Date: Tue, 8 Jun 1999 12:57:15 EDT
Subject: Zenification or Dennetization? Or both?
In a message dated 6/8/99 10:16:30 AM Central Daylight Time,
The problem with extreme memetics, like that of Sue
Blackmore, is that we get relieved of the homunculus in the brain (nice
but now put the homunculus in the meme (the meme does all kinds of things,
including replicating itself: I'd say that this is nonsense and that it is
makes memetics ridiculous for many scientists).
I don't think that Sue does put any homunculus in the meme. Her approach is
straight-forwardly Dennettian in that she removes homunculi wherever they
are found. If you can find any examples of homuncular thinking in Sue's
work, I'd like to know what they are (page numbers if possible). But I
don't think you will be able to.<<
Why does removing the homonculi mean that we necessarily say that self is an
illusion? There is nothing compelling about that conclusion, unless of
course one is incapable of thinking of self as anything other than a
homoculi. This theme was unecessary to making any clarifications about
memetics. It was a thoroughly unecessary philosophical side track that did
nothing to adress memetics and made it look very ridiculous for scientific
respect. Especially by going so far as to inject Buddhism into the equation.
That can only succeed in selling her book to new-age audiences.
At least Dennet sticks to the more limited philosophy of Hume, and treats the
"illusion of self" as a more didactic exercise rather than a new ontology to
be embraced like zen Buddhism. The self does not have to be homoncular in
order to be treated as a legitimately existing thing in itself. Resolving
these issues is unecessary for memetics, and it was irresponsible to make
them the central theme in her book.
If she has succeeded in framing the issues for memetics, then I would have to
conclude that memetics is destined to be just another new-age fad - the JoM
notwithstanding. I sure hope Dennet doesn't choose to follow her over that
cliff, though his endorsement of her work is troubling. However, I can
imagine the monetary profits of doing so could be considerable, so if they do
become the newest new age rage, I hope they profit handsomely. They could
really test the boundaries between celebrity and science.
One small thought that occurred to me - Dennet does like to wring his hands a
lot about "how disturbing" the possibility of no homoncular self, and even no
self at all, would be for so many people. I wonder what world he lives in.
New agers literally get ecstatic about "transcending the self", and religion
both east and west is full of imagery about losing the self in union with
"the all" or with "God" thingies. I rather think, that far from being
disturbed, many people are overjoyed at the possibilities that Dennet
describes. Many people feel that thinking for themselves is just an
uncomfortable pain in the ass. How relieving it would be to have no self to
So it has occurred to me, that this small piece of culture warp that Dennet
possesses (assuming there is a Dennet to possess it) just might confirm that
Blackmore really does represent Dennet's position. All the worse for Dennet
IMO. Maybe he really has reached the zenith of his philosophical career, and
now it is time for him to cash in for a little new age fame and the money
that will be bound to follow that. That would be a loss to the philosophical
community, though it might truly represent Dennet thinking for himself (or
for his non-Dennet non-self).
Deconstructionism, as useful as it has been, is getting to be old hat. What
would be much more interesting is a deconstructionist that also knows and
appreciates the REconstruction that can follow. If Dennet goes the way of
Blackmore, I guess that will have to be some future philosopher.
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