Fashionable Nonsense Pt 1: Memes

A previous post of mine addressed a red herring of memetics that I would like to explicate further by taking aim at Keith Stanovich’s conception of memes. Why does a given meme survive according to Stanovich? He lists four reasons (hint–my argument is that every example of #4 is really just an example of #2):

“1) Memes survive and spread because they are helpful to the people that store them (most memes that reflect true information about the world would be in this category).

2) Certain memes are numerous because they are good fits to preexisting genetic predispositions or domain-specific evolutionary modules.

3) Certain memes spread because they facilitate the replication of the genes that make vehicles that are good hosts for these particular memes (religious beliefs that urge people to have more children would be in this category).

4) Memes survive and spread because of the self-perpetuating properties of the memes themselves.”

The first three existed before Memetics, but number four is what Stanovich really wants to discuss. He thinks that a meme survives because “of its own self-replicating properties.” The faith meme, for example, survives because part of the meme itself guards against rational criticism, according to this view. How do we come to be infected with the memes that we have according to Stanovich? “They exist because, through memetic evolution, they have displayed the best fecundity, longevity, and copying fidelity–the defining characteristics of successful replicators.” Though he is certainly right that, for example, the simplicity of the meme aids in its replicability, the rest of this sentence simply begs the question. We have these memes because these memes survived and they survived because they displayed survivability. This is pure tautology. When discussing actual (genetic) evolution, we can make explanations involving various features of the material environment. The finch has a long beak not simply because finches with the longest beaks survived, but because the flowers upon which the finches rely for food determined that finches with long beaks had a better shot. The problem with those who champion memetics is that in their attempt to sound heretical and edgy they regularly underemphasis the importance of the environment that memes must fit into in order to survive. They try to give memes all of the power so that we will all cower in fear at the all-powerful mind viruses. However, it is absolutely clear that the so-called “properties” of memes have much less to do with their success in replicating themselves than does the environment in which they must survive: the human mind. Certain universal features of human nature are to blame for the success of ideas, not their so-called “properties.” I take the following line from Schopenhauer to be the gospel truth on this matter:

“There is no absurdity so palpable but that it may be firmly planted in the human head if you only begin to inculcate it before the age of five, by constantly repeating it with an air of great solemnity.”

We seem to have a sensitive imprinting period during childhood when memes of whatever shape or size can be carved into our worldview. This is just a feature of human nature. Moreover, this process is expedited the more these ideas connect with deep human desires, fears, and values. These features of human nature are the real danger, while memes are a total red herring. An example should make this sufficiently clear.

Let’s create a meme; one that is incredibly simple and thus easy to copy. Oddly, the first one that popped into my mind was “pre-emptive abortion.” I’ll define this meme as “the killing of an unborn child by means of never conceiving of him in the first place.” Simple enough, eh? Let’s first note that this mind-virus, which to my knowledge originated in my head alone and thus was never transmitted by another host, came into existence right when I needed it to. Just when I needed a novel meme, one popped into mind! Your own experience of creating ideas should similarly undermine the picture of meme-viruses running rampant through your grey matter, controlling your thoughts. (note: While this meme was unexpected, it wasn’t totally off of my conscious radar, as I do know that I like to poke fun at the extreme pro-lifers.) Now, even though my meme is rather simple, will its design features be the most causally relevant factor to its successful infestation of the human species? Obviously not. What matters is how well this meme connects to peoples desires and values! If there are lots of pro-life haters out there who want a cheeky meme to lampoon their opponents with, then my meme has a shot. If nobody gives a shit, then my meme is doomed, regardless of its design features. Try it yourself! Come up with the simplest meme you can, but create one that somehow discourages the host from deleting it, and see how long it even remains in your mind if it connects to none of your desires or values. My guess is about 20 seconds.

Oddly enough, Stanovich neatly summarizes my entire objection to memetics:

“Memetic theory focuses us on the properties of ideas as replicators rather than the qualities of people acquiring the ideas.”

Precisely! And this is the problem! Again, an example will make this clear. Let’s take Anselm’s Ontological Proof for the existence of god. If you will forgive my poor summary, this argument essentially goes as follows: god is defined as the most perfect possible being, but existence is one of the properties of perfection, and thus god must be the most perfectly existent thing in existence. Now, far from being simple and easy to copy, this meme is a tangle of twisted logic that I probably didn’t even paraphrase correctly. So why did it survive? Stanovich would have made Anselm proud by implying that it survived because one of its properties is survivability. If the meme’s survival depended mostly on its design, which should be the same regardless of which century it is iterated in, then we should find this meme spread throughout the populations of Europe in equal proportions both today and four centuries ago. But of course this is not the case. A much smaller percentage of the population of Europe is infected with this meme today than in Anselm’s time. Why? Because the memes of science have weakened the memes of religion within the memesphere? If this were so, then the meme would simply have died out when Kant struck his death blow, which it hasn’t. Could it be the case that human beings happen to desire immortality and the notion of a loving, protecting father figure in the heavens? Could this quality of the people acquiring the meme explain why, despite the fact that it is not particularly “catchy” or simple, the meme still persists? Of course! Human beings create memes that make them feel good, further their ideological goals, help them survive, etc. As long as human beings keep desiring the company of a loving god, I dare say that meme-viruses of all different shapes and sizes will be produced to this end. Many of them will survive despite having deplorable design features and despite coexisting with scientific or rationalistic memes that are far more powerful and that have far better design features. Losing sight of the values and desires that our memes serve is a serious error, but as Stanovich points out above, one that is at the very heart of memetic theory.

We simply should not be worried about mind-viruses like this. They don’t govern the mind! Plenty of beliefs and practices existed well before any meme was articulated about them. Take the religious-faith-meme that Dawkins, Stanovich and them are really taking aim at. Notice that the design features of this meme that guard against rational criticism came into existence long after people were already exercising blind faith. The Jews of the Old Testament seemed to have no trouble believing in God though unarmed with the heady rhetoric of the Scholastics. They practiced faith without having created the blind-faith-meme! In fact, if Julian Jaynes is right, the human race was practicing blind faith for most of its prehistory, before consciousness as we know it arrived, let alone the rhetoric of blind faith.

I am not claiming that there are no dangerous ideas out there. What I am claiming is that we should not fear the ideas, but instead the native powers and weaknesses in human nature. The meme that somehow convinced thousands of AIDS victims in Africa that sleeping with a virgin would cure them is certainly a dangerous, horrible meme. However, it was a meme born of total desperation and it is desperation that fuels it, not its “design features” or the internal logic of the idea. It has not survived on those merits. It could have easily been a thousand other variants of a “panacea-meme” that caught on, some less dangerous, some more. If the “virgin-panacea meme” is somehow cut down, but no cure for AIDS comes along, I guarantee we will see some of these other variants. Let me ask you this, however: why didn’t the “blind-faith-panacea-meme” out-compete the “virgin-panacea meme”? It has far better design features and massive proselytic advantage!

Stanovich uses an example from Aaron Lynch (1996) that illustrates my point nicely. Lynch proposes that the meme “my country is dangerously low on weapons” has a proselytic advantage built into its “design features.” He continues:

“the idea strikes fear in its hosts…that fear drives them to persuade others of military weakness to build pressure for doing something about it. So the belief, through the side effect of fear, triggers proselytizing. Meanwhile, alternative opinions such as ‘my country has enough weaponry’ promote a sense of security and less urgency about changing others’ minds. Thus, belief in a weapons shortage can self-propagate to majority proportions–even in a country of unmatched strength.”

This example should lay bare the twisted logic employed here. Fear is listed as a “side effect” through which the meme gains power. This is preposterous. The fear was likely what prompted the creation of the meme in the first place! Someone feels scared and powerless and seeks beliefs that confirm his feeling. Did Anselm’s Ontological Argument engender faith as a “side effect” or was he motivated to create the argument in the first place by his desire for the existence of a loving god? Memetic theory seems to get things entirely backwards. Regardless of a given meme’s origins, it is clear that it survives because it connects with peoples desires and passions, not because of it’s innate design features, as this ability to connect with desires and values is just being listed as a design feature!

This point can even be found in Stanovich’s own definition of memeplexes: “sets of memes that tend to replicate together (co-adapted meme complexes)–that connect their product with something already valued.” Already valued!!! There is the key. If a meme doesn’t connect to something already valued, regardless of its so-called design features, it is dead in the water. I could savagely pillory Stanovich’s comparison of some memes to junk-DNA, as our knowledge of junk-DNA has far outgrown Stanovich’s tortured analogy, but let me instead complete his picture of junk memes. “Think about it,” Stanovich writes, “You will never find evidence that refutes an unfalsifiable meme. Thus, you will never have an overt reason to give up such a belief.” To complete this picture, you will also never have an overt reason to humor such a belief in the first place if it doesn’t connect to one of your desires or values!

Stanovich is so hell-bent on putting memes in the drivers seat that he claims that many memes are desires. He writes, “regarding memes that are desires, (we should) seek to install only memes that do not preclude other memeplexes becoming installed in the future.” Memes simply cannot be desires, only beliefs about how those desires can be fulfilled. For example, “I want to eat a Bic Mac” is the meme that the McDonalds commercial is seeking to install, but really this is just the belief that your innate, biologically programmed desire for calorie-rich food can be fulfilled by eating a Big Mac. It does not install a new desire in your brain, just a new avenue of fulfillment. Stanovich, who desperately needs to review David Hume’s work, is clearly being misled by his reliance on Harry Frankfurt‘s theory of higher (and higher) order volitions. They both should take Schopenhauer more seriously when he says that “I can do what I will, but I cannot will what I will.” Frankfurt and Stanovich are simply taking too literal an interpretation of what people say about their desires. To use an easy example, I happen to enjoy looking trim and fit as well as eating ice cream, which presents an obvious conflict of interests. Now, when I say “I wish I didn’t desire ice-cream,” Frankfurt would say that I am describing a higher-order desire. But he is taking me too literally. What I really mean is “I wish I could have both ice-cream and six-pack abs, but because this is impossible, I wish that I didn’t have to suffer for wanting either.” You see, I am merely expressing a desire that existed from the start: my desire not to experience the frustration of my desires. If we were able to change the universe such that ice-cream was not fattening, my so-called higher-order desire would vanish along with my belly fat! Anyway, this is why Stanovich is mistaking some memes for desires. For those who would object that human beings have invented some desires, like the desire for immortality, just look around you at the animal world and ask which of those creatures does not desire immortality! What about the desire for heaven? Well, what is this meme called “heaven” if not a stand-in for the satisfaction of every single human desire! The meme does not invent some new desire that is installed in unsuspecting minds, it simply tries to fashion a new avenue for the attainment of those same old desires. Ad execs do not invent new desires; they try to connect new products with desires as old as human nature.

