Re: The race is on

Mario Vaneechoutte (
Thu, 17 Sep 1998 08:15:57 +0200

Date: Thu, 17 Sep 1998 08:15:57 +0200
From: Mario Vaneechoutte <>
Subject: Re: The race is on

Aaron Lynch wrote:

> At 08:14 PM 9/16/98 -0700, Tim Rhodes wrote:
> >I was at the dentist office yesterday and while waiting for my appontment I
> >began to leaf through an issue of Time from March 6, 1995. The cover story
> >was on the conflicting theories of how old the universe is. The following
> >paragraph from the article seemed so relevant that I copied it down:
> >
> >"Tenson between theory and observation is part of the normal course of
> >science. It keeps both sides honest, and, at those rare times in history
> >when the two lock horns irreconcilably, it can lead to nothing less than
> >full fledged scientific revolution. Without such clashes, in fact, we'd
> >still believe that the sun orbits Earth and that disease is caused by evil
> >spirits."
> >
> >In the end, I think the winner of the current clash in memetics will be
> >memetics itself, made stronger for the challenges to it from all sides.
> >
> >But for the short term, the camp that prevails will be the one which can say
> >with authority, "For memes of the type X, in the setting Y, the adoption
> >rate will be Z." and PROVE IT, conclusively and with emperical data from the
> >real world.
> >
> >My money is on the behaviorists to win this race, given the timespan
> >predicted before the neural camp has the data it needs. But even a tortoise
> >can beat the hare if the hare is too busy telling everyone how he's going to
> >win rather than just getting on with it and running the race.
> >
> >-Tim Rhodes
> >
> Tim,
> You are one of the partisans in this dispute, not a neutral arbitrator. You
> came out strongly in support of Gatherer on the second day of the
> "Gatherer's Behaviorist Stance" thread. Hence, it is not surprising to find
> you attempting to frame the issue in a manner partial to the behaviorists.
> This is not a clash between theorists and experimentalists. There are
> theorists and experimentalists in behaviorism, and there are theorists and
> experimentalists in cognitive and neurosciences and various schools of
> psychology. Any allusion to the demand that those discussing neurally
> stored information must first give data on the details of storage (i.e.,
> how the brain works) is also a partisan framing of the issue. The use of
> surveys and other behavior observations to indirectly detect neurally
> stored information has never been in question by those who agree that memes
> are instantiated in brains.
> Gatherer did not propose any experiments in his paper. I did propose
> experiments in my paper. In fairness, this does not mean that Gatherer
> cannot propose experiments. It might just reflect the fact that his paper
> devotes far more effort to attacking the work of others than to advancing
> his own line of work.
> If you want to run in a race for empirical corroboration of your views,
> that is fine. Indeed, it might be a better use of your efforts than trying
> to present yourself as some kind of race judge.
> --Aaron Lynch


I also would like to add some words here (and these are really the last).
You seem to introduce some kind of dualism which is not really always there. I
have been named a mental memeticist, in opposition to behaviourist memeticists.
My stance is that we have to consider what is going on in the mind to fully
understand what we can observe in the environmental world and that we also have
to try and understand how the environment influences what is going on inside the
mind. The last thing I would defend is pure mental memetics, and my reaction
against Gatherer's suggestions is that he (and Paul) is likely to make the
opposite error by studying only behaviour and artefacts, which are not
comprehensible and not interesting when you don't take into account the reasons
why people behave this or that way.
I plea for cybernetic memetics (to use Mark Mills' or? John Wilkins' terms),
which I understand as the study of the interaction between mind and environment,
as an evolving continuum of action and reaction.


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