Re: memetics-digest V1 #26: metabeliefs

Aaron Lynch (
Thu, 16 Apr 1998 15:18:19 -0500

Message-Id: <>
Date: Thu, 16 Apr 1998 15:18:19 -0500
From: Aaron Lynch <>
Subject: Re: memetics-digest V1 #26: metabeliefs
In-Reply-To: <>

>Aaron Lynch responds to Adrian Kelleher, 14 April 98:
>> >>If you want to raise questions about validity of individual claims,
>> >>you might as well also doubt whether the person has the meme he
>> >claims to
>> >>have.
>> >
>> >By 'claims', I meant that I may claim to have been decisively
>influenced by
>> >my father in accepting Zen Buddism, but perhaps I am mistaken in the
>> >assertion. Here, I'm making a claim about an objective *fact*. This is
>> >the same as doubting someone has the meme he claims to have - you
>> >can't possibly be *mistaken* about what you believe at a given moment.
>I agree with Aaron that doubting someone's assertion about where they got
>a meme is not on the same level as doubting their assertion that they have
>that meme. However, I don't think it's as clear as he seems to think
>that one cannot be mistaken about one's own beliefs. Since beliefs are
>digital units, but involve many factors including degrees of understanding
>and conviction, it is perfectly possible, for instance, to state with no
>intention of deceit that one believes something to be true, but also to
>act in ways derived from contradictory beliefs. By adding "at a given
>moment", Aaron probably means to avoid this kind of fuzzy case, but I
>don't think that does the trick, as even "one's beliefs at a given moment"
>are not a completely discrete set that can be guaranteed
>clear and non-contradictory. See Dennett's multiple-drafts model of
>consciousness, as laid out in _Consciousness Explained_, for a description
>of how a person's belief set might not be as clear-cut as Aaron's remark
>would have it.
>--Eva-Lise Carlstrom


I agree with most of your comments. I do not say that no one should never
raise questions about the validity of claims about where one gets a meme or
whether one has a meme. Nor do I rule out the possibility of being mistaken
about one's beliefs. I just point out that if you want to question one type
of claim, then you may as well question the other. The fuzzy cases you
mention are one of the rationales for doing large-scale surveys. If your
empirical investigation is into matters of evolutionary population
memetics, then you may end up doing large-scale surveys anyway.
Nevertheless, good survey design must take into account the possibility of
large-scale self-reporting errors.

Physicists can perform magnetic moment measurements on atoms in "mixed"
quantum states, but still come up with a net magnetic moment for a
population of atoms. The analogy is imperfect, but perhaps worthwhile.
--Aaron Lynch

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