In an attempt to undermine Hume’s famous dictum about reason being the slave of the passions, Stanovich quotes Nozick (1993):

“if human beings are simply Humean beings, that seems to diminish our stature. Man is the only animal not content to be simply an animal…It is symbolically important to us that not all of our activities are aimed at satisfying our given desires.”

What Nozick fails to see is that this desire for god-like status, this desire for freedom, just is one of our given desires! We are paradoxical to the core. Camus is almost correct when he says that “Man is the only creature that refuses to be what he is.”  This refusal is part of what he is! It is part of human nature to desire and value freedom, power, god-like status, meaning, etc. These are not higher-order desires that pop into existence through our story telling, though the stories are instantiations of these desires.

I hope this discussion has given you some reasons not to believe with Stanovich that “the concept of the meme allows us, for the first time in the thousands of years that humans have had culture, to get a handle on, to examine at a distance, the cultural artifacts that infect our thoughts.” Hopefully you will agree that some of us have been able to evaluate our own beliefs and desires well before Dawkins started writing.

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29 Responses to Fashionable Nonsense Pt 1: Memes

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  2. tmtyler says:

    Looking at the memetics timeline, cultural evolution does appear to be an old idea – long predating Dawkins. The main contributions of Dawkins were cute terminology and popularisation. However, the idea of popular deleterious memes is useful and does seem to have been largely absent in the literature before Dawkins (1976). He apparently did advance the science by doing more than just spread the word about an important field.

    • tmtyler: I don’t think that memetic evolution and cultural evolution are the same thing. The former is about discrete units of culture, whereas the latter is about broad movements of culture. I don’t think that the idea of popular deleterious memes has been absent in the literature before Dawkins. Take my quote from Schopenhauer, for example. Or the message of the Buddha. In fact, every prophet in history has decried some part of culture or another as being deleterious. Some referred to specific practices or beliefs that Dawkins would now categorize as memes. We knew that certain ideas were dangerous well before Dawkins…he has only added another reason why they may be so intractable (obviously a dubious reason in my opinion).

      • tmtyler says:

        Best to think that “memetic evolution” and “cultural evolution” are the same thing, IMHO. Similarly, “genetic evolution” and “biological evolution” are best regarded as referring to the same thing. Memes, according to the dictionary, are just the heritable basis of culture. “Memetic evolution” *could* consistently be defined to mean other things – but, IMO, there’s just too much existing usage.

        The Schopenhauer quote gives no reason to think that deleterious memes are likely to spread. Knowleddge of bad memes is ancient. Memes that are good for some and bad for others (e.g. smoking, budhism) has also got to be classed as being pretty old. The idea that memes could exist and spread by accruing benefits to *themselves* only really goes back to 1976, though – AFAIK. Yes, there were chain letters back then – but the idea had not yet made it into other theories of cultural evolution. People were even more confused about the topic back then.

  3. tmtyler: thank you again for your respectful comments and for being a good sport regarding my criticism of a theory that you are quite attached to (or that is quite attached to you?). To be honest, I am not sure why I am so resistant to memetics…perhaps a memetic-auto-immune dysfunction? Haha. Seriously though, I otherwise love Dawkins, Dennett, and the whole bunch.

    Doesn’t the Schopenhauer quote give many reasons to think that deleterious ideas are likely to spread? Whatever ideas, deleterious or otherwise, that are imprinted during that sensitive period are going to be the ones that that person defends out there in the world, as well as the ones that he will likely imprint onto his children, etc, etc.

    You are correct that the idea of memes accruing benefits to themselves only goes back to Dawkins…but I was taking aim at Stanovich’s quote near the end of my post, which implies that we didn’t have any way of looking at culture “from a distance” before the meme meme, which just seemed outrageous to me. The skepticism meme is pretty old and itself allows for such analysis “from a distance.” But that leads me to the memetic immune system idea…

    It seems like this idea is a way of getting around an embarrassing fact: that the memes that make up this immune system, though old and generously proliferated, are simply not up to the task of eradicating the deleterious mind viruses, though they are obviously more powerful vis a vis their “design features.” If we view them as mind viruses just like any other meme, then this problem takes center stage. If we hide them in an untenable analogy (memes can’t be features of both the memetic “phenotype” and “genotype”), then we can explain this problem away more easily.

    Of course culture is not irrelevant to behavior. I wouldn’t go so far as to suggest that culture is the only thing separating us from cave men though. We have certainly experienced genetic changes in the last few hundred thousand years. But notice how even in your equation for behavior (dna-coded traits + culture + environment) the dna-coded traits are actually counted twice! The “culture” part, as you say, is partly determined by dna-coded traits, so you at least have to admit that dna-coded traits should be weighted MUCH higher than memes are in terms of causal effect on behavior. But instead, most memeticists (?) that I have read want to emphasize the causal role of memes FAR out of proportion to their actual power in the ‘dna-coded traits+culture+environment’ equation. Can you see why I would find Bloom’s comments so backwards and why I chose to rephrase them with emphasis placed back on human nature?

  4. tmtyler says:

    Memes weren’t entirely new with Dawkins – as Stanovich’s quote seems to be claiming – the idea goes back over a century. For example, Semon’s “mnemes”, from 1904 – while not identical to memes – do capture a very similar idea. For more info, “mnemes” are in the “memetic timeline” on my site.

    I’m not sure I grok your “immune system” paragraph entirely – but a few comments:

    The organic immune system doesn’t eliminate viruses either.

    Re: “phemotype” vs “memotype”:

    Memes are components of the memotype, by definition. There *are* associated phemotypes. If you mean memes are not like viruses, *because* virusus have phenotypes, then that is true: memes are more like viral *genes*. Saying (some) memes are like viruses is speaking loosely in this regard.

    Re: recent DNA changes in humans:

    There *are* some *modern* cave men, you know! 😉

    Re: counting DNA-traits twice

    Sure: some cultural information “reflects” DNA information. It doesn’t follow that DNA is more important, though. DNA is a CD-ROM’s worth. Culture is a whole brain’s worth – more like a big rack of DVDs! *Much* more information per person. So, since much depends on how you count, your point about “causal effect on behavior” doesn’t really go through.

    IMO, we need to say more clearly what we are measuring here before we can quantitatively discuss the relative weight of these two inheritance channels much further.

    Re: emphasising the causal role of memes FAR out of proportion to their actual power;

    Well, genes get you a caveman, and memes turn the caveman into a modern human. You can measure the relative contribution of genes and memes various ways. Memes are *pretty* big, though. The “no memes” experiment has been done – with “feral children”, With no memes, you get a creature who can’t walk, talk, survive or mate in the modern world. That’s a pretty big deal for the individual in question.

  5. tmtyler says:

    Re: “a memetic-auto-immune dysfunction?”

    Since you are quoting from “The Robot’s Rebellion”, you may notice that Stanovich has his own hypothesis about “memetics resistance” on page: 194. He says that memetics resistance may be part of a defense mechanism instilled by those memes that dislike self-examination. There is probably more to the phenomenon than that, though. Some think: “reductionism”. Some think it diminishes free will and personal responsibility. Some think that there’s no science of memetics – and so there must be something wrong with it – and so on, with many different reasons.

    • tmtyler: I am quite enjoying this dialogue Tim, so once again thanks for taking the time. Btw, have you read Julian Jaynes before? He had a big impact on me, especially when it comes to highlighting the importance of culture and mental “software” in the development of consciousness.

      Re: “a memetic-auto-immune dysfunction?”
      I jokingly used the auto-immune angle because instead of some allegiance to a world religion causing this resistance to memetics, it seems as if my “memetic immune system” is rejecting memetics! But really I just don’t buy the idea at all. The immune system is part of the phenotype of an organism and obviously memes cannot be both genes and the phenotypic features produced by these genes. But even as a loose metaphor I don’t think it is instructive. My resistance to many religious ideas, for example, has little or nothing to do with skeptical memes and so forth…these do not have any emotional affect. The resistance comes from my DESIRE for truth, my appetite for certainty, my craving for unity. It comes from my experience with delusional people, religious fanatics, and so forth…experiences that terrified me for many reasons, one of which being that I saw a threat to my desire for truth–I realized that it is possible to become brainwashed, etc. But my desire for truth is just a standard feature of human nature, IMHO, however well it is serviced by various memes. Really it is the emotional impact of these experiences that created a strong system of checks and balances in my mind…not the internal logic of certain skeptical ideas. I wasn’t even equipped with skeptical ideas during these experiences (I was about 8). People who think that memes are the answer seem to me to be making the same mistake as those who think that genius, virtue, or moral character can be taught in a lecture. Again, I think the old pessimist got it right: “Virtue is as little taught as is genius.” Now why would this be the case if it is all a matter of the competition of memes in the brain? Wouldn’t genius just be a matter of installing the correct rational/scientific/creative memes? How could various incredibly intelligent, well-read scientists still be creationists? They have a fully-armed memetic immune system, so why is it being defeated? You can’t claim that it is because the “memetic resistance” of their religious memes is too powerful, because skeptical/scientific memes are MORE powerful by your very theory! Memes are just NOT in the drivers seat at all! They, like Hume’s “Reason,” are merely slaves of the passions.

      Re: “phemotype” vs “memotype”

      What could a “phemotype” possibly be? With genes we have phenotypic features like skin, organs, the immune system, various brain circuits, etc. But what is the expression of a meme? Behavior?

      Re: counting DNA-traits twice
      I agree that much turns on how we count things, but we certainly can’t use your method of how much information each represents. After all, yeast has more information in its genome than we do in ours! Exformation would be a better measure. Memes don’t just “reflect” DNA information, they are actively created and guarded by DNA information. Take the example in my post: someone feels afraid, so they synthesize a meme that confirms this feeling (my country is not heavily armed enough)…a meme that only survives to the extent that it attaches to that fear. So the DNA side of things just IS the “design property” of the meme that accounts for both its creation, success, and survival. Anselm didn’t believe in god because of his Ontological Proof…he created this proof because of his belief in god! This meme was born of a longing, not a freak mutation. Memes arn’t just bouncing around in our heads creating novel combinations and new mutant versions of themselves at random, they are synthesized by the will in order to serve the will!

