Re: On Gatherer's behaviourist stance

Mario Vaneechoutte (
Tue, 08 Sep 1998 11:38:44 +0200

Date: Tue, 08 Sep 1998 11:38:44 +0200
From: Mario Vaneechoutte <>
Subject: Re: On Gatherer's behaviourist stance

Paul Marsden wrote:

> Richard said

To avoid confusion: I said that. Mario.

> >I want to understand: How are ideas influenced by other ideas. How are
> attitudes towards these ideas formed and
> >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
> quarrel
> >about the word 'meme'?), etc. etc. A whole bunch of intriguing insights is
> within
> >reach.
> Richard, unlike (some) other(s), you have bothered to research the
> literature of social psychology, which,as you know, has made these problems
> its central concern. Whilst your book was in part inspired by Dawkins and
> memetics, it also drew on and extended the work of the social psychologist
> Cialdini, Influence (1988, 1993).
> I suspect your point is a rhetorical one - but in case it was missed on
> others - You will find the answer to how ideas (beliefs, values, and
> attitudes) spread in society in the literature of social psychology.
> >Behaviours and material artefacts will learn us little about this.
> The act of war, persuasion, and torture and conversion are all behaviours.
> The ONLY way of finding out what "idea" you might want to attribute to a
> particular brain is for that "idea" to be behaviourally represented - i.e.

Is thinking or talking to myself behaviour? It is my impression that social
psychologists tend to deny that thinking even exists, since it results in no
observable behaviour or artefact. It is an illusion. Am I right? Than I have to
disagree with this kind of reasoning.

I do not have objections to behaviour as a means to study thought, my objection
against Derek's proposition is that he simply wants us to abandon studying
mental activities and look at behaviour as if it could exist without host (one
of his claims). It is not because methodology to study mental representations
of reality (concepts, mental images) or symbolic mental representations of
these mental representations (words inside our head) is problematic, that you
can simply change the meaning of the word meme into something completely else
and consider these problems as resolved or the questions as no longer relevant.

I happen to agree - but starting from fundamentally other reasoning than that
of Derek - that memes, when they are to be compared with genes - AS IT WAS
SUGGESTED BY DAWKINS - also through the use of replicator for both -, cannot be
mental entities (something Lynn Margulis appears to have said before), but that
rather something like printed texts can be considered as the true analog of
genetic information. E.g., such texts can be replicated like genes by a
processor (resp. press, polymerase), without prior transformation, just digital
But one should not confuse these textual artefacts which have 'digital'
informational content with pottery and church buildings.


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