme of
    > tolerance.
    > This is from an article of mine in 1988.
    > *******************
    > The study of memetics takes the old saw about ideas having a
    > life of their
    > own seriously and applies what we know about ecosystems, evolution, and
    > epidemiology to study the spread and persistence of ideas in
    > cultures. If you
    > come to understand memetics, I expect your view of politics,
    > religions, and
    > related social movements to be changed in much the same way the
    > germ theory of
    > disease changed the attitude of the medical profession about epidemics.
    > Memetics provides rational explanations for a lot of seemingly
    > irrational human
    > behavior.
    > A meme survives in the world because people pass it on to
    > other people,
    > either vertically to the next generation, or horizontally to our
    > fellows. This
    > process is analogous to the way willow genes cause willow trees
    > to spread them,
    > or perhaps closer to the way cold viruses make us sneeze and spread them.
    > Collections of organisms make up ecosystems. Human culture is a vast
    > collection of memes, a memetic ecosystem. The diagram below is
    > in terms of
    > increasing complexity.
    > Memes (groups form culture, stabilized by
    > meta-memes)
    > Organisms (groups form ecosystems)
    > Cells
    > DNA (informational though embedded in material)
    > -------------------------------------
    > molecules material
    > atoms
    > sub atomic
    > Once the informational boundary is crossed, biological models of
    > replication
    > and survival become applicable. Most of the memes that make up
    > human culture
    > are of the shoemaking kind. A rationale for the spread and persistence of
    > these ideas/skills seems obvious: they aid the survival of
    > people who in turn
    > teach the same ideas and skills to the next generation.
    > But a good fraction of the memes that make up human culture
    > fall into the
    > categories of political, philosophical, or religious. A rationale for the
    > spread and persistence for these memes is a much deeper problem.
    > The spread of
    > some memes of these classes at the expense of others is of
    > intense concern to
    > many readers of Reason. If we are to be effective at judging ideas and
    > promoting the spread of ones we think are more rational, it would
    > be useful to
    > understand how memes come about, how they use people to spread,
    > and why the
    > self-interest of the people who spread a meme and the meme's
    > "interest" are not
    > always the same.
    > ********************
    > The whole article is 30k and I my thinking has moved on from some of the
    > things I said in that article. Still, if there is no objection I
    > may post
    > it in 3-4 pieces.
    > Keith Henson
    > ===============================================================
    > 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)
    > 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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