virus: memes, supernaturalisms, and memory (was"father" of "memetics")

Date: Fri Jul 26 2002 - 12:01:46 MDT

Anthony wrote:

> On 25 Jul 2002 at 12:53, Jonathan Davis wrote:
> > > Has anyone noticed that academics think memes are are stupid
> > > idea? Has Dawkins?
> >
> > Perhaps you could give us a few examples?
> Ask any academic familiar with the idea. Memes are part of Dawkins' popular
> literature. "Unto
> Others" is a good book of scientific quality in this area. Of course, it
> doesn't cover memes, since
> that isn't a scientifically validated concept.
> > I would also like to see
> > some reasons why you (or these 'authorities') think memes are stupid
> > idea?
> Me? I like the meme idea - I like ideas.
> Funny how you dismiss academics by calling them "academics". Does a scholar
> who doesn't
> agree with a widely sold and easily digestable idea no longer a scholar?
> > It would cheer me to hear that 'academics' thought memes are a stupid
> > idea. These are after all probably the same people who believe in
> > transgressing the Boundaries towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of
> > Quantum Gravity.
> How strange.
> How is it Dawkins thinks that scientists can talk about sociological,
> political, philosophical and
> psychological ideas - outside of their own expertise - whereas social
> scientists and artists cannot
> discuss scientific ideas outside of their fields? What gives scientists the
> ability to do this?

Sometimes arrogance, sometimes superior knowledge. That's what CoV is for. To
straighten it out-- ;-'>

You can see neuronal readiness-to-fire potentials on an oscilloscope. You
quite make out internally mapped mental-image "memes" in the same manner. Yet.


[Jake] I continue to find myself interested in the idea of memes even after
about seven years of toying with the idea. I have personally encountered the
"memes are really a stupid idea" attitude. Last semester (spring 2002) I
brought up the idea with my biology teacher. He seemed brave enough to
occasionally take some offhand potshots at some dumb religious attitudes that
he encountered, and so I deemed him primed for the idea of memes. I gave him
a copy of Dennett's paper "Memes and the Exploitation of Imagination." He
read it (something I consider an accomplishment in and of itself), and then
told me later that he thought it was a ridiculous idea. I knew I liked him
for his bluntness. I understand this reaction well as the first time I heard
about memes, I thought they were a stupid idea at first as well. But after a
little more exposure, I came to see the conceptual neatness of the idea. It
takes not only a scientific, but also a more philosophical penchant plus a
little bit of time to familiarize oneself with the idea to appreciate it the
way I and some others on this list do.

On the other hand, my teacher did seem inclined to consider some distinctly
memetic ideas as long as we didn't wander into using the word. For instance
we also discussed Pascal Boyer's ideas about religion's survival through
supernaturalisms. -that basically supernaturalisms endure not so much
because people believe or disbelieve in them, and not because people either
find a particular supernaturalism "good" or "bad", but simply that on the
balance people REMEMBER stories with supernaturalisms better regardless of
their attitudes toward supernaturalisms in general or even a particular
remembered one.

I would call this a "persistence of memory" aspect of memes, working in
tandem with neuronal readiness-to-fire to create a lot of the memetic effects
that we see. Not only do we have ideas that we can't seem to rid ourselves
of despite or perhaps even because of their absurdity, but also once
remembered they have a tendency to set off all of these other trains of
thought connected to these persistent memories through metaphorical
relationship. The upshot of all of this, is that people like myself, who
have no belief whatsoever in these kinds of things, are still capable of
carrying on extended dialogues about issues like transubstantiation, and the
Unitarian vs. Trinitarian concepts of God, as well as any otherwise-educated
believer. From the memes-eye PoV this is sufficient to ensure at least some
continuity and transmission. My actual belief in these things would just be
a bonus, though not necessary.

Back to the general silliness that gets attributed to the idea of memes, I
don't think this ultimately matters to the spread of the idea for very
similar reasons. While memes do not call on supernaturalisms, they do have
that quality of ontological violation. If we didn't know more about
cognitive science, the bigger mental pie other than that thin slice of
consciousness that we all intuitively know and understand, memes DO otherwise
have that supernatural sense to them. Without understanding more, the idea
on the surface DOES seem to violate many of our everyday intuitions about our
own agency over our thoughts.

More later,


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