The "Zenification of Memetics" - neat phrase coined by Lynch?

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Thu, 15 Apr 1999 14:04:16 EDT

From: <>
Date: Thu, 15 Apr 1999 14:04:16 EDT
Subject: The "Zenification of Memetics" - neat phrase coined by Lynch?

In a message dated 4/15/99 9:51:23 AM Central Daylight Time,

>> It should be noted, however, that Dennett has expressed doubts about the
prospects of a memetic science (Darwin's Dangerous Idea, 1995). <<

I have my doubts as well. However, I think the Zenification of memetics
(neat phrase you coined there, I think it might be contagious) is even more
improbable and more potentially flakey then what has gone on before. I
actually think that we may be floundering toward something - what I do not
know, but zen memetics definitely isn't it IMO. As the pre-eminent and
founding philosopher of memetics, I would think that Dennet would hope for
something more. He certainly has a dog in this fight for legitimacy despite
his respectable doubts, even though it isn't a career make or break for him.

>>Meanwhile Dawkins's ambivalence on memetics is famous, and may partly arise
from the fact that selfish meme theory offers rival hypotheses to selfish gene
theory in certain areas. On some level, keeping memetics too weak for most
hard-core scientists may appeal to him.<<

I would think that selfish gene biologists and selfish meme culturists
legitimately battling over the best explanations for various aspects of human
behavior ought to be the highest compliment to Richard Dawkins, seeing as he
is the biggest champion for one camp and the symbolic progenitor of the
other. If I were to end up in a similar situation myself, I would be
laughing my ass off all the way to the banks of academic and scientific

I have been considering your thought that these two might privately be
buddhists. That would explain a lot. Perhaps there is another explanation
yet. My father-in-law suggested it to me in regards to Dawkins - he shares
the same publisher as Susan Blackmore. I can't say that I have been in the
enviable position of a published author like that, but I have been told that
they might sometimes put pressure on authors in promotion of ather books out
of the same house. Dawkin's general ambivalence and now-unfamiliarity with a
lot of the issues within memetics, plus another opportunity push his name out
there prominently in front of new audiences, plus some pressure from the
publisher, could have added up to this decision. I couldn't imagine though,
that he hopes to condemn memetics to spoofdom, as you seem to suggest in your

Dennet on the other hand is a little harder to make out. Blackmore does seem
to refer to him an awful lot, and pumps Dennet up considerably in her book -
as well he deserves IMO. A small statement on the dust jacket from what I
see, though I haven't kept up to see if he has offered endorsements
elsewhere. Not nearly the extensive forward that Dawkins put in for her, but
from the way she thanks him for his input, you would think that Dennet was
sitting right beside her through the whole project.

Maybe Dennet has some real zen sentiments that he otherwise restrains on a
philosophical leash in his professional life. Though I agree with him
philosophically, I certainly don't adopt that kind of a belief system, though
I could see how it would be compatible with, though not necessarily
compelling from, the positions that he has taken as a professional
philosopher. Really though, I think that he must be thinking that memetics
won't be going anywhere as a science, and will probably remain a
philosopher's dream for some time to come, and so he concludes "what do I
have to lose?"

However, I cannot get the suggestion you made that Dennet and or Dawkin's
might have some private Buddhist sympathies, especially in relation to
Dennet. I mean if Blackmore really did consult with Dennet considerably, and
these are strong spiritual sentiments of hers, I couldn't imagine her NOT
talking about these beliefs and attitudes with him and the role they played
in her book. I mean, *I* sure as hell would have talked to him about such
matters if I had his attention for that long and that extensively and I was
writing a book in subject in which he was generally held to be the
philosophical nurturer and god-father. That is just a conversation that
would have happened. As Dennet might say, the conversation would have been a
forced move in the possibility space of their interaction.

Well, it is fun to speculate about the dynamics that went on behind this
phenomenon, but that is all that it remains - speculation. The fact is that
we have this book out there with the two biggest symbolic and philosophical
names behind it in regards to the meme meme. And so we must deal with it
head on, on its merits especially if the other two celebrities have nothing
more to reveal on the issue.

All I can really say for the fun interpersonal observation, is that Blackmore
certainly wins for now in the pecking order game whether or not she does so
on the merits of her book - which I am still digesting myself so I will
refrain from saying much more. I am sure that whether her star rises or
falls within this niche, she will always have an important place - she has
secured that much. Whether or not this counts as a win for the entire niche
of memetics within the realm of respectable science remains to be seen. I
would imagine that the reactions of prominent others will play an important
role in that as well.


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