      Re: feral children
      There is a whole lot more than memes missing from a feral child’s early life! If you lock a kitten in a closet for the first half of its life it too will be in such a position…but not because it is missing memes for gods sake! Kittens don’t need memes, but like children, they need to observe behaviors, have experiences, play, feel pair-bonding emotions, etc. I think that a lack of memes is just about the LEAST of the feral child’s problems!

      It would greatly clarify things if you would tell me whether memes exist in animal species. Chimps can imitate behaviors and thus learn how to use simple tools, etc. Has such a chimp acquired a meme? When chimps eat each other, is this a result of the “cannibalism meme” being “in vogue”?

      A deep problem here is that many human behaviors are both instinctual AND cultural. Take dancing, for example. I venture to bet that even a feral child would be dancing in that dark closet. Culture informs how these instincts play out, but my whole point is that culture is not DRIVING the behavior! You have the “swing-meme,” “jitter-bug-meme,” “square-dance-meme,” etc, etc…but none of these is causing people to dance! Human nature is! And no matter how we add things up, the contribution of human nature to the equation will be greater.

  6. tmtyler says:

    Re: Wouldn’t genius just be a matter of installing the correct rational/scientific/creative memes?

    Partly. Go, good memes!

    Re: How could various incredibly intelligent, well-read scientists still be creationists? They have a fully-armed memetic immune system, so why is it being defeated?

    The same reason organic immune systems get defeated – they face a wide array of rapidly evolving opponents and fail to adapt fast enough with the limited resources allotted to them.

    Also, memetic immune systems face the issue of letting through the “good” memes, while keeping out the “bad” ones. It’s a much harder problem than simply keeping out foreign cells is.

    Re: Memes are just NOT in the drivers seat at all!

    Well, they *are* driving – in the sense that they are responsible for most of the evolutionary change that is taking place at the moment. Memes are leading, and DNA-genes are being dragged along for the ride. We see that in lactose tolerance, speech, cooking, walking, blue eyes, and other recent traits. First comes the cultural habits, and only much later comes the DNA adaptations.

    Re: What could a “phemotype” possibly be? With genes we have phenotypic features like skin, organs, the immune system, various brain circuits, etc. But what is the expression of a meme? Behavior?

    Memes are the parts of culture that are inherited from. Phemes are the parts of culture that are NOT inherited from. So: phemes are things like plastic, car exhaust – results of culture that don’t get directly copied from.

    Re: Memes arn’t just bouncing around in our heads creating novel combinations and new mutant versions of themselves at random, they are synthesized by the will in order to serve the will!

    So, those are engineered memes. There are *also* wild memes. Lots of memes are engineered these days, but not all memes are engineered – think of some of the linguistic or religious memes: plenty of those were not engineered.

    Re: feral children

    I would say they are *mostly* missing memes – but it is true that they may be missing other things as well, and so are not a neat experiment.

    Re: It would greatly clarify things if you would tell me whether memes exist in animal species.

    Sure: animals have culture – and therefore memes. E.g. see the 1999 “Journal of Memetics” article: “Do Animals Have Memes?”

    Memetics doesn’t deny the existence of human nature. Culture modullates the expression of human nature, though. To see the difference, visit Japan for example – and then visit Tasmania. You will see that there’s quite a difference.

    There’s little point in arguing over how much is genes and how much is memes unless tallking about a specific trait with a specified metric, IMO. If we choose musical ability, memes win. If we choose hunger genes win.

  7. Re: go good memes!
    Most of these scientists have the good fortune of both a high hereditary intelligence and a great stock of “good memes” in the form of their scientific education. Could you abide a creationist being called a genius? But yet the good memes+hereditary intelligence often fail to build a “mimentic immune system” capable of stopping the creationism meme. Yes, this immune system must weed the good from the bad, but to be stopped by creationism? This isn’t exactly a “rapidly evolving opponent” and the immune system has an enormous amount of resources allotted to it (it is the scientists profession to think about such matters). If memes control us via their “design properties,” how are the better designed memes losing in these individuals?

    Re: Well, they *are* driving
    I would agree with you if we include human persons in “they.” Human persons are responsible for most of the evolutionary change that is happening at the moment, wouldn’t you agree? Saying that memes are responsible seems like saying that hammers are responsible for nailing things. They just don’t do this without motivated humans attached to them!

    Re: Wild memes
    I don’t know what these could be. The ones we learn instead of create ourselves? Though these do in a sense bounce around my noggin, the ones that have no relevance to my will simply are forgotten without a trace…sadly (goodbye AP Calculus!). I am sometimes surprised if a trace remains, but this should always serve as a lesson about one’s will: it remained for a reason. If that song gets stuck in your head, you just need to admit to yourself that part of your will enjoys it, perhaps much to the chagrin of your will’s other denizens.

    I don’t agree that religious memes were created without engineering. Take Paul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus. Even admitting that he likely had an epileptic seizure this doesn’t mean that his ecstatic vision was not created by something “personal.” Lets say its his unconscious mind. Why would we ever say that its products are not “engineered”? Let’s say its his right hemisphere experiencing an electrical storm around his temporal-parietal junction…well the RH is capable of understanding and creating language, the hallmark of the personal. Why would we describe one of its products as lacking engineering? If I have a bright idea that seems to come from out of nowhere, this doesn’t mean that I didn’t engineer it.

    Re: Sure: animals have culture
    Thank you for this article…this clarifies a lot. So, animals have memes. Lets take the monkey’s termite straw as an example. Would it be more correct to say that the monkey’s desire for protein-rich termites is “driving” this behavior, or that memes are in the drivers seat? Are the monkeys “possessed” by a freak benevolent mind virus, or do the monkeys “possess” a helpful strategy? If we are going to grant that monkeys have cognition and some form of thought (which they of course have), then we can’t very well claim that the products of their minds are not engineered, can we?

    Re: Culture modulates the expression of human nature.
    It is certainly correct that culture modulates the expression of human nature, but it most certainly does not hijack it (ala memes in the drivers seat). A trumpet mute modulates the sound of the trumpet, but we would not say that the mute is producing the music, or is more responsible for the subsequent sound, than the trumpet. I don’t think that it is the memes creating such exotic and weird cultural practices and behaviors…we just have really weird, quirky passions! I mean, any form of dancing, if you think about it, is rather ridiculous. So if it is prompted by a natural human urge to express the human body in rhythmic motion, then why would we ever claim that it is the particular kind of dance (the jitterbug, Charleston, etc) that is most causally relevant to the behavior? That seems backwards. “The Charleston” doesn’t infect people and cause them to dance…the people were consciously willing and eager from the start. A person desiring to dance thought up the Charleston!

    Re: if we choose musical ability, memes win. If we choose hunger genes win.
    Why would memes win with musical ability? Aren’t musicians trying to express deep, haunting feelings and all that? Why would we claim that memes are controlling their musical expressions more than their will is?

  8. tmtyler says:

    Re: If memes control us via their “design properties,” how are the better designed memes losing in these individuals?

    Hang on: religious memes have become exquisitely well-adapted to their hosts over thousands of years of cultural evolution. Their persistence just means that they have better defenses and contagiousness than might naively be thought after a cursory examination of their apparently-nonsensical contents.

    Re: Saying that memes are responsible seems like saying that hammers are responsible for nailing things. They just don’t do this without motivated humans attached to them!

    Computer viruses are a type of meme – and they typically have “motivated humans” behind them – but the viruses *themselves* often get blamed for the network damage they result in. That seems like a perfectly reasonable way of looking at the situation to me.

    Re: What are wild memes?

    Dennett puts it this way: “The wild memes of language and folk religion, in other words, are like rats and squirrels, pigeons and cold viruses — magnificently adapted to living with us and exploiting us whether we like them or not.”

    Re: I don’t agree that religious memes were created without engineering.

    Well, only *some* religious memes. For example, consider the idea that Jesus Christ was born of a virgin. That looks as though it is down to a translation mistake. No one *deliberately* invented the story – but once it was out there, it took on a life of its own.

    Re: Would it be more correct to say that the monkey’s desire for protein-rich termites is “driving” this behavior, or that memes are in the drivers seat?

    *Usually* talk of memes “driving” is concerned with the issue of whether memetic evolution in leading DNA evolution (which it usually is). Cultural adaptations occur much faster because memes have shorter lifecycles and other evolutionary advantages over DNA. So – in this sense – culture is in the driving seat, dragging the sluggish DNA genes along behind them.

    You are using the idea of memes “driving” in a different sense, and I am not sure it is one which was ever intended. Behaviour is the product of nature and nurture. There are age-old controversies over which is more important in particular cases, and there are statistical techniques for seeing how much of the variance in particular behaviours is down to genes or memes. I am not much of an expert on termite feeding in chimps – but other traits are well studied. Some heritability figures illustrate the extent of the DNA-based component of various traits: Intelligence: 49%, Extraversion 54%, Conscientiousness 49%, Neuroticism 48%, Agreeableness 42%. Some traits have very high heritability: e.g. tongue rolling. Others have very low heritability: e.g. speaking Japanese. Because of this variability across traits, it doesn’t normally make much sense to claim that genes or memes are dominant overall – instead, both are important.

    Re: “The Charleston” doesn’t infect people and cause them to dance…the people were consciously willing and eager from the start. A person desiring to dance thought up the Charleston!

    *Some* memes are mutualists. Not *all* memes are deleterious to their hosts. For example, language memes are good for their hosts. In those cases, “virus of the mind” talk has more potential to mislead, what with most viruses being parasites. That’s one reason for using the term “memes” rather than “thought contagions” or “mind viruses”.

    Re: Why would memes win with musical ability? Aren’t musicians trying to express deep, haunting feelings and all that? Why would we claim that memes are controlling their musical expressions more than their will is?

    Well, I guess it depends on how you measure it. It wasn’t a great example – since I don’t have reliable figures to hand about the heritability of musical ability.

