Re: The Meme Machine

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Wed, 7 Apr 1999 16:40:28 EDT

From: <>
Date: Wed, 7 Apr 1999 16:40:28 EDT
Subject: Re: The Meme Machine

In a message dated 4/7/99 9:57:21 AM Central Daylight Time, writes:

<< 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 don't think this follows at all. I don't think this is what Dennet meant
by his 'universal acid' passage either, though I will try to read it again
this evening. What evolution doesn't allow for is an intentional agency
guiding the process from on high. This has no bearing on whether intentional
agencies can and do occur WITHIN an evolutionary arena. Meanings and
intentions do emerge, compete, and evolve within evolutionary systems, but
there is no "ultimate intention" or "ultimate meaning" driving evolutionary
systems. The lack of such a thing does not make ordinary intentions and
meanings "illusory", any less real, or even unimportant to the processes.

Dennet quite capably discusses the evolution of intentionality. Along the
path we encounter various stages of "as if" - or lesser intentionality, as
the degree and sophistication of self-control increases. There is no
particular reason to imagine that there isn't a greater degree of
intentionality possible, from which position our own intentionality would
appear to be "as if" intentionality. None of this seems to be heading toward
an understanding devoid of intentions and intentional entities.

Without some understanding of intentionality, memetics does not make much
sense (whether it makes any sense anyways is still an open question to me*).
That doesn't mean that intentionality is the entire picture, but I think that
banishing it as "just an illusion" does not bring any clarity - in fact I
think it throws the whole thing out of focus.

Treating it as irrellevent and disposable isn't much improvement either. In
attempting to replace the agency of self with the agency of memes, where else
do we obtain a concept of agency in the first place than from our own
experiences of selfish agency? Without these, we wouldn't even have a
concept of agency. It seems mighty absurd now to turn around and say that
memes have agency and the self has none since it is "an illusion". Indeed
how can the term "selfish meme" actually mean anything if self is not real?
I don't see how introducing contradictions like this is actually improving
understanding on the topic. I also don't see why people think that to
understand the agency-like aspects of memes, we must ignore or discount the
agency of the self or why doing so makes things more understandable.


*Upon review this communication I saw a rich irony in my statement. Here I
am posting to an EM list called "memetics . . .", with a subject line that
says "Re: The Meme Machine", under an EM account named "MemeLab . . .", and I
am not even sure whether memetics ultimately makes any sense. I just wanted
to share that moment a little more completely.


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