Date: Mon, 9 Jun 1997 11:10:59 -0500
Subject: Re: What does the replicating?
An excellent thread. My thanks go to all contributors, especially Randy
who asked the question.
>The reason I see this as problematic for memetics, as applied to
>history, for example, is ...we are back to
>traditional questions of influence where we discuss the historical
>background and everything else we deal with in such arguments. The
>role of memetics doesn't seem to loom very large.
Just to recap the discussion as I read it, this concern was echoed and
restated. The concerns seem to fall into the following categories:
a) experiments will never show anything definitive
b) people doing memetics can't explain themselves or develop a common body
c) people doing memetics simply restate failed Platonic philosophy
One of the missing concerns is 'eugenics,' though Mr. Brodie's comments
about direct marketers approaches the subject. Eugenics is 'applied
Darwinism' or 'social Darwinism' in the popular mind. Since memetics is an
attempt to translate the successful genetics model into cultural spheres,
the complaint of 'memetical eugenics' is sure to follow.
Of course, these are the same arguments that were thrown at evolutionists
in the 1800s. We are still working with their ideas. They seem to have
survived well and made a significant contribution.
The fundamental issue Randy raises is epistemology. Our epistemological
outlooks strongly color the questions we ask and answers we accept. It
is not easy to teach traditional history in traditional institutions via an
examation of the population distributions of 'ideas' with emphasis on their
fecundity, fidelity and longevity (the evolutionary perspective). These
issues don't seem to enhance the replication of traditional values in
student minds, nor accellerate one's journey to a tenured position.
Evolutionary epistemology clouds traditional conclusions about who 'we'
are, where 'we' belong or how 'we' got here. To an ardent student of
Western historical thought, there doesn't appear to be any inspiration in
Looking back at rewards garnered by evolutionists, one would have to wonder
why anyone bothered. Darwin is probably among the most famous and least
popular scientists of the 19th century. I suspect the biological
evolutionary perspective will continue to be unpopular for a long time due
to its limited fecundity relative to competitive perspectives. The outlook
for a social evolutionary perspective is probably much, much worse.
Memetics is no fast track to fame or fortune, it just seems a very
plausible direction to pursue after assimilating the biological
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