    I’m not really sure why there some kind of a controversy about the relative contribution of memes and genes to traits. It is a fairly well studied area which doesn’t have much specifically to do with memetics – it’s just the age-old nature vs nurture debate. If you think meme enthusiasts exaggerate the effects of memes – relative to genes, what is the evidence that supports that? It isn’t what the term “memetic drive” is actually about.

  9. Re: their persistence just means that they have better defenses and contagiousness than might naively be thought after a cursory examination of their apparently-nonsensical contents.
    No, it means that these memes are better designed than those comprising the memetic immune system, which is surely a problem for memetic theory, given that it hold that memes survive based on their internal design features. I don’t think creationism was ever much of a match for its secular rivals in terms of is design properties. Its more than a match in terms of its appeal to our emotional and spiritual desires, however, but that is what “contagiousness” and “defenses” means! They have nothing to do with the internal logic of the idea, and everything to do with the appeal to a person’s will.

    Re: the viruses *themselves* often get blamed for the network damage they result in. That seems like a perfectly reasonable way of looking at the situation to me.
    Then you would agree that it is perfectly reasonable to say that hammers swing people. Personally, I don’t think that it is precise and correct to say that computer viruses are committing an attack…a hacker or group of hackers is committing an attack! If the virus gets away from their control, then they have unintentionally committed an attack. Do we say that bullets attack people? Of course not.

    Re: jesus christ born of a virgin
    This is simply not true…it was not an accident or mistranslation. There are dozens of similar myths involving a virgin birth…see Attis, Adonis, Osiris, Dionysis, Bachus, Mithras, etc, etc. Now, I don’t think that somebody deliberately (consciously) invented it, but someone’s unconscious did! This brings us into the territory of mythic archetypes, and I’m not sure if you view these as memes. Would a genetically hard-coded instinct, like a reflex, be a meme?

    Now, were certain ideas in Christianity produced by mistranslation? Yes, of course. Hell, for example. When translated from Hebrew (sheol) to Greek, this word took all of the connotations of the Greek Hades, connected with Manichaen notions of hell, etc, etc. My point is that even these mistranslations survived because they attached to something people valued already. I can’t seem to come up with a single example of a truly “wild meme.”

    Re: You are using the idea of memes “driving” in a different sense
    I am just using it in the sense that Dawkins, Bloom, and the rest of the gang use it. They are going WAY beyond the metaphorical usage and saying shit like this:

    “They were welded into a social body by a meme.”

    “At the center of each society is an imperious master–the meme.”

    Imperious master!?! This is preposterous. I am fine with the Nature Via Nurture equation, and I’m not trying to argue that culture has no power. I am just trying to reign back in various preposterous statements like the above. These clearly go above the metaphorical sense and are just trying to sound edgy and heretical at the expense of alienating people from science! In fact, there really is no “metaphorical” usage of the term “master.” The master is at the top of the food chain, consciously issuing orders down to the underlings. Memes just don’t do this. They couldn’t possibly do this, even metaphorically.

    Re: Nature vs Nurture
    Thank you for the heritability coefficients…this will help. Lets take intelligence (49%), for example. I am not trying to argue that environmental/cultural factors do not make up the 51%…I am arguing that memes do not make up the 51%! In fact, I doubt they account for much. I’m reminded of Nietzsche’s saying: “Many a man fails as an original thinker simply because his memory it too good.” As I understand it, you claim that the 51% is all memes, right? I think that a single experience of a teacher taking the time to help a student understand an idea, with caring, compassion, and respect, does more for that student’s intelligence vis a vis the 51% than whatever meme he was struggling to understand. Do you see my point? Look at the science regarding memory…its emotion that carries the day! What memes are the mentally ill going to shrinks in order to erradicate? Emotionally charged ones! Its not the internal logic of the “you-are-worthless-meme” that hurts people, it is the fact that your father said it!

  10. tmtyler says:

    Re: “No, it means that these memes are better designed than those comprising the memetic immune system, which is surely a problem for memetic theory, given that it hold that memes survive based on their internal design features.”

    …but that is a crazy characterization of memetics. We already discussed this, and I said that both memes and the memetic immune system were involved.

    Re: “Personally, I don’t think that it is precise and correct to say that computer viruses are committing an attack…a hacker or group of hackers is committing an attack!”

    …but you are OK with it being an “attack” when the viruses are organic?

    The extent to which it is reasonable to transfer responsibility is usually down to the level of agency that the intermediates have.

    With hammers, they have no agency, so responsibility falls on their owners. With memes, the situation is somewhere intermediate. Memes are not entirelly inanimate like hammers, are, but they are much like not full human moral agents either. People are OK with talking about “bad laws” and “bad political systems”, though – and blaming these entities for people’s problems – even though these are mere cultural phenomena.

    Re: “This is simply not true…it was not an accident or mistranslation.”

    The “Virgin birth of Jesus” article puts it as follows:

    “Hebrew has a specific word “almah”, which may mean “maiden,” “young woman,” or “virgin”. When Matthew 1:22 states: “Behold the virgin shall be with child” it uses the Greek term “parthenos” as “virgin” as in the Septuagint translation of Isaiah, while the original Masoretic Isaiah uses the Hebrew “almah”.[31] This Greek translation “alters or refines the meaning of Isaiah’s original Hebrew: where the prophet had talked only of a ‘young woman’ conceiving and bearing a son, the Septuagint projected ‘young woman’ into the Greek word for ‘virgin’ (parthenos).”

    Re: “Would a genetically hard-coded instinct, like a reflex, be a meme?”

    No: memes represent cultural phenomena – not things coded into DNA.

    Re: “They are going WAY beyond the metaphorical usage and saying shit like this”

    The first Bloom quote (“welded”) seems fine to me in context – hard to misinterpret.

    The second Bloom quote (“imperious”) has some problems – rather gratuitous personification of a meme – plus referring to a large complex entity as a “meme”, whereas “memeplex” would be the more usual term.

    Re: “Imperious master!?! This is preposterous. I am fine with the Nature Via Nurture equation, and I’m not trying to argue that culture has no power. I am just trying to reign back in various preposterous statements like the above. These clearly go above the metaphorical sense and are just trying to sound edgy and heretical at the expense of alienating people from science! In fact, there really is no “metaphorical” usage of the term “master.” The master is at the top of the food chain, consciously issuing orders down to the underlings. Memes just don’t do this. They couldn’t possibly do this, even metaphorically.”

    It would be OK to describe political systems as “imperious masters”, IMO. A political system acts like a large, powerful agent – in much the same way as a company acts as a large, powerful agent. That seems to be what Bloom is calling a meme. I haven’t looked into how bloom defines memes – so I don’t know if he is being consistent – but I would not personally use the term “meme” in this way.

    Re: “Lets take intelligence (49%), for example. I am not trying to argue that environmental/cultural factors do not make up the 51%…I am arguing that memes do not make up the 51%! In fact, I doubt they account for much. I’m reminded of Nietzsche’s saying: “Many a man fails as an original thinker simply because his memory it too good.” As I understand it, you claim that the 51% is all memes, right?”

    The non-genetic component would be made up of memes *and* other environmental factors. In the case of intelligence, practice with previous intelligence tests would be an example of memes at work. Whereas watching nature would be a non-cultural influence on intelligence. I expect the breakdown has been studied in the case
    of intelligence. Practice effects alone are a non-trivial element.

    I should add that my figure for intelligence was much too low. Intelligence is pretty strongly inherited – a good example of genes being a stronger influence than memes.

    Re: I think that a single experience of a teacher taking the time to help a student understand an idea, with caring, compassion, and respect, does more for that student’s intelligence vis a vis the 51% than whatever meme he was struggling to understand.

    Hang on, though: teaching is one *major* way in which cultural transmission happens! Did the teacher get *their* undertanding from another teacher? Maybe you should be counting the teacher’s efforts as an instance of meme transmission…

  11. Re: both the memes and the memetic immune system are involved
    Aren’t you counting the same memes twice here? The memetic immune system is comprised of memes…its a memeplex of various scientific, skeptical memes, and so forth. Yes? Are you claiming that the memetic immune system is getting thwarted, but that the memes that make up this immune system are nonetheless better designed/more powerful than the creationism meme? Here, this should settle the matter. There is a famous Dawkins quote that I always loved…to paraphrase, it says that every one of us is an atheist when it comes to the worlds religions, but true atheists just go one god further. In the case of these near-atheists (ie, just about every religious person alive), what precisely is stopping all of the other (rejected) religions? Is it their memetic immune system? Of course not. Is it the powerful internal logic of whatever religion they do subscribe to? It can’t be, because whatever religion they don’t ascribe to is held by plenty of other people who don’t subscribe to theirs. This should prove definitively that the internal design properties of these religious memes do not account for their success or survival…nor is it the rapid evolution of these memes as they cleverly thwart the memetic immune system.

    Re: viral attacks
    No. It is not ok to say that an organic virus is committing an attack on people any more than a computer virus or a hammer. “Attack” is an idea we are borrowing from human and animal actions, and in so far as we use it regarding inanimate objects, we use it metaphorically. Bloom and the others are purposefully using non-metaphorical uses of these terms in order to scare people out of their religious views, but are only succeeding in scaring them away from science.

    Re: The extent to which it is reasonable to transfer responsibility is usually down to the level of agency that the intermediates have.
    Yes! Now we are getting somewhere! But people are “ok” with saying that this is a “bad” law because we all know that someone came up with that law, put it in place, and someone else is enforcing it…so whatever “bad” consequences this law causes, it ultimately leads back to some person or other. No protesters are attacking copies of the constitution or the Patriot Act…they are attacking policeman! None of us actually believe the literal interpretation of these sentences, but Bloom and Dawkins are making such statements about religions with the intention of a literal interpretation.

    So, a hammer has no agency, whereas a meme kinda does, kinda doesn’t. I see your point here. Schopenhauer’s magnum opus, for example, is a memeplex that is a remarkably accurate representation of his very soul. In this sense, it has more agency than a hammer. But, only insofar as it is an instantiation of his intentions! So, when I say that the World As Will and Representation had a great impact on my worldview, the book reference is just a stand-in for Arthur, who is more precisely who had a great impact on my worldview. I can, however, abide by some notion of the soul existing in print and other media, ala Hofstadter’s “I Am A Strange Loop.” But lets get back to the hammer. There is a hammer meme, I’m sure you would agree…been around since the chimps evidently. The hammer itself is a physical instantiation of this meme…it contains the information in its very design, and this is what allows an imitator to copy it. Given that it has no agency, you claim that it doesn’t swing the person around. But what about the “hammer-nails-for-strong-buildings” meme? Is this not “swinging the person around” on your view? I see this view as being equally incoherent as the view that the hammer is swinging the person around. Or, take the Bible, for example. You seem to be claiming that, like the hammer, the Bible isn’t really controlling people…it is all of the memes instantiated in that physical text which are controlling people. But this is to personify those memes, when what is actually happening is these people are USING these memes to satisfy their spiritual longings. It is just egregious personification to say that the memes are USING people.

