The Meme Machine

Reed Konsler (
Wed, 7 Apr 1999 10:51:54 -0400

Message-Id: <v02140b01b331164c0bb7@[]>
Date: Wed, 7 Apr 1999 10:51:54 -0400
From: (Reed Konsler)
Subject: The Meme Machine

One difficulty in understanding the statement:

"The self is an illusion"

could be that, whenever we think of illusion we
are contrasting whatever we describe thus with
another more real entity. It is less significant
to ask if this is a true or false statement that to
understand what each word might mean and, in
each case, what the standards of argument are.

I presume that most people on this list have read
Dennett's _The Intentional Stance_ or his other
works. In _Darwin's Dangerous Idea_, one of
the final chapters is entitled "Universal Acid:
Handle with Care". Why?

The concept of natural selection allows and
requires the removal of intentional agency in
explainations of phenomena to which it is
applied. If you apply this paradigm of analysis
to the mind it is inevitable that it's legitimate
extercise will result in an understanding devoid
of intentional entities.

I presume we understand memetics to be the
extention of the concept of evolution by natural
selection into the realms of psychology and

An explaination of the mind which includes
intentionallity may be valid by a number of may even be "scientific" in the eyes
of the community.

What Susan Blackmore has done, like a number
of good writers and thinkers, is to clearly present
the inevetiable such that it is obvious. I don't
think her ideas deviate too much from Dennet's
concept of the self as a "center of narrative gravity"
She argues that the self is created for the utility of
memes and not the organism within which it emerges.

Her one significant deviation is the conclusion that
the self is not simply "an illusion" but irrelevant
and disposable. This isn't exactly an arguement for
determinism. What I understand her to be saying
is that each person makes decisions according to
some at present poorly understood process. Dennett's
self as "center of narrative gravity" then rationalizes
how each action was, in fact, a freely willed choice
of the self. It is that process of rationalization which
is potentially deceptive.

Potentially deceptive becuase "the self" is understood
as an intentional entity. This understanding is
incompatible with the theory of evolution by natural
selection. The message I take from _The Meme
Machine_ is not that concepts of the self are useless
in all contexts...

A *memetic* model of the mind requires that we give
up the concept of self. If we do not, then we will not
understand the processes of the mind any better than
we do at present.

This requirement will, perhaps, make it more obvious
to us why many resist Darwinism with so much furvor.
Most people put their faith in God and Providence.
Darwin teaches us that God is an illusion and Providence
is capricious and wasteful in the extreme.

We, as scientists and philosophers put our trust in
ourselves and in our fellow rational people. Darwin
now teaches us that our-selfs are an illusion.

Will we take the step that we would require of the
faithful? Is depth of understanding more valuable than
the comfort of the host?


Reed Konsler

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