Re: Memes and associative learning inneurons

Price, ilfryn (
Fri, 6 Nov 1998 10:17:00 -0000

From: "Price, ilfryn" <>
To: memetics list <>
Subject: Re: Memes and associative learning inneurons
Date: Fri, 6 Nov 1998 10:17:00 -0000

Derek you write

>I was trying to say that Heidegger is not very compatible with
>science, and If replied:
>> Is this not precisely what memetics does.
>> As I understand the essential
>> Heidegger he addresses states of being (Dasein) languaged into
>> existence in
>> particular organisational contexts. (Pascal, R, 1990 Managing on
>> the Edge).
>> Selfish memetic patterns provide a good evoluionary explanation.
>> (Price and
>> Shaw 1998)
>That's an interesting take on Heidegger and not one that had
>occurred to me. I haven't read Pascal but your new book is my
>current bedtime reading, and I am enjoying it tremendously.

Thank you

>I always thought of Heidegger as a religious thinker, and I know
>there are people who have drawn parallels between him and various
>aspects of Hindu philosophy. As I understand it, his main concern
>is with our 'thrown-ness' (Abgeworfenheit? Pardon my lousy
>German) into the world, the contingency of our existence and the
>inevitability of its termination. Lacking meaning we find it
>through authenticity of personal choice and action.

My knowledge of Heidegger is second hand (like most people's I suspect) but
a significant strand in what became 'Shifting the Patterns' was my and my
co-authors experience of a school of change management which seeks to help
people see how they are thrown by their langiaging. The more academic
practitioners tend to trace its roots to Heidegger. (There was a 'speaking
as a change agent' list around for a while but I have lost touch with it).
Memes as the agents doing the throwing seem either a useful heuristic
device or a good scientific explanation of the phenomenon. Chapters five
through eight of STP draw heavily on this school of thought.

>But here lies the problem in squaring Heidegger with memetics. We
>are taken to be soi-pour-soi (I'll switch to Sartre because
>whenever I travel to Existentialismland I prefer to fly Air France
>rather then Lufthansa), and as such soi-pour-soi we are condemned
>to freedom. To deny this is, to the existentialist, the ultimate
>crime of mauvaise foi. 'We alone can defy the tyranny of the
>selfish replicators', said Dawkins. He didn't quote Sartre but
>the whiff of Gauloise fairly rises off the page.
>The problem is that we can't do this. There is no pour-soi
>lurking within us that can make such choices, that can engage in
>such acts of defiance. The whole thrust of memetics is towards
>the dissolution of the cultural individual. Just as a
>gene-centred biology blurs the role of the biological individual
>(as Gary Boyd says, following Gordon Pask, the skindividual) so
>does a meme-centred culturology diminish the role of the 'self'.

Here we may begin to part company. I will completely agree that the thrust
of memetics diminishes the (traditional) notion (s) of the cultural
individual. Yet it also offers what is probably the best scientific
paradigm around for explaining stuckness / throwness etc. Darwin's idea is
so dangerous because for the first time we begin to appreciate the
scientific explanation for our existence. We can explain what we could
before only observe in action. The meme 'meme' comes with the health
warning on the packet. Science (as Susan Blakemoor has pointed out is not
the only 'meme' to do this. She offers 'Zen' as another and Ray and I would
extend this to anything that involves 'Stopping the world' our phrase for
seeking to inquire into the memes behind a given context or 'choice'. I
would not defend it as the traditional choice of some cultural homuncular
individual. I would say that it is an act which, in complexity terms, takes
us towards the edge of chaos, the uncertainty out of which new and
sometimes extraordinary results are created. Science rather than Sartre say
I and a whiff of formaldehyde rather than Gauloise.
>The horrid truth is that we are just en-soi, not pour-soi. Just
>en-soi like all the other material objects in the universe. Now
>of course, you may want to refute that by saying: I am going to be
>free, I am going to make my own choices, and indeed any
>self-respecting (no pun intended) existentialist would say the
>same. But that's a religious move, not a scientific one.

view the distinction of truth and validity opens newer possibities for
action. I do not choose to be simply a carrier of my memes (though I agree
that is all I am) because not to far down that line lies the excuse for any
form of unacceptable behaviour. "Sorry Guv it wasn't me it was my memes wot
done it". Religion (any) has enabled various forms of civilisation and also
parasitised them for the benefit of a given religions replication. Post the
sterile debate of religion or science is the search for civilised societies
which escape the downside. Meanwhile a whole set of 'greed' memes drives
the western world closer to various forms of crisis.

>Part of the fundamental irrationality of religion in the 20th
>century lies in its insistence on personal autonomy when science
>is telling us that all that exists are impersonal forces. So
>that's why I don't see any room for Heidegger in memetics.

I (or my memes) find less problem in extracting from Heidegger that which
helps the cause of creating different results in the world, and less
problem living with and without 'scientific truth'


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