    Re: rather gratuitous personification of a meme
    Finally we have reached some common ground. Bloom’s whole book is written with such gratuitous personifications. Don’t get me wrong…loved the book…but it was intended to be inflammatory! This is what I am objecting to. But how much does this actually diverge from your position? After all, memes are like quasi-agents…so some quasi-personification is actually warranted!

    Re: teaching is one *major* way in which cultural transmission happens!
    True. The teacher could have received the “support-students-to-foster-growth” meme…but was it the support or the meme that got the job done? You seem to be missing my point, which was that it was the emotional care, the personal respect, and all of the emotional, non-memetic properties of the experience that actually proved to be powerful in this experience. Let’s say the kid is learning theology! I am contending that regardless of what he is learning, his non-genetic intelligence will increase to the extent that his teacher supports and cares for him, implicitly gives him respect as a free-thinking agent, etc. An uncaring, non-supportive teacher can dump as many memes as he wants onto kids….they aint gonna help the kids intelligence hardly at all. Look at the Asian method of education…a bunch of rote memorization and regurgitation on tests. These kids get inundated with far more memes that we in the west do. Now, compare our creative thinking scores!

    Re: the Septuagint projected ‘young woman’ into the Greek word for ‘virgin’ (parthenos).
    Precisely my point! ‘Projected’ is the key word. It was not a mistake or error…it was not caused by randomness (ala the “wild meme”). It was a psychological projection! Likely a projection from the same source of mythic archetypes that informs the myths of Attis, Adonis, Bachus, and the bunch. Given your position on inherited instincts, I think you will have to agree that the mythic archetypes cannot be memes, and yet they are the real “mind viruses” lurking back there, ready to project meaning and “magic” into memeplexes like Christianity. Isn’t this like the birds’ nesting instinct? We wouldn’t say that the nest is the imperious master of the birds; that nests simply use these birds to construct themselves. We would say that the birds instincts are the imperious masters. And so with religion, it is our religious instincts (the god hole, whatever you want to call it) that are the imperious masters. If you indict the religious memes for “controlling” people, you are erroneously personifying them, first of all, but secondly, you miss that they are not the power-source: they are mere tools, and really it doesn’t matter what precise shape the tool happens to have, as long as it gets the job done. Memetics, on the other hand, suggests that it is precisely the shape of the tool that accounts for its success!

    • tmtyler says:

      Re: The memetic immune system is comprised of memes…its a memeplex of various scientific, skeptical memes, and so forth. Yes?

      The memetic immune system is probably part memes, part individual learning and part genes.

      Re: Are you claiming that the memetic immune system is getting thwarted, but that the memes that make up this immune system are nonetheless better designed/more powerful than the creationism meme?

      I don’t think I said anything like that. We need a meme “power” metric to compare scepticsim with creationism. Today, both thrive in the world. Hopefully, creationism will die out, but maybe there will be new dark ages – rather than a new enlightenment.

      Re: This should prove definitively that the internal design properties of these religious memes do not account for their success or survival…

      You are beating a dead horse, there. I already said twice it is not just down to the properties of the meme, but its host also plays a role. I never heard of any one who denied this.

      Re: nor is it the rapid evolution of these memes as they cleverly thwart the memetic immune system.

      That is a big part of why deleterious memes persist – the other main reasons being that the immune system has limited resources, faces an enormour array of adversaries, and also has the demanding job of letting the “good” memes through.

      However, with religious memes, they are woven into memeplexes that often enhance fitness. Mormons and Amish, for instance, have lots of babies. There, the memetic immune system won’t be putting up much of a fight – those memes seem to be pretty alinged with the interest of the DNA!

      Re: “Attack” is an idea we are borrowing from human and animal actions, and in so far as we use it regarding inanimate objects, we use it metaphorically.

      Memes, as it says in The Selfish Gene: “should be regarded as living structures, not just metaphorically but technically. When you plant a fertile meme in my mind, you literally parasitize my brain”.

      Re: [snip attacks] None of us actually believe the literal interpretation of these sentences, but Bloom and Dawkins are making such statements about religions with the intention of a literal interpretation.

      A news article says: “Computer virus attacks US drones”. Another one says: “BBC Criticizes RIAA’s Attacks On Consumers”. Another one says: “Irish dissidents’ arrests an attack on free speech”. Is seems as though meme products are attacking and being attacked all over the place in common english usage. Are Dawkins and Bloom doing more personification than is orthodox? What is problematical with a mindless robot attacking, anyway? Why the urge to seek out sentience behind an attack?

      Re: It is just egregious personification to say that the memes are USING people.

      Let’s switch this topic around. It is common to say that viruses cause people to cough and sneeze. Yet coughing and sneezing are DNA-coded traits, which the cold virus merely triggers. Coughs clear obstructed windpipes and sneezing clears mucus from the lungs, and these are useful adaptations, cold virus or no cold virus. So, under this view, the coughing and sneezing is part of human naure, and the cold virus merely *modulates* the built-in behaviour.

      The idea is the memes work a lot like that. Memes “make” people sing in roughly the same sense that cold viruses “make” people sneeze. That is, roughly speaking, the level of control we are talking about.

      I am OK with saying that the cold virus USES people to further its own reproductive ends. Similarly I am OK with saying that the catholicism memeplex USES people to further its own reproductive ends.

      Re: But how much does this actually diverge from your position? After all, memes are like quasi-agents…so some quasi-personification is actually warranted!

      If you are interested in my views, I have an essay/video titled “Tim Tyler: The meme’s eye view” – which goes into the whole issue of personification / anthropomorphising memes a little. The corresponding “gene’s eye view” is pretty standard evolutionary biology these days.

      Sometimes meme enthusiasts do go a little overboard with anthropomorphising memes – but most of the time I am OK with it. There’s a big positive side in that giving memes agency better lets people visualise what the memes act as though they want, which helps them to understand what they do.

      Critics do love to attack those who anthropomorphise memes though. It goes back to the old: “Genes cannot be selfish or unselfish, any more than atoms can be jealous, elephants abstract or biscuits teleological”.

      Re: The teacher could have received the “support-students-to-foster-growth” meme…but was it the support or the meme that got the job done?

      I was thinking more of the teacher passing on memes about how to handle intelligence test questions.

      Re: You seem to be missing my point, which was that it was the emotional care, the personal respect, and all of the emotional, non-memetic properties of the experience that actually proved to be powerful in this experience.

      If the loving care helped the student to pass the intelligence tests, and the loving care was not itself learned as part of cultural transmission, then it is true that it might have been coming from the teacher’s DNA-genes.

      Re: Look at the Asian method of education…a bunch of rote memorization and regurgitation on tests. These kids get inundated with far more memes that we in the west do. Now, compare our creative thinking scores!

      Memes aren’t just rote learning, though. If you really understand something, it can still be culturally transmited.

      Re: And so with religion, it is our religious instincts (the god hole, whatever you want to call it) that are the imperious masters. If you indict the religious memes for “controlling” people, you are erroneously personifying them, first of all, but secondly, you miss that they are not the power-source: they are mere tools […]

      What we want to do with religion is to cultivate benign forms that satisfy our religious urges – without leading to wars, genocide and mass oppression. Since changing human nature itself is hard, that task falls to memetic engineering. Thus the interest in reprogramming people using education.

      Maybe Ghengis Khan had war genes that Ghandi lacked. However it seems likely that much of the difference was down to memes. If we can transform future Ghengis Khans into future Ghandis using memetic engineering, the world might be a more peaceful place.

  12. Re: the dead horse: I already said twice it is not just down to the properties of the meme, but its host also plays a role. I never heard of any one who denied this.

    But this completely undermines your position that culture=memes, or cultural evolution=memetic evolution. You are now claiming that cultural evolution=memes+the hosts role+independent learning, etc. This is in-congruent with your comment in our other thread: “Without memes there would *be* no cigarettes. There would be no cigarettes making machines, no paper, and precious little fire. Chimpanzees don’t smoke cigarettes. Cigarettes are a memetic phenomenon.” This is the same old culture=memes equation.
    Moreover, your central claim in our other conversation thread is that they DO succeed without the host playing a role: “It is true that most memes benefit somebody, but one of the central insights of memetcics is that memes can still survive without benefitting anybody – by benefitting themselves.” We were struggling hard in that conversation to come up with an example in which the host is not benefited in some way, but so far I seen none. This new view of cultural evolution (that it is more than memes) is closer to the truth, but then again it also helps hedge memetics and make it unfalsifiable. When I bring up examples of where the design properties of memes should result in their “winning” over other memes, you can just say that it is the hosts role, his independent learning, etc. Thus, there is no test whatsoever that could prove the hypothesis of memetics that these “design properties” account for their success. Furthermore, if you will grant that the host plays a role (ALWAYS!), then you will have to admit that it is NEVER appropriate to call memes “masters,” or to suggest that they “control” people, etc, etc. Slaves just don’t have a role in their masters machinations! Hosts DO NOT have a role in an organic viral attack! So if hosts DO have a role in a memetic viral attack (ie they desire the memes “bait”), the “mind-virus” metaphor just falls on its face.

    Re: news article
    I still don’t see how the fact that we use words metaphorically helps your case at all. Nobody believes that a computer virus literally perpetrated an attack on a drone…this is preposterous. Furthermore, the RIAA is a group of people (and their lawyers), who are literally attacking other people (litigants). This isn’t even metaphorical. When “free speech” is under attack it means that people are being physically coerced into not speaking: that is, they are literally being attacked. This isn’t metaphorical either.

