Re: Gatherer's behaviourist etc

Tue, 8 Sep 1998 08:20:45 -0400 (EDT)

Subject: Re: Gatherer's behaviourist etc
Date: Tue, 8 Sep 1998 08:20:45 -0400 (EDT)

This message should have been posted yesterday, but I sent it to Paul's
personal account instead of the list by mistake.

First we have Paul:

On Sat, 5 Sep 1998 11:09:47 +0100 Paul Marsden
<> wrote:
> A Brief Reply to Derek Gatherer's
Behaviourist Stance.
> Ok Derek, I hope to have the chance to answer more fully in a commentary
> your stimulating and provocative paper but I'd like to make a couple of
> points partly because both Richard and Aaron (in an aside on software
> authorship) have weighed in on this one, but mostly because I think you
> touched on THE critical issue currently facing memetics - how to
> operationalise the paradigm - i.e. stop talking about it, and start doing
> it.
> First of all, it seems to me that you are objecting to only one part of
> thought contagion metaphor - the THOUGHT part. The contagion metaphor
> remains central to your (and most other memeticists, I believe)
> conceptualisation of the paradigm. Let's not throw out the baby with the
> bath water. The contagion metaphor is good.

Contagion phenomena are too apparent for contagion to be dismissed. To
dimiss contagion completely would be to deny the evidence. So yes, I
hope we can keep a firm hand on the baby while vigorously up-ending the

> Your key point is to restrict memetics to behaviour - which renders
> memetics
> SYNONYMOUS with behavioural contagion research is social psychology.
> is not necessarily a bad move, there's a wealth of empirical data to
> out there - but a critical one.) This is implicit in your paper but not
> underlined as THE "take home message".

Yes, I do propose this for two reasons:
a) social psychologists have lots of data, and closer we can align
ourselves with the social psychology approach, the more accessible the
data will become.
b) an occasional tendency surfaces in memetics to insist that we have a
'paradigm shift' that renders previous social science irrelevant. A
post a week or so ago said something about 'the ingrained errors of the
established social sciences' (I don't quote exactly). This is another
potential baby and bathwater situation. (Speculatively, I think the
anti-social sciences tendency comes from the fact that many
memeticists have backgrounds in biology or other even 'harder'
sciences, which tends to produce a kneejerk reaction against social

But I add the caveat that social scientists will have to be willing to
adopt a more evolutionary stance.

> Your reason for restricting memetics to behaviour appears to be due to a
> healthy scepticism of homuncular cognitive psychology which attempts to
> explain behaviour in terms of putative internal states. Whilst
> deconstructing REAL homuncular intentionality is entirely laudable (I'd
> nobody on this list believes in real irreducible individual
> it doesn't stop us from using intentionality as a heuristic device, or a
> Dennett puts it taking the Intentional stance (because the evolutionary
> of the Darwinian algorithm will give behaviour an "as if" intentionality.)
> The best way for me to accurately predict your behaviour, (or that of a
> chess computer) is to posit intentions, either by asking you what they
> or by simply assuming the chess computer "wants" to win - but of course
> there is no such thing as REAL, OBSERVABLE INTENTION THINGS in your
brain -
> it is just a STANCE that helps me understand, explain and predict your
> behaviour. Now my point is this: Rather than adopting the intentional
> stance for individuals (X did Y because X wanted to do Y), memetics adopts
> the intentional stance for the intention itself (X did Y because Y wanted
> to do Y). Natural selection operates on these heuristic devices "as if"
> they want to spread. Now, granted this is taking a representational
> of mind to a second order - but we should not confuse *real*
> with as if *intentionality*. Representational theory of mind is a
> device for explaining behaviour and nothing more, your intentionality is
> construct, not the other way around.

I suppose I am a 'methodological pessimist' in this regard. While
accepting the reality of subjective states and intentionality in the
Brentano-esque sense, and also accepting their importance in causing
behaviour, I am pessimistic about our abilities to quantify them.

> The proof of the memetic pudding will be in its eating, if memetics can
> explain and predict certain aspects of, and yes you are right, HUMAN
> BEHAVIOUR better then homuncular psychology. The whole point of positing
> internal states in psychology is to predict and explain behaviour -
> more. But these internal states are heuristics and NOT REAL in any naive
> sense.

Here I am less of a behaviourist than you are. I say they may be real,
but in any case are intractable material for the kind of quantitative
science we want to do. I am a 'soft' behaviourist in this respect.

> We just posit intentions with intention. To reiterate - for
> me, the
> beauty of the memetic stance - as I call it, is to explain human behaviour
> not by positing intentionality (historically and forecast) to
> individuals
> but to intentions themselves. Of course there is no such thing as a
> contagion, but if it helps me predict your behaviour then all well and
> Thus a meme is not a REAL object itself, it is a heuristic device, that we
> use to explain behaviour. In other words it is a functional object, not a
> real object.
> One way to keep every body happy in this debate would be to use not the
> behavioural contagion metaphor, nor the thought contagion metaphor, but
> SOCIAL CONTAGION metaphor - which implies neither bare-foot behaviourism
> universally rejected 19th century introspectionism. The SOCIAL CONTAGION
> metaphor would include the spread of both internal states (beliefs,
> thoughts, attitudes and intentions, and, critically, their resultant
> behaviour between individuals i.e. it is a social process. I know this
> seems a wishy washy middle point between you, and that happy couple Aaron
> and Richard - but I think by looking at memetics as an explanatory
> with an innovative heuristic device might prove to more useful, rather
> becoming to pre-occupied over the unanswerable question over the
> status of a meme.
> I know I have not addressed all the important points you raised - but I
> wanted to add my thoughts for what I think is THE central debate in
> at the moment.

Thanks Paul.

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