RE: reductionism in memetics

Richard Brodie (
Thu, 21 Jan 1999 10:33:16 -0800

From: "Richard Brodie" <>
To: <>
Subject: RE: reductionism in memetics
Date: Thu, 21 Jan 1999 10:33:16 -0800
In-Reply-To: <>

Rob Clewly: As far as I can tell we are in agreement save for one
interesting point.

>Of course interesting predictions can be made from such "single-level"
>models, but they do not necessarily have an ounce of accuracy or use
>unless they are very carefully tied in to the understanding of the
>"lower levels"...

Newtonian physics, for example, is highly accurate and useful in many
situations without any understanding of "lower levels." One amazing feature
of emergent systems is how little they can depend upon their substrate. Jack
Cohen and Ian Stewart say this better than I have in their great book
"Figments of Reality." There is a brief review of it at

>But understanding the genetic constraints on our perceptual and
>cognitive neural systems (e.g. by evolutionary psychology) *will* help
>us understand the nature of social interactions. This is taking two
>levels of representation much "closer" together, and much better suited
>for comparison. In your computer analogy, this would be more like
>knowing the operating system so that we might understand the
>system-specific constraints or extra features of high-level programming
>language packages.

Yes, that is exactly what I was trying to say, apparently ineffectively.

>You say you are excited by the interactions between the social level and
>the evolutionary psychology level, so surely you acknowledge that evol.
>psych. constrains the form of social interactions (loosely speaking). So
>why do you then claim that we can proceed in memetics without any
>understanding of lower levels?

I guess I'm kind of cheating by DEFINING evolutionary psychology as the
level of description that matters for memetics; i.e., the constraints and
influences on learned behavior that result from the biological nature of the
human beast. I may be completely wrong about this, but it's just my hunch
that these can be described for that purpose at a level far above neurology
without much loss of predictive power.

Richard Brodie
Author, "Virus of the Mind: The New Science of the Meme"
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