Re: On Gatherer's behaviourist stance

Mon, 7 Sep 1998 13:50:07 -0400 (EDT)

Subject: Re: On Gatherer's behaviourist stance
Date: Mon, 7 Sep 1998 13:50:07 -0400 (EDT)

and finally, Mario

On Mon, 07 Sep 1998 08:38:17 +0200 Mario Vaneechoutte
<> wrote:

> I completely agree with these thoughts of Aaron. It is not because our
> for discovering the workings of the brain are still limited (although
far less
> than Derek and possibly Paul claim: neuroscience is advancing rapidly),

If you can show me an internal meme, I'll be the first to admit I was
wrong. Can you suggest what such an internal meme might be? If
there are replicating internal neural configurations, then I am
wrong. I just don't think there are such things. But if you can try
to falsify my claims at the neurobiological, then fair enough. [I
read quite a lot of neuroscience and I see no grounds for your
optimism, in fact the decline of 'representationist strong AI' since
the late 1980s makes your position less and less tenable]

that we
> should study only behaviours and the material artefacts which follow
from this
> behaviour.Imagine that biologists would have decided to consider bird
> building and bird nests as genes, because it was too difficult to study
the genes
> theirselves.

There must be a genetic component to nest building, but there is no
single 'nest-building gene'. The downfall of 70s sociobiology was
precisely because it posited all manner of 'genes for x' which simply
couldn't be demonstrated. Likewise there is no 'schizophrenia gene'
in humans (or at least after 20 odd years of molecular genetic effort
it still stubbornly refuses to reveal itself). There is a genetic
basis to schizophrenia, yes, but no 'gene for' it.

Likewise we suffer from a proliferation of 'memes for' things, which
cannot be demonstrated. Sociobiology collapsed because it was poor
genetics. Internalist memetics collapses because it is poor

>That is what Derek proposes: the brain is too
>so let us
> call the artefacts the memes.

I do propose that, but I fail to see how the bird's nest argument is

> Wouldn't we better work on methods to
> catalogize
> ideas inside heads,

only if you can isolate and quantify them

> than catalogize dead third
> hand objects (which has
> been done
> already anyway). As Aaron says, there are a lot of methods to do so.
> How about
> asking questions?

We should ask questions, but how can you ask questions about things
that are not there? (again if you can show they are there, that's
another matter)

> Derek's claims that genes could be presupposed to exist since their
> could be studied phenotypically, while thoughts (or mental memes) do
> segregate in such a manner and thus cannot be presupposed to exist, are
> valid.

No, I don't say that memes must 'segregate' or be in some way
strongly analogous to genes. What I say is that segregation and
assortment phenomena provided the early geneticists with a means of
demonstrating genes, even though they could not isolate them or look
at them directly. There is no equivalent in memetics.

>I keep repeating that finding analogies between memes and
> chromosomal
> biology - the biology most people know of - are doomed to fail.

I agree, but I don't propose that.

> When
> you consider
> how plasmid genes in bacteria segregate you get a rather similar picture
> to that
> of memes:

No, not at all. Plasmids are strings of code which are physically in
bacteria and are transferred between them (I don't presume to give
you of all people a lecture on microbiology - my point here is simply
tht human brains are not like that). It's a very poor analogy.
Richard Brodie the other day was making precisely the same point to
me, except that instead of plasmids he was using computer viruses.
The error that you and Richard and Aaron make is to presume that the
brain is a repository for code strings.

Plasmids or computer viruses provide no meaningful indication of how
the human brain works.

>random recombination of very different genes held on a
>plasmid is
> possible, like there is free recombination of very different thoughts
>from very
> different lineages inside our brains.

What evidence do you have for any of this? I used to think the same,
but I gave up. It's just too rickety a structure to hold up.

> I am interested in memetics to understand how people's world views
> constructed. Maybe that is not what most other memeticists are
interested in, but
> after all, religion was one of the things Dawkins had under
consideration when
> mentioning meme for the first time. I want to understand: How are
> influenced by other ideas. How are attitudes towards these ideas formed
> changed. How are emotions influenced by ideas (why do people kill and
torture or
> want to die for abstract concepts like 'Nation' and 'God', why do they
> about the word 'meme'?), etc. etc. A whole bunch of intriguing insights
is within
> reach.

> Behaviours and material artefacts will learn us little about this.
> Studying artefacts will learn us nothing if we can't look inside the
mind. E.g.,
> cave paintings of females by Cro Magnon people have been interpreted as
> part of fertility rites, while another more recent explanation says
that it might
> be just as well porn graffitti of male adolescents. What do artefacts
learn you?

When looking at Cro-Magnon man, they're all we've got. If they don't
teach us anything, nothing will. I certainly don't think we can, as
you say, 'look inside the mind' of Cro-Magnon man. It's difficult
enough looking inside the minds of contemporary living people.

> When there are so many intriguing questions to be answered about the
workings of
> our mind, counting artefacts simply looks boring to me.

And counting inner mental states seems hopeless to me.

Thanks for all contributions

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