Re: Astrology

Thomas McMahan (
Tue, 06 Jul 1999 21:25:36 -0400

Date: Tue, 06 Jul 1999 21:25:36 -0400
From: Thomas McMahan <>
Subject: Re: Astrology

My "in-between" statement referred to something having a deliberate,
creative force guiding it. Viruses do not, computer "viruses" do (I
didn't originate the use of that word in that context and I don't
particularly like it, but its there nonetheless) and memes have a little
of both. They have an originator, but their cultural evolution can
change them wildly from what that originator intended. As for the use of
metaphors, I agree with you completely; they can be of valuable
assistance. I think my sensitivity to their use in this forum comes with
the fact that I'm relatively new to it; as an "outsider," I come in and
see what others have written at the extent to which the metaphor is
being taken as literal truth. As "insiders," I'm sure you and others
here largely take this for granted. wrote:
> In a message dated 7/6/99 2:18:02 PM Central Daylight Time,
> writes:
> >> I can't say I'm terribly impressed with the "contagion" analogy, simply
> because it virtually obliterates the human as willful agent.<<
> I don't think that it has to, but lately amongst memeticists it has tended to
> be unnecessarily taken to do just that.
> Blackmore :-(
> >> A biological virus does what it does without outside guidance; a computer
> virus has definite guidance, it doesn't simply "evolve" on its own, it has a
> creator(s). Memes fall somewhere in-between; they have a creator(s) (at some
> point in time), but once released into the cultural "soup" can develop in
> many ways and for many different reasons.<<
> This sounds a little incoherent to me with the rest of what you are saying.
> We have biological viruses and computer viruses, both of which you are
> willing to call "viruses" and memes fall "somewhere in-between," -- and you
> therefore are not willing to call it a virus? Or even discuss it in terms of
> contagion? That seems odd. If you have two prime examples of a category,
> and something falls between those examples, rather than outside, then it
> sounds like it is likely part of that category. Just trying to understand
> what you are saying vis a vis your other two accepted "viruses." and why
> memes are not.
> >> I can appreciate the logic in your argument about why something like
> astrology survives. I just think we have to be careful about the language
> here. To say that it "exploits" or "implicitly tells" someone to do something
> sounds very pre-planned and deterministic. Perhaps you are saying this
> metaphorically, not unlike many biologists who discuss genes or species
> "doing" something in order to gain some sort of advantage.<<
> If it lends understanding, then we SHOULD speak metaphorically.
> Understanding generally precedes knowledge, not the other way around. That's
> why good teachers use metaphor a lot.
> >> Biologists shouldn't use language that way in describing natural
> selection; it is a Lamarckian holdover that misinforms. A "memeticist" should
> be even more careful with his/her language concerning "cultural selection."<<
> I think mostly we should just remember that it is a metaphor -- that will
> inoculate us from excessive misinformation while allowing us the crucial
> understanding that metaphor brings. Blackmore has called this Campbell's
> Rule which simply reminds us that memes are not genes and that culture is not
> biology -- even though that is the initial point of metaphorical
> understanding. The extent to which Campbell's Rule applies to memes
> describes the degree to which the metaphorical entailment is not applicable,
> and therefore also the degree to which it is.
> Blackmore :-)
> >> I think we should maintain focus on why people chose memes (beliefs in
> sexual reproduction among them) and not how it is somehow the other way
> around.<<
> I don't see why we can't consider both aspects instead of choosing one to the
> exclusion of the other. You seem to be wanting to make the same cognitive
> maneuver as those you criticize -- only in reverse.
> >>Anyway, those are a few memes of someone just getting his metaphorical
> feet wet in this area.<<
> Glad to see you in the wading pool!
> -JS
> ===============================================================
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For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing)