Re: Machiavellian Memes

Paul Marsden (
Tue, 30 Sep 1997 15:33:55 -0400

Date: Tue, 30 Sep 1997 15:33:55 -0400
From: Paul Marsden <>
Subject: Re: Machiavellian Memes
To: "" <>

Response to Nick Rose's comments : =

3) 'self' centered selectionism
>The last theme I want to comment on is the idea that 'we' as 'self'
determining creatures, with free will, can >choose to avoid certain memes=

over others. My position on this one has been stated many times before. =
>do not believe that 'free will' exists with which those sorts of decisio=
could be made. I would suggest that >the only 'agents' which could selec=
memes are the genetic predispositions which arise in the development >of
the brain, and the memetic predispositions which arise as that brain
becomes enculturated. =

Apart from the fact that being "enculturated" sounds quite ghastly, I'm
with you all the way on this one. However, in order to be persuasive to
Aaron and the like-minded "tyranny of the replicators" mob that seem to
dominate the discussion we will jolly well have to give a solid memetic
account of how the illusion of intentionality is so beatifully maintained=
: =

A logical Rylian ghost in the machine argument, or a "Why dualism is
folorn" Dennett type argument might show the shortcomings homuncular
memetics such as Aaron's which posit both implicitly and explicitly agen=
and intentionality as entities distinct from memes - that that when the
lights are on there must be somebody at home (made perhaps of mindstuff o=
soulstuff), but they are not effective at exorcising the "ghost". His
argument is slippery because it is so very intuitive, and because
handwaving and talk of the limits of current science effectively can drow=
the implications of non humuncularism (which is (IMHO) the main advantage=

of memetics as a paradigm in human psychology). An example of this
handwaving is Richard Brodie's response to one of my postingswhere he =

used a Roger Penrose "Shadows of the Mind" type arguement. The challenge=

is in our court not theirs; until we can account for a convincing memetic=

account for how and why the memes of intentionality and agency are so
compelling I fear we non-homuncular memeticians are doomed. (And, by the=

way, I don't think the Dennett argument that it seems to us that we are
intentional agents because we are programmed to think that we are,is
convincing (although I would like to). Any ideas? =

>4) A problem for theory?
>As memeticists we make a bold claim (some of us). The claim is that
culture performs one independant >ultimate function ... the survival and
reproduction of culture. "X was successful because X was a good
>replicator". The question is ... does it really? Or is it's ultimate
function the survival and reproduction of
>genes. =

This problem has been treated at some length by Plotkin in his excellent
book "Darwin Machines and the Nature of Knowledge". Plotkin argued that
knowledge (and therefore memes) is adaptive. Memes cannot spread without=

being encoded in the phenotype,just like genes, they need interactors in
order to replicate. Knowledge that carves nature at the joints gives the=

organism a survival advantage that allows the meme to reproduce, ie it is=

adaptive. In the same way that a wing of a bird contains knowledge of
flight and is adaptive, the meme complexes in aviation are also adaptive =
that it allows memes to spread to new and exotic places. It seems to me
that the genetic agenda differs from the memetic agenda only in the
direction of lineage. Genes exploit vertical transmission, and memes
horizontal, but both require the vehicule/interactor in the process. Fro=
this perspective there is no a priori reason why memes and genes should
evolve in the same direction. Just as most random variation is
non-adaptive in the case of the gene, most memes will also be non-adaptiv=
The survival of the human organism over time depends on our ability to
evolve a better than average chance of being infected by adaptive rather
than non-adaptive memes.

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