The Meme Machine

Reed Konsler (
Thu, 8 Apr 1999 11:48:35 -0400

Message-Id: <v02140b03b33273737926@[]>
Date: Thu, 8 Apr 1999 11:48:35 -0400
From: (Reed Konsler)
Subject: The Meme Machine

B. Benzon
> can use control theory to come up with a comprehensible and
>materialistic notion of intention. See:
>William Powers, Behavior: The Control of Perception. 1973.
>You might also take a look at:
>Walter J. Freeman, Societies of Brains, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1995.

I agree completely. The assertion I'm making is that
such theories shouldn't be called *memetic* theories.
I'm not saying that they aren't fruitful scientific
(or, as you say, comprehesible and materialistic)

B. Benzon
>The issue, it seems to me, is whether or not a person can operate without
>this self, whatever it is...[cut]...I suspect that neither would be able
>to continue
>living coherent lives and making arguments about the non-existence or
>non-ultimacy of the self. This constructed self may not be really real, but
>living without one is really difficult.
>Dan Dennett may really believe that "Dan Dennett" is just an illusion, but
>I doubt that he'd agree to a phamaceutical regime that would free his brain
>from that illusion permanently. So there are limits to just how far he's
>probably willing to go with this... [cut]

I understand that seeming paradox. And yet, if I made the claim that
evolution was being guided by the intentional hand of God this claim
would place my theory outside the commonly accepted neo-Darwinian
synthesis. If I claimed that individual organisms intentionally strived
to improve and evolve I would be chastized as Lamarckian.

Why are these theories considered unacceptable? In general, it is becuase
the phenomena studied can be sufficiently explained without invoking
intentionality at any level. Furthermore, thinking in terms of
intentionality in genetics tends to confuse more than clarify. That
is the present paradigm, anyway.

I'm not saying that intentional theories are incorrect theories. But
Darwinian thinking is incompatible with intentionality. If we
agree that great leaps have been made in genetics and molecular
biology and we also agree that this progress is due in significant
part to application of a fruitful theory then I would assert that
these leaps have been made by investigators that take a mechanistic
non-intentional approach to their subject. Not that all good
biologists think this way...far from it...but it is this mechanistic
way of thinking which characterizes molecular biology and genetics.

It is my presumption that "memetics" is an attempt to apply this
theory which has been so fruitful in the domain of biology to
the domain of the mind. But, if in this theory we assert that
there is an "intentional self" (as opposed to a self which we
observe to claim intentionality) it seems to me that we are leaving
the keystone of Darwinian thinking behind. In this case, why
call our pursuit "memetics" as opposed to neurobiology or

>Now, though I am not a Zen practitioner, nor do I practice any sort of
>meditation, I have, on occasion, been in states of mind my self wasn't
>there. This didn't involve the ingestion of chemicals nor anything that
>got me involved with a shrink. On one occasion it involved playing music
>and on other occasions it involved writing undergraduate term papers (which
>I then turned in and got good grades on). So I have concrete experience of
>functioning at a high level without this self-thingy calling the shots.
>Though those experiences were both intriguing and disconcerting, I do not
>thereby conclude that the self-thingy is an illusion.

But you could conclude that "the self" was not, in fact, the arbiter of
your actions. In both cases you were able to creatively express at a
very high level of complexity. Thus, your "self" is real as a
phenomenon; you usually have an awareness of it's existence as
strong as any other sense. This does not mean, however, that this
self is, in fact, the willful agent which directs your actions, decision
making, and expression. If what I'm asserting is true, the first step to
a deeper understanding of the "actual" process of decision making
would be to set aside the concept of a "really" intentional self.

>>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.
>The fear that some of us have is that memetic
>fundamentalism is taking us three steps back.

I hope not. But I suppose a bald assertion deserves another.

>>We, as scientists and philosophers put our trust in
>>ourselves and in our fellow rational people.
>How can we trust ourselves if those selves are illusions? What's there to
>trust? If the self is an illusion then that trust is quite meaningless and
>the rationality of our fellows is no doubt an illusion as well.

Sure, this is the same paradox you point out above. I'm not sure
if a person can live all the time without a sense of self. I can
imagine, however, how simply having a name and cashing checks
might not be taken as evidence of intentional "self". A computer
draws power, identifies itself with unique code within a network,
and can store and express data about internal states without having
any "sense of self" or being thought of as having an internal
intentional agent directing it.

In the near term, I'm not asking you to give up your sense of
self. I'm asking you to a "convenient fiction", if
you will...the premise that a theory of the mind which adheres
to a Darwinian paradigm can include the self only as a phenomena
which exists and claims intentionallity but never as a self which
is "really" intentional.

As an analogy, look at a tree and think "this thing is so beautiful
and complex that it can only be the work of some intentional designer".
Darwin teaches us that there is at least one alternative explaination.
Darwin's alternative has revolutionized biology, made clear what
was once confusing and made possible what was once inconceivable.

Will that theory work for the mind, also? Inspect your thoughts
and think "these things are so beautiful that they can only be the work
of some intentional designer". That is the first step. The next is to
look for the alternative explaination.

That is my understanding of the meme=gene analogy, anyway.


Reed Konsler

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