Re: Lamarckism in memetics (Rose and de l

N Rose (
Tue, 10 Jun 1997 11:15:03 +0000

Message-Id: <>
Date: Tue, 10 Jun 1997 11:15:03 +0000
From: N Rose <>
Subject: Re: Lamarckism in memetics (Rose and de l

Right, I think we're getting pretty close to the nub of my
argument here. The context has turned to 'what is a self?' and
'can a 'self' *do* anything'. The answer I think is yes, or no,
depending upon what you mean by a 'self'...

Nick wrote:
>>Memes *do* change, but it is random mutation, recombination and
>>permutation within and between sets of memes, copying error,
>>which alters memes _ not "conscious agents". What I am saying
>>that memes are not modified or selected by 'consciousness' or
>>'individual selves', but the environment; which includes gene
>>organisms, and other memes.

Tim wrote:
<snipped for space>
>We can assume ... that memes must change -- "mutate",
"recombine", and so forth. But the part >about "conscious
agents" apparently NOT being able to change the memes is where I
>First, I'm not sure what you mean by "conscious agent".

My response was directed towards Omar de la Cruz's claim that
people could consciously modify memes. Can 'consciousness' *do*
anything? I would refer anyone who thinks it can to Libet (1985)
Unconscious cerebral initiative and the role of conscious will in
voluntary action, The Behavioural and Brain Sciences, 8, 529-566.
I would also recommend Dan Dennett's, Consciousness Explained.
Descartes 'cogito' form of dualism is widely rejected by science
- not least because of the *huge* philosophical difficulties in
defending any kind of dualism. Dennett suggests that Descartes
legacy is the Cartesian Theatre - the belief that 'we' somehow
sit in our brains and pull the strings (and modify memes
presumably). This belief, in the Cartesian theatre, is what
Dennett refers to as the 'benign user illusion'. This is what I
was referring to as "conscious agency". IMO there is no such
thing - therefore it unsurprising that I hold that it can't
modify memes.

Nick wrote:
>>To trade philosophical traditions with you; the notion that
memes are somehow selected or mutated >>by conscious agents is a
form of dualism!

I hope, given what I've written above you can now see *why* I
would hold such a view. When you look inside the brain there's
nobody home - to paraphrase Dennett.

Tim wrote:
<snipped again>
>An interesting observation, tempting me to ask where these
illusions come from.

Dennett suggests that its a co-adapted meme complex. And, yes,
it's 'self' referential - in that it refers to a 'self': A
'self' that doesn't necessarily exist. Remember, memes don't
have to be true, they just have to be successful.

Tim again:
>Is the experience of self-existance ... itself a meme?

The *experience*? No. The belief that the experience of
consciousness is evidence for agency, or free-will, is certainly
a meme. Again, I find myself referencing Dennett's Consciousness
Explained. Even if you go with the 'hard problem' of
consciousness; e.g Chalmers, it's not really a problem for memes.
Memetics doesn't have to explain why 'consciousness' exists; it's
a fascinating subject, but beyond the immediate aegis of memetics
in its current form.
Dennett suggests using a heterophenomenological approach to this
kind of question. 'Consciousness' appears to make decisions,
have free-will, modify memes, etc, but all the evidence from
neuropsychology points to the fact that consciousness does not
have these abilities. The question becomes 'why do people
*believe* that consciousness has these abilities', to answer that
you need memetics. The Co-adapted meme complex which is the
belief in a 'self' that does things, is a successful one. We
must ask ourselves, as memeticists, why is it so successful. To
explain that I'll try and submit a paper to the JOM in a month or

Nick wrote:
>>This is central to any cultural evolutionary theory! To say
that 'consciousness' or 'self'

By this I mean the kind of 'self' that Omar was referring to; not
the co-adapted meme complex that Dennett talks about.

>>can select or modify memes, renders the notion of meme
evolution invalid.

>>The analogy would be to say that biological evolution proceeds,
but all the selection and mutation >>is carried out by God!

Tim wrote:
>An idea that has been seriously proposed.

I'm reminded of Paley's walk across the beach. He finds a watch
and from it's complexity and the interdependance of the parts he
can deduce that there exists a designer of the watch. By
analogy, he says, from the complexity and interdependance of
parts within nature we can deduce the existance of a designer of
nature; God.
The sort of memetics I'm interested in is the one that seeks to
finish the job that Darwin started. Darwinism can explain the
complexity and apparent design within nature without the need for
God. Memetics can explain the complexcity and apparent design of
culture without the need for free-will, or a soul. We don't need
God to understand natural forms, to reintroduce God flies against
Occam's razor.

Nick wrote:
>>The central conundrum ... is between free-will and determinism.
I'm 'simply' saying that human beings have no 'free-will' with
which to modify a meme.
(Phew! That'll open up a can of worms - cheers Tim)

>Indeed it has! And I'm glad you've done so, because these *are*
the issues that need to be considered.

I entirely concur. (At last!)

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