    Re: What is problematical with a mindless robot attacking, anyway? Why the urge to seek out sentience behind an attack
    This “mindless robot” was programmed by somebody…if it is attacking, it is that persons fault! He is responsible. He is “attacking.” This is why we don’t prosecute robots or lynch them, etc. It doesn’t seem like you would have a single problem with the statement that bullets attack people, correct? After all, it doesn’t need to be sentient to attack, right? If I get struck with lightning, was I the victim of a “lightning attack”? If I go diving and run out of air is the water attacking me, or the lack of oxygen attacking me? We have to keep words meanings in order to communicate. Attack = an aggressive and violent action against a person or place: “he was killed in an attack on a checkpoint”.

    Re: the goals of memetics
    Those are fine goals and I wish you luck. Certainly “culture” is likely the biggest difference between Gengis Khan and Ghandi…but as we have (I think) agreed, culture is not just memes! Thus, you cannot claim that Khan+good memes=Ghandi. If Khan had been hugged by his mother a little more, maybe those violent genes wouldn’t have found expression. You will then claim that hugs are memes. True…but they are not JUST memes! The part that is actually changing Khan’s life is the warm pair-bonding emotions, mirroring, etc…not the design of the hugging meme. In fact, hugging is a damned instinct! There is no denying this. If various memes increase or decrease the expression of this instinct, so be it. But you can’t just appropriate human instincts and call them memes because memes are involved. Nor can you appropriate “culture” as being nothing but memes…it also includes human instincts, which are actually the drivers of culture. I can’t believe that anybody thinks that cultural evolution is driven by some mindless process of random mental collisions or what have you, instead of seeing it driven by human instincts/desires/passions, etc. Every meme we produce is TOTALLY infused with these!

    Re: instincts and archetypes
    I noticed that you didn’t respond to the archetypes angle. I’ll admit, this is treacherous territory. But it is territory we simply must cross I’m afraid. Let’s use the nesting instinct example. Some birds build elaborate nests instinctively. Now, if we started to see pretty variations on their nest design, indicative of some kind of cultural evolution, you will jump up and say “aha! Memes!” These birds are wasting precious resources on decorations…they are serving the memes! These birds are parasitized by the “condo-nest-meme”! When pressed, you will admit that the host has some role in it (ie his NESTING INSTINCT was involved). But then you will have no problem with statements like: the “condo-nest-meme” controlled these birds, or “it is the imperious master of these birds,” or whatever. Can you see why I would think that the relative contribution of the “condo-nest-meme” simply pails in comparison to the birds actual nesting instinct? Well, the same goes for human behavior. It is not the “mini-skirt-is-hot-meme” that is causing you to look at the advertisement…it is an instinctual attraction to an hourglass-shaped woman with a waste-to-hip-ratio of 7:10. This is an INSTINCT!

    Re: the memes eye view
    You say that the memes eye view, like the genes eye view, can “be useful.” Certainly, it can. Many metaphors are useful in this way. But in the genes eye view the teleological/agent-like stuff is taken out whereas you are leaving it in the memes eye view! Moreover, we go down to the genes eye view because the buck stops there. But the buck doesn’t stop at the memes eye view…it goes back to the genes eye view!

    Group chanting evolved to serve the memes that are chanted? Seriously? So Buddhism is just a great vehicle for the meme “ohm”? I really see nothing recommending the memes eye view of things. They ALWAYS seem to require some “bait” or other, which just happens to be coming from the genes eye view of things up through the psychological level, etc. So the buck NEVER stops at the memes! Not once! We don’t have a single example yet of such a meme.

    There is a further problem here, one which has caused me to beat many a dead horse I’m afraid (sorry). Genes do not directly interact with their environment…they do so via a phenotype. Yet with memes, you have them DIRECTLY competing with each other. So just as in the animal world, where the hyena competes with the lion, so in the memesphere you have creationism doing battle with skepticism. The problem is that the lions genes arn’t directly competing with the hyenas genes: their phenotypic products are doing the competing. How are the phemes doing the actual competing for the memes?

  13. tmtyler says:

    But this completely undermines your position that culture=memes, or cultural evolution=memetic evolution. You are now claiming that cultural evolution=memes+the hosts role+independent learning, etc.

    So: cultural evolution and organic evolution *interact* to create the whole evolutionary process. Cultural phenomena affect genetic evolution and genetic phenomena affect cultural evolution. Cultural evolution refers to cultural change – but there’s no implication that all of the selection pressures on culture come from within the cultural realm. Saying that “cultural evolution” and “memetic evolution” are synonyms makes no difference to any of this – culture and DNA still interact, however you look at it.

    Re: Moreover, your central claim in our other conversation thread is that they DO succeed without the host playing a role: “It is true that most memes benefit somebody, but one of the central insights of memetcics is that memes can still survive without benefitting anybody – by benefitting themselves.”

    So: that seems like a fairly straightforward misunderstanding. Meme success being *influenced* by their hosts is a different idea from memes *benefitting* their hosts.

    Re: This new view of cultural evolution (that it is more than memes) is closer to the truth, but then again it also helps hedge memetics and make it unfalsifiable.

    Right – so I don’t think we have to worry about memetics being unfalsifiable. It is a theory about how the human mind has a symbiotic relationship with new forms of life which have inheritance mechanisms not based on DNA. It suggests the reason the human brain swelled up is to accomodate a swarm of memes. It suggests that human ultrasociality exists to benefit meme reproduction. It suggests that the memes came up with speech, writing and computers to better leap from brain to brain. These are outrageous and bold ideas – surely nobody need worry about them being unfalsifiable.

    Re: Thus, there is no test whatsoever that could prove the hypothesis of memetics that these “design properties” account for their success.

    You *do* come back to this idea pretty regularly. Do you know where it comes from? Who ever claimed that meme replication only depended on meme properties, and NOT the properties of its host(s) or the rest of its environment in the first place?

    Re: This “mindless robot” was programmed by somebody…if it is attacking, it is that persons fault! He is responsible. He is “attacking.”

    Blame the programmers? There *are* some other scenarios. Maybe the robot has developed a fault. Not down to the programmers: all machines malfunction eventually, and this one was used beyond its recommended obsolecence date. So, it’s really mostly the user’s fault that the robot now thinks they are domestic intruder, and is being forcibly evicted.

    I think the “sentience seeking” arises out of the natural question: “who is to blame”. There isn’t always someone to blame. There are also faults, accidents and bad luck.

    Re: It doesn’t seem like you would have a single problem with the statement that bullets attack people, correct? After all, it doesn’t need to be sentient to attack, right? If I get struck with lightning, was I the victim of a “lightning attack”?

    I am fine with “ant attacks” and “virus attacks”. “Bullet attacks” and “lightning attacks” I would reject, though – those things are not sufficiently goal-directed in themselves.

    In this context, memes are more like ants and viruses, and not much like bullets and lighning.

    Re: Thus, you cannot claim that Khan+good memes=Ghandi.

    Right – so, I don’t have evidence to support the claim that memes could make that particular change.

    However, we *can* see that the difference between the stone age and the space age is mostly down to memes. The abolishion of cannibalism and slavery was down to memes. Memes have substantial potential for effecting positive change.

    Re: I can’t believe that anybody thinks that cultural evolution is driven by some mindless process of random mental collisions or what have you, instead of seeing it driven by human instincts/desires/passions, etc.

    OK – so: me neither. Where does that idea come from?

    I note that some people have the exact same problem with Darwinian evolution being the product of “random mutations”. In fact, much of Darwinian evolution arises from the process of deciding who gets to mate with whom – a much more interesting-sounding process. The “random mutations” business is just a misconception about how evolution works.

    Re: Now, if we started to see pretty variations on their nest design, indicative of some kind of cultural evolution, you will jump up and say “aha! Memes!”

    Yes, *if* it really was culturally transmitted.

    Re: Can you see why I would think that the relative contribution of the “condo-nest-meme” simply pails in comparison to the birds actual nesting instinct?

    So, the issue with cultural inheritance is whether variations are transimtted down the generations via the *DNA* of the birds or via the *brains* of the birds. That’s an issue which can be explored experimentally. If the birds are imitating their parents – or making nests decorated like the nests they were born in – then scientists can intervene, modifying the nest decoration, and see if the offspring are patterning the nests using information they picked up using their brains, or information coded into their DNA.

    *If* the inheritance goes via brains, *then* that’s memes, memetics, and culture.

    The issue you are apparently interested in – how much genes and memes contribute – has been studied classically from the “how much is genes” side – but there’s less information available breaking down the remaining environmental influences into culural and non-cultural components. Intelligence testing is probably the best studied area. There, genetic variation typically has a significantly larger effect on test scores than memetic variation does. As I’ve said, for other traits we see the reverse effect. For example, “Japanese fluency” is mostly down to exposure to memes, with a much smaller genetic component.

    Re: But in the genes eye view the teleological/agent-like stuff is taken out whereas you are leaving it in the memes eye view!

    Genes having “eyes” and a “view” seems pretty teleological/agent-like to me. Look at the evolutionary biology literature, and you will see that genes have “strategies”, “goals” and are “selfish” and sometimes even “spiteful”. Those biologists must be crazy – right?

    Re: Group chanting evolved to serve the memes that are chanted? Seriously?

    Yup! That was probably a big factor, anyway.

    Re: So Buddhism is just a great vehicle for the meme “ohm”?

    Not so much. Group chanting has several effects. For one thing, it creates a community who feel united with one another. Memes like human communities – human contact it helps the memes spread from one person to the next. Group chanting is itself an error correcting meme-transmission mechanism – those who don’t know the words pick them up from others. So, it is a good way of transmitting yoga sutras, moral codes and other important things down the generations before writing – and some of that cultural content could really help your tribe in the old days. Buddhism’s “Om” scores rather poorly in this whole area.

    Re: They ALWAYS seem to require some “bait” or other, which just happens to be coming from the genes eye view of things up through the psychological level, etc.

    Memetics is cool with there being “bait”. If you search on “Douglas Hofstadter’s contribution to memetics” you’ll see that the idea of “bait” was introduced to memetics back in 1983. Most anatomical breakdowns of memes since then have included an equivalent concept.

    Re: There is a further problem here, one which has caused me to beat many a dead horse I’m afraid (sorry). Genes do not directly interact with their environment…they do so via a phenotype. Yet with memes, you have them DIRECTLY competing with each other.

    Well, many “memes” do have “phemotypes” too. Think: recipe=memes, cake=phemes. The recipe(memes) is what is commonly copied from. The cake(phemes) is what is not commonly copied from.

