Re: selfishness, Buddhism, and memetics

t (
Mon, 12 Apr 1999 17:09:49 EDT

From: <>
Date: Mon, 12 Apr 1999 17:09:49 EDT
Subject: Re: selfishness, Buddhism, and memetics

In a message dated 4/12/99 12:55:11 PM Central Daylight Time, writes:

<< But "self is an illusion" is a didactic aid to help us remember that
our self-image tends to be one of the most delusional parts of our world
view. >>

I don't know if you have had the opportunity to read her book - I am in the
middle of it right now, and I had the opportunity to read another article by
her where she talks about selfplexes and so forth. I really don't think that
she sees this as just a mere didactic aid. A few points in her book she even
presses farther to characterize self as a "false idea" (page 233 {I am
peeking ahead}). In that sub-section "The selfplex", she really paints an
oppressive and painful picture of how modern humans are so psychologically
tormented by these elaborately evolved "self-plexes". Perhaps this is
related to how medical students see illness everywhere.

As a psychologist maybe she sees psychological pathologies everywhere, but
quite frankly I have failed to notice - no doubt due to some other
psycho-pathology that afflicts me. As George Carlin last performance says,
we are all diseased! She acts so concerned that we are so stressed, BUT I
LOVE STRESS!!!! I makes me feel alive.

Apparently lots of other people do too, or they wouldn't be jumping out of
airplanes, riding roller coasters, watching scary movies, taking
amphetamines, having experimental sex, or pursuing careers that they know are
stressful and enjoying them - airplane pilots, police officers, firefighters,
emergency room physicians and so forth. Not to mention choosing to have
children or marrying another human being (often after previous marriages and
or children). I mean lets talk about stress, and we are just just as likely
talking about the things that people love in life.

She talks about "The unhappiness, desperation, psychological ill-health of
many modern people" . . . and I just don't see it. And of course she
attribues these supposed bad effects to the "self-plexes". Apparently
according to her, if we could just see that the "self" is a lie (yes she says
"lie" - see p 234) we would all be happy. And she ends the chapter with "The
memes have made us do it - because a 'self' aids their replication".

That's rich folks! I am a criminal defense lawyer. I think I will try that
one in court. "Ladies and gentlemen, my client, Jack Fancy, is not
responsible for this. His memes made him do it!" If Jack's brain had just
not been infected by that nasty self meme he might not have beaten his wife
(or had a miserable life if you want to take this out of the arena of crime).
I think that Blackmore has confused her apparent belief in/affinity for
Buddhism and some newagey psychobabble about the "evils" of stress with
cultural evolution and memetics.

Anyhow, I have skipped ahead in my reading somewhat. I think her book is
probably about much more than this, but unfortunately she seems to have made
this issue a prominent feature of this work. Though I know Dennet has made
some poigniant and intelligent points questioning various views of the self,
I haven't known him to take this kind of stand.

In fact with Susan Blackmore and various of her kindred thinkers, this has
taken somewhat of a religious tone. Perhaps it is not out of character with
the general course that the meme meme has taken. Dawkins himself in "Viruses
of the Mind" chose religion as his punching bag (somewhat deservedly IMO
though I would not have pressed the issue as much as he did), and has made
his atheism quite publicly known.

So what's next? We have the Buddhist rendition, and the atheist rendition,
maybe we should encourage a Christian try to use memetics as a plug for
his/her religion - I am sure that it wouldn't be a hard task. Maybe a Muslim
too, followed by a Satanist - and round it all off with praises to Lucifer
and a chanting of the holy syllable "AUM"? Maybe Church of the Virus really
is as serious as a "science" of memetics gets?

Not to get me wrong, I think that memes are real things, and that probably is
the mechanism by which culture evolves, and will continue to be a useful
concept, but perhaps this is just one truth that as a socieity and a
collective science, we will never be able to handle. Not because it can't be
discovered, nor because it is necessarily frightening or disturbing (once you
have made it safely past Darwin the rest is easy IMO - perhaps even a
relief), but simply because we are too involved. The observer effects are
perhaps insurmountable. I am sure that Blackmore's false illusion take on
selves, and her Buddhist affinities seem perfectly rational, normal, perhaps
even scientific to her, and I am sure that she is a first rate thinker, but
perhaps there are some subjectivities that can never be overcome for any
coherant science of memetics to form.


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