A more "sciency"-sounding mysticism.

t (MemeLab@aol.com)
Tue, 30 Mar 1999 08:53:08 EST

From: <MemeLab@aol.com>
Date: Tue, 30 Mar 1999 08:53:08 EST
To: memetics@mmu.ac.uk
Subject: A more "sciency"-sounding mysticism.

In a message dated 3/30/99 5:46:36 AM Central Standard Time,
A.Rousso@uea.ac.uk writes:

<< Well, yes, a number of nails have been hit on the head here.
First, you would be right in assuming that Blackmore thinks
of "culture as some kind of active parasite", but she goes a
bit further than that. In chap 18 of MM, she concludes that
the self is an illusion and it is the memes that are
essentially running the show - so the word "parasite" is not
appropriate (nor even "commensal").
This brings into light an argument that has been running
since Aristotle and before - that of causality. To Blackmore
the memes are active and the "selves" are passive; I guess
Paul feels it's the other way round, hence his concerns
about the term "self-replication." Roger is right to point
out that it depends which way you look at things.>>

This is really rich. Instead of trying to re-conceptualize "self" in a more
workable fashion, we simply write it off as "an illusion". And yet our daily
language and personal experiences completely contradict this new more
"scientific" understanding. This reminds me of an ongoing argument with other
atheists that I am having on the AOL atheism boards. Apparently many of them
have decided that free-will is "just an illusion".

Now I certainly can and do understand the need to reconceptualize free-will,
to wrench it from more supernatural-dualistic paradigms. But to write off
their own and everyone else's corresponding individual experiences of actively
making choices and of an emergent self, as being "just an illusion" is every
bit if not more ridiculous than the more religiously-minded people's attempts
to attribute these experiences to supernatural causes. At least they are
addressing their experiences, however "simple-minded" and irrational their
religious approach. These other atheistic folks are foolishly denying them,
with a more "sciency"-sounding mysticism.

As supposedly more "confused" they may wish to treat the religious, I believe
that people who address their experiences, however irrationally, are at least
marginally more sane than those who try to escape and deny them with this new
or whatever brand of mysticism. While I certainly do appreciate the
evolutionary algorithm (I have been every bit as impressed with Dennet as the
rest of you), and do believe there IS a way to apply it to culture, this isn't
the way to do it. We certainly wouldn't claim that biological organisms are
"just an illusion", so why would we claim this for cultural

Some of us seem to think with a smugness that is reminiscient of Dawkin's
"Viruses of the Mind" (and don't get me wrong, I enjoyed it as much as any),
that we understand culture better than religious folks. I still am forced to
conclude that their paradigms - even with all their gaps, "misunderstandings",
irrationalities, and supernaturalisms - are still more adaptive to real life
and real culture, and less delusional than anything that I have seen here. It
sort of demonstrates the maxim that a little knowlege can be a dangerous
thing. It could turn a happy well-adjusted dimwit into a slightly-educated
raging fool.

I personally think the long-term direction that this meme-meme is evolving (or
at least can evolve) will eventually prove more fruitful, or at least more
accurate, than our traditional cultural understandings. But I think at this
time we have yet to show any functional improvement over more traditional
"irrational" adaptive paradigms. I have yet to see that this current mystical
smugness is turning into anything other than the next excuse for intellectual


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