    Re: So just as in the animal world, where the hyena competes with the lion, so in the memesphere you have creationism doing battle with skepticism. The problem is that the lions genes arn’t directly competing with the hyenas genes: their phenotypic products are doing the competing. How are the phemes doing the actual competing for the memes?

    So, IMO, the best way to straighten this out is to take an information theory perspective. Memes and genes consist of that which is copied from, and meme products and gene products consist of everything else that is affected by those memes and genes.

    So: creationism is not *just* a bunch of memes, there are also meme-products – things that are created by the memes, but which are not normallly themselves copied from. So: the cardboard covers of the creationist bibles are *produced by* memes, but nobody copies the cardboard covers themselves. What *is* copied is the “recipe” for making the cardboard covers in the book making factories. Those are memes. The cardboard covers themselves are meme *products*.

    There’s *usually* some kind of meme product involved somewhere. For example, if you have printed words, the letters are sometimes copied from, but the font style and ink chemistry are usually not – they are meme products.

    If you want to make the case that gene products are more important in determining reproductive success than meme products are, then there may be something to that. Bear in mind that the ideosphere is still young, though. Early in the history of life on earth there were *probably* naked replicators that battled it out with each other directly, without cell walls. More elaborate phenotypes developed later on. The ideosphere is still partly in that kind of early stage of development. The idea of a developmental program that translates from memes to meme products is not yet ubiquitous. As civilisation develops, I expect that we will see more and more meme products.

    • Hi Tim. Thanks again for your helpful and well-reasoned feedback. I hope you enjoy such banter as much as I do, because this is really helping me to both sharpen my perspective and to see the other side of things more clearly. Let me just start this time by stating some axioms that hopefully you will agree with and we can use as a basis for moving forward.
      1) memes always use “bait” or otherwise attach to pre-existing desires and values
      2) “engineered” memes are literally born from these pre-existing desires and values, whereas “wild” memes (results of error, Chinese whispers, etc) only survive because of their (sometimes accidental, sometimes unconsciously preferred) attachment to these desires and values
      3) culture, though largely composed of memes, also involves a host of non-memetic factors or factors not copied from (the “phemes” you mention plus things like emotions, which result, but are not copied from).
      4) There are exactly 3 levels of “interests” operating in the individual: DNA prerogatives, vehicle prerogatives (that is, liberated persons selecting which genetic interests to indulge and which to thwart), and meme-prerogatives (getting copied often and accurately, getting hosts to be more social, etc).
      5) Some social organization does not involve memes at all: ant colonies, for instance, are genetically programmed to fit into a social hierarchy. These complex social organizations cannot be said to be “produced by memes” or in any way fulfilling memetic interests.
      6) Some behaviors that resemble culture involve no memes whatsoever. If bower birds do not count, then let’s go with termites building a home.

      I imagine that axiom #4 is something you might object to, as you view the vehicle’s prerogatives as being composed of memes. When the vehicle figures out that it can get gene-programmed rewards without satisfying the interests of the genes, you will say that this is really the third level of interest at work (meme-prerogatives). This saves you from having to acknowledge the 2nd level of interests and how they compete with memetic interests. You mention, for instance, that memes help themselves by improving social ties and so forth. So, religions that foster high birth rate “help themselves” by creating more hosts, etc. However, in the case of purely recreational sex (protected sex), these memetic interests are not being served, and neither are DNA interests. You cannot claim here that other memes alone are competing with these memetic and DNA interests (ie “the pill meme” or “free love” meme) because of axioms #1 and #2, which state that memes always involve host interests being served (either vehicle interests or DNA interests). That is, you can’t take the appeal of “fun” out of the equation and write it off as a meme (though memes are involved).You cannot claim that recreational sex is just cultural, implying that DNA-interests are being excluded, because the DNA-interest-reward mechanisms are still being used. That is, culture is not purely “memes” and memes alone (also stated in axiom 3). At some points I hear you acknowledge the 2nd level of interests, followed shortly by a flat denial of such a thing:

      “It is a theory about how the human mind has a symbiotic relationship with new forms of life which have inheritance mechanisms not based on DNA. It suggests the reason the human brain swelled up is to accomodate a swarm of memes. It suggests that human ultrasociality exists to benefit meme reproduction. It suggests that the memes came up with speech, writing and computers to better leap from brain to brain.”

      In the first sentence there is a difference between “the human mind” and “new forms of life” (memes). But your real position is that “the human mind”=”memes.” This is how you can claim that memes “came up with speech, writing, and computers.” Where did the “symbiosis” go? How did it all turn into memes all of a sudden? Where is the human mind in the creation of speech, writing, computers, etc? This is why I think memetics is unwittingly committed to some form of epiphenomenalism regarding consciousness and persons (vehicle interests). In fact, your position is more extreme still: you hold that homo sapiens were produced by memes to accommodate still more memes, etc. Apes are extremely social species, and they seem to have a couple memes, but I don’t think you would commit yourself to the view that Ape sociality was driven by meme-interests. So what makes you so sure this is true of homo sapiens, who, having come from Apes, were already “ultrasocial”? As axioms 5 and 6 state, sociality and culture-like behavior does not require memes at all in many cases!

      Now, the strange thing is that I nearly agree with you. Julian Jaynes articulates a brilliant theory involving consciousness (ie having subjective interiority, introspection, etc) evolving after language. This would seem to make the “individual” a meme! But this is not the case. Certain mental “software” required to introspect is a meme. Every time the individual introspects and uses this software, he is using this meme. “The human mind,” as you put it, has become liberated from purely DNA-interests by a meme. But the individual is not just a meme! The symbiosis has to take place between two discrete things (ie “the mind” and “the memes”). Thus, when this liberated individual starts milking his DNA-interest-reward mechanisms for “fun,” this involves memes, but it is absurd to say that this is “just memes.”

      Re: Cultural phenomena affect genetic evolution and genetic phenomena affect cultural evolution.
      Yes, which should disqualify you from ever making a statement like “memes are imperious masters” or “memes came up with speech, writing, computers,” or “ the reason the human brain swelled up is to accomodate a swarm of memes.” No, these things also involve genetic interests, and vehicle interests, and are not purely memetic phenomenon. You are admitting here that there is NO “purely” memetic phenomenon, period.

      Re: Other “mindless robot” scenarios
      You seem to be describing a programmer accidentally building something that ends up hurting him. But accidents don’t involve “aggression” or any other part of the definition of the word “attack.”

      Re: “sentience seeking” arises out of the natural question: “who is to blame”. There isn’t always someone to blame. There are also faults, accidents and bad luck.

      Yes, there are accidents and bad luck, like the lightning strike example! But you have agreed that we don’t use anthropomophic words in such cases: “’bullet attacks’ and ‘lightning attacks’ I would reject, though—those things are not sufficiently goal-directed in themselves.”

      Re: I can’t believe that anybody thinks that cultural evolution is driven by some mindless process of random mental collisions or what have you, instead of seeing it driven by human instincts/desires/passions, etc.
      OK – so: me neither. Where does that idea come from?

      Well, Stanovich implies as much with his 4th category, which he could have avoided by making it a subsection of 1-3. But how does this differ from your statements that memes created writing and computers (presumably for their own interests)? You see the evolution of homo sapiens as a product of meme-interests, let alone cultural evolution. If something is driven by a symbiosis between human instincts/passions and meme-interests, then you can’t claim that development of culture, etc “comes down to memes.” True, memes make all the difference in the world, but not alone! Before powered flight, for example, you had gliders. When engines were introduced to these gliders, you get an airplane. However, it is simply incorrect to say that mechanical flight “came down to engines.” Engines made all of the difference in the world, but they are not all of the airplane!

      Re: *If* the inheritance goes via brains, *then* that’s memes, memetics, and culture.
      No. As you state, memes, memetics, and culture are not independent from genes, genetics, and genetic evolution. You cannot section them off like this. The birds would not be able to produce ANY nest without their NESTING INSTINCT! If there is already a nesting instinct that forces a bird to build a nest something like X, but a little bit of cultural influence allows these birds to make slight changes to X, how can you just write the whole thing off as being a memetic phenomenon? You seem perfectly willing to admit the interaction/symbiosis between DNA and memes elsewhere. My point was that not all of the inheritance “goes via brains,” and if the extent of the inheritance is largely genetic, then lets just call it like it is!

      Re: Genes having “eyes” and a “view” seems pretty teleological/agent-like to me. Look at the evolutionary biology literature, and you will see that genes have “strategies”, “goals” and are “selfish” and sometimes even “spiteful”.

      Yes, bioligists use teleological terms, but they are always careful to tell the reader not to take such terms literally. Memeticists are not so careful. Yes, genes having “eyes” and “view” “seems” pretty teleological, but ‘seeming’ and ‘being’ are two different things, as these biologists will be the first to point out.

      Re: Well, many “memes” do have “phemotypes” too. Think: recipe=memes, cake=phemes. The recipe(memes) is what is commonly copied from. The cake(phemes) is what is not commonly copied from.

      But the phemes are not being copied from, so they are not affecting the evolution of the memes, whereas phenotypes are the ONLY thing interacting with the environment and thus affecting the evolution of the underlying genes. You don’t see a problem here?

      Re: So: creationism is not *just* a bunch of memes, there are also meme-products

      But you are leaving out religious experiences here. My contention is that religious experiences, caused by organic brain diseases or otherwise, also makes up ‘creationism.’ Do you see why this is a problem for your position regarding culture=memes? Presumably, cave men had religious experiences too (epilepsy at the very least) and so this non-memetic influence helped shape culture. Thus, culture does not equal memes and the difference between cave men and us is not just memes. Religious experiences are an example of axiom 6: behaviors that look like something culture would produce, but are not caused by memes. My argument is that non-memetic things like this are the big drivers in cultural/memetic evolution, instead of some quark or “design property” of the memes that these religious experiences produced!

      Re: Early in the history of life on earth there were *probably* naked replicators that battled it out with each other directly, without cell walls.

      This point is fairly critical to my objection. I have no evidence of such a thing ever having taken place. Do you? If it hasn’t, then most of the meme-on-meme interacting taking place today is a completely novel form of evolution, one never seen in the biological realm. So why would we think that it operates just like biological evolution?

      • tmtyler says:

        Re: Let me just start this time by stating some axioms that hopefully you will agree with and we can use as a basis for moving forward.

        That mostly seems fine by me. I am not really convinced that all memes use bait – but if we say > 99%, I would be fine with that. Point 2 seems to have the worst problems: “engineered memes” result from deliberative memetic engineering (how can I make a viral video?) “Wild memes” are more likely to be the result of unconscious forces in many individuals – with no one of them acting as a designer – followed by generations of selection.

        Re: I imagine that axiom #4 is something you might object to, as you view the vehicle’s prerogatives as being composed of memes.

        I’m OK with axiom #4: e.g. to illustrate the “vehicle” having interests of its own: heroin addiction behaviour benefits neither genes nor memes – but it is still a result of the structure of the brain.

        Re: However, in the case of purely recreational sex (protected sex), these memetic interests are not being served, and neither are DNA interests.

        That’s just a combination of memes and genes – from my perspective. However, you don’t have to do more work to convince me that “vehicles” have interests which are not those of genes or memes: I already agree that they do.

        Re: In the first sentence there is a difference between “the human mind” and “new forms of life” (memes). But your real position is that “the human mind”=”memes.”

        No, no! The human mind forms from genes, memes and other environmental influences that are not transmitted via human culture.

        Re: This is how you can claim that memes “came up with speech, writing, and computers.” Where did the “symbiosis” go? How did it all turn into memes all of a sudden?

        No, the genes are still involved – though I took them for granted and didn’t bother mentioning them in that quoted passage.

        Re: Where is the human mind in the creation of speech, writing, computers, etc? This is why I think memetics is unwittingly committed to some form of epiphenomenalism regarding consciousness and persons (vehicle interests).

        I would not describe consciousness as being an “epiphenomen”. However, that is a whole other topic.

        Re: In fact, your position is more extreme still: you hold that homo sapiens were produced by memes to accommodate still more memes, etc.

        Well, plus genes, obviously. However almost all of the ways in which are different from chimpanzees are the result of our coevolution with the memes.

        Re: Apes are extremely social species, and they seem to have a couple memes, but I don’t think you would commit yourself to the view that Ape sociality was driven by meme-interests.

        That’s true – other apes have fewer memes, and I just don’t know (through lack of study) how much their lives have been affected by them.

        Re: So what makes you so sure this is true of homo sapiens, who, having come from Apes, were already “ultrasocial”?

        The other apes are not ultrasocial. Ultrasocial means football stadiums, mecca, vatican-scale phenomena. Ants are ultrasocial – but other apes are not.

        For the associated evidence, perhaps take a look at the “Memes and the evolution of human ultrasociality” article.

        Re: As axioms 5 and 6 state, sociality and culture-like behavior does not require memes at all in many cases!

        That is true – ants have no memes. They *do* have deep symbiotic relationships with bacteria, fungi, aphids and other creatures though. Mutualism leads to rich and dense ties between community members, which helps to unite them. For humans the mutualism is with non-DNA based creatures. They draw us together in order to allow them to reproduce, and we allow ourselves to be drawn – because the memes are good for us.

        Re: Thus, when this liberated individual starts milking his DNA-interest-reward mechanisms for “fun,” this involves memes, but it is absurd to say that this is “just memes.”

        Best not to say that, then. I don’t think I have ever done so.

        Re: You are admitting here that there is NO “purely” memetic phenomenon, period.

        Well, not until after the coming “memetic takeover”, anyway…

        Re: But accidents don’t involve “aggression” or any other part of the definition of the word “attack.”

        Dictionary.com says that “attacks” can be “forceful, violent, hostile, or aggressive”. Malfunctioning mindless robots can still be “forceful” and “violent”. The word “attack” still seems fine to me.

        Re: True, memes make all the difference in the world, but not alone!

        So: I have never claimed “alone”. Of course not alone! All memes depend on genes for their very existence, at least today.

        Re: As you state, memes, memetics, and culture are not independent from genes, genetics, and genetic evolution. You cannot section them off like this.

        I wasn’t “sectioning them off”. I was “taking genes for granted”.

        Re: Yes, bioligists use teleological terms, but they are always careful to tell the reader not to take such terms literally. Memeticists are not so careful.

        Maybe. Memetics is a more advanced and difficult topic – so perhaps it is sometimes assumed that readers understand about how teleology and teleonomy are used in biology – and know how to “cash out” such terms in a more rigorous manner.

        Re: But the phemes are not being copied from, so they are not affecting the evolution of the memes […]

        That’s not what I meant at all. When I said something not being copied from, I don’t mean it has no influence at all. If a hammer is thrown at me it still *influences* me, even though the hammer is not being *copied*.

        Re: You don’t see a problem here?

        Well, plenty of people have problems with the distinction between genotype and phenotype in memetics – and whether that leads to Lamarckian inheritance or not. I am aware of those problems.

        Re: But you are leaving out religious experiences here. (in reply to: “creationism is not *just* a bunch of memes, there are also meme-products […]”)

        Let’s not have a discussion about whether the term “creationism” refers to human universals – such as religious experiences and having a brain.

        Re: My contention is that religious experiences, caused by organic brain diseases or otherwise, also makes up ‘creationism.’ Do you see why this is a problem for your position regarding culture=memes?

        Not really: you just have a different way of using words from me – and that’s all this boils down to.

        Re: Presumably, cave men had religious experiences too (epilepsy at the very least) and so this non-memetic influence helped shape culture. Thus, culture does not equal memes and the difference between cave men and us is not just memes.

        So, I already said that, for me, culture does not equal memes – since it includes meme products. Not *everyone* agrees with that. The definition of culture is a complicated issue. However, I don’t *think* I have come across any definition of culture that includes religious experiences. Experiences *influence* culture – but not everything that influences culture *is* culture. Rain *influences* human culture – but rain is not part of human culture.

        Re: Early in the history of life on earth there were *probably* naked replicators that battled it out with each other directly, without cell walls.

        This point is fairly critical to my objection. I have no evidence of such a thing [naked replicators] ever having taken place. Do you?

        So, I assign this around 99% probability – based largely on the work of A.G. Cairns Smith on this topic.

        Re: If it hasn’t, then most of the meme-on-meme interacting taking place today is a completely novel form of evolution, one never seen in the biological realm.

        So: meme evolution is *indeed* a new kind of evolution, one not seen on the planet before cultural transmission first evolved, many hundreds of millions of years ago. Having said that it *does* resemble the evolution of DNA in a large number of ways – so the new kind of evolloution looks a *lot* like the old kind – despite the fact that nucleic acids are being bypassed.

        Cases where memes interact fairly directly with other memes do have parallels in the organic realm, though. So, for instance, data sequences inside computers undergo a form of natural selection – as do memes inside brains. However, this is not so very different from the way “selfish DNA” copies itself around within individual cells – resulting in LINEs and SINEs.

        Re: So why would we think that it operates just like biological evolution?

        It doesn’t. Rather, both organic and cultural evolution are instances of “universal Darwinism” or “generalised Darwinism”. The differences arise as a result of different inheritance media and diffferent inheritance mechanisms.

  14. Thanks again Tim…this is an extremely parsimonious response and shows a lot of good faith.

    Re: You don’t have to do more work to convince me that “vehicles” have interests which are not those of genes or memes: I already agree that they do.

    Excellent! This vehicle, or person, is extremely important to cultural evolution. Though I agree that our co-evolution with memes has affected most of the differences that we have with apes, “affected” is a much weaker term that the one you use (“result from”), and far weaker than the terms that Dawkins, Stanovich, Bloom, etc all use. But most importantly, this vehicle/person IS “the mind.” You have admitted that genetic influences were left out of some of your statements, or “taken for granted,” but so too is “the mind”! You admit that the mind “forms from genes, memes and other environmental influences that are not transmitted via human culture.” But then when it comes to an example of vehicle interests (recreational sex), you claim that “that’s just a combination of memes and genes – from my perspective.” Well, “the mind” is not just genes or memes; it is something over and above these. If you admit that “the mind” or the “person” is also being taken for granted, along with genes, in statements about memetics, then these statements lose ALL of their sting. For example:
    “At the center of each society is an imperious master–the meme.” This statement would literally be gutted by admitting the genetic and vehicle influences that you are willing to grant. Or, here is a better example:
    “Memes have an ultimate ambition: taking vast chunks of the world into their possession and restructuring it according to their form.” We would have to change this as follows: “Memes have an ultimate ambition that they receive from their makers: taking vast chunks of the world into their owners possession and restructuring it according to their from, which just happens to coincide nicely with the forms of gene and vehicle interests that gave birth to the meme in the first place.” Gutted!

    Re: The other apes are not ultrasocial. Ultrasocial means football stadiums, mecca, vatican-scale phenomena. Ants are ultrasocial – but other apes are not.

    I suppose I could be persuaded, but really Apes spend much more time around other Apes than we do with fellow humans these days! We can be totally surrounded by humans all day without being affected by them at all. The Ape spends every hour of his life with other Apes! Humans can be introverted to the extent of being hermetic!

    Re: You are admitting here that there is NO “purely” memetic phenomenon, period.

    Well, not until after the coming “memetic takeover”, anyway…

    Well, if you admit that there is no “purely” memetic phenomenon (as also there would be no “purely” vehicle phenomenon), then I can’t see how you can abide the many various STRONG claims for memetics that I was attacking in my two blog posts. “Imperious masters”? Anthropomorphizing is the least of the this statements problems.

    Re: Well, plenty of people have problems with the distinction between genotype and phenotype in memetics – and whether that leads to Lamarckian inheritance or not. I am aware of those problems.

    Oh, my mistake. I had never heard the objection outside my head.

    Re: Rain *influences* human culture – but rain is not part of human culture.

    Isn’t it though? Rain dances and other agricultural/fertility rituals, for example. This is an important point. Just like religious experiences, various features of the material environment are DETERMINING the course of culture far more than the shape of memes do! Dawkins wants to write off strange religious ideas as just being arbitrary, capricious nonsense that resulted from the evolution of memes alone, when in fact the trajectory of these ideas had much less to do with memes and much more to do with objective features of the mind, genes, and the environment.

    Re: So, I assign this around 99% probability – based largely on the work of A.G. Cairns Smith on this topic.

    Very good to know…thanks Tim.

    I have to agree with everything else you say in your response. Your view seems quite reasonable. The views of other memeticists do not seem nearly this reasonable. Perhaps I am reading the wrong people. Bloom, for example, is not a memