Re: To have a mnemon

Tue, 9 Jun 1998 12:04:51 -0400 (EDT)

Subject: Re: To have a mnemon
Date: Tue, 9 Jun 1998 12:04:51 -0400 (EDT)


I'm a little puzzled by your reference to 'shrill denouncements'=20
and 'attempts to summarily dismiss' memetics, in one of your=20
postings yesterday. I trust that you don't think that my=20
postings, or any of the other recent contributions by a few other=20
list members, constitute any kind of 'shrill denouncement'. If=20
you think I am motivated by any desire to suppress memetics=20
because I 'feel threatened at the very idea of analyzing how=20
certain cherished beliefs became so common', then you are simply=20

I have to confess that I have a great deal of difficulty=20
comprehending your system, and the more you attempt to explain it=20
to me the less I think I understand it.

You want to make mathematical models for subsequent empirical=20
testing. There's nothing wrong with that, but your model has to=20
bear a passing resemblance to reality. Even in quantum mechanics=20
(your background, I infer?) theorists were only driven to the=20
counter-intuitive by the overwhelming weight of experimental=20
evidence. Admittedly, the workings of the mind are a bit of=20
a mystery, but I don't think that they are so strange that you can=20
justify adopting a theoretical framework that is so arbitrary and=20
divorced from reality.

What you especially cannot do is to then call that abstract=20
mathematization, =91a solid and broadly unifying theory whose
time has come=92. Such relentless self-advertisement isn't going to=20
make you any friends among academics, and let's face it, if=20
academics don't buy your theory then it's never going to be=20
intellectually respectible. You may be engaged in a circulation=20
war with a certain Mr Brodie, but the rest of us aren't.

Less I be accused of flaming (sorry, Mr Moderator), or even=20
'shrillness', there are a few other more technical points I'd like=20
to raise:

a) your nomenclature or A and ~A suggests that a new born baby is=20
in a state of multiple ~A (infinite ~A, I think, but I won't start=20
that argument again). You do state for instance that 2=20
believing parents give birth to a not-yet-indoctrinated child, as=20
2A gives 2A + ~A. This would seem to be a clear restatement of=20
Locke's theory of the tabula rasa, (Locke 1690, II.i.2):

'Let us then suppose the mind to be, as we say, white paper, void=20
of all characters, without any ideas:- How comes it to be furnished? =20
Whence comes it by that vast store which the busy and boundless fancy=20
of man has painted on it with an almost endless variety? Whence has=20
it all the materials of reason and knowledge? To this I answer, in=20
one word, from EXPERIENCE. In that all our knowledge is founded; and=20
from that it ultimately derives itself.'

Replace 'Experience' (Locke uses capitals in the original -=20
they're not just added by me for emphasis) with=20
'heteroderivative mnemons' or 'memes', and that would seem to be=20
the basis for your theory.

and b) There have been a few other attempts at producing similar=20
'calculus' formulations of human interactions, notably by my=20
fellow Glaswegian Ronnie Laing, back in the 1960s. You ought to=20
be aware that these kinds of formulations, however mathematically=20
satisfying they may be, usually collapse because they are just too=20
unlike what actually goes on.

You ought to beware that you aren't repeating the mistakes of the=20
past. After all, you reinvented memetics independently of Dawkins=20
and then reinvented cultural trait tranmsission models=20
independently of Cavalli-Sforza. These are perhaps good ideas and=20
you should be pleased you had them too. However, you ought to=20
worry that you have also reinvented the tabula rasa independently=20
of Locke and Interpersonal Calculus independently of Laing.

These are not such good ideas (although they seemed like it at the=20
time) and you want to steer clear of them.


Laing RD (1967) The Politics of Experience. Penguin, London.
Laing RD, Phillipson H and Lee AR (1966) Interpersonal Perception:
A Theory and Method of Research. Tavistock, London.
Locke J (1690) Essay Concerning Human Understanding

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