The Meme Machine

Reed Konsler (
Sat, 10 Apr 1999 16:27:52 -0400

Message-Id: <v02140b0fb3355bbe98af@[]>
Date: Sat, 10 Apr 1999 16:27:52 -0400
From: (Reed Konsler)
Subject: The Meme Machine

>From: (Bill Benzon)
>Date: Fri, 9 Apr 1999 21:26:44 -0400
>Subject: Re: The Meme Machine

>>Maybe I'm confused about
>>intentionality. If you are claiming that humans act with willful
>>forethought, what happens to the force of those actions?
>In writing this note to the list were you intending anything? Or was it
>some meme that got a hold of your mind and body?

Both, depending on the context. I percieve it subjectively as
intentional but where I to observe myself as a subject I
percieve it as the memes which are doing the multiplying,
recombining, and transmitting. During those moments
where I integrate both perspectives I experience the mental
equivalent of crossing my eyes.

Try crossing your eyes for a moment. It makes it difficult
to read, but you can still walk, open a drawer, scratch your
nose. The double image is perhaps not the best for precision
focus, but it's a perfectly effective way of navigating the
macroscopic universe...just ask a fly.

Again, I'm not arguing that a theory about intentional entities
would be a bad theory or that it wouldn't be a scientific
theory. My point was that a theory rigorously based upon
evolution by natural selection doesn't include intentional
entities. I thought that was Darwin's central point, right?
Complexity will arise without purpose.

Given this, a rigorously Darwinian *memetic* perspective
would exclude intentional entites, be they gods, men, or memes.
The point is to understand the phenomena from at a precise
mechanistic perspective. I don't know if that is possible, but
I think if memetics is to make a contribution we must be
resolute on this point.

As an analogy, B.F. Skinner did a lot of good work on operant
conditioning. Is Skinnerian conditioning the whole truth of
learning? Of course not! But, it was Skinners singular focus,
his desire to push that theory to the limits of self-consistency,
which made it paradigm. We know that it is not the whole truth,
as we know that memetics will not be the whole truth.

The choice is, do we hold on to the vague but comforting
"Intentional Stance" towards culture and psychology, or do
we resolve to make a science of this clever idea? If this is
to be science, then we have to move beyond the intentional
towards the mechanistic.

Yes, it's reductionist! That is what we do. We dissect life and
read a consistent narrative out of the entrails. The question we really want to read Darwinism into psychology and
sociology? If so, it is my assertion that we must read
intentionallity out. That will exclude the obvious, easy way
of looking at the world. In fact, we might all end up crossing
our eyes in frustration while trying to make sense of the
alternative vision.


Is it worth it? I don't know. It depends on if we see memetics
as a program for progress or as new way of subdividing the
same old territory. If it's the latter, I'm not interested. I've
already invested in my power structures.

>>If this is the case, why not think of the memes as intentional?
>Because doing so explains nothing.

When Dawkins proposed that we think of genes as intentional,
as "selfish"...that explained a whole lot, didn't it? It was never
that he claimed true intentionality for those little bits of organic
snot. He recognized, perhaps intuitively, that human beings
are wedded to the idea of intentionallity so strongly. So,
instead of attacking it head on, he DISPLACED the intentionality
into a different level of resolution. Forget the individuals,
forget the groups, think about the genes. The genes are in
charge, the organism is just a vehicle. It was all a metaphor...
a way of shocking our minds out of the same old patterns
of perception and categorization.

THAT is the potential power of memetics. It can, if explained
clearly, shock us out of the same old patterns. But as long as
we think of people as intentional, the majority of that force
is lost. We think of memes as "outside" our "self". We see
our "self" as willful. It isn't that these ideas aren't useful.

It's that they're unoriginal...boring, cliche.
The memetic frontier is beyond the self: that's how
I understand Blackmore's _The Meme Machine_.


Reed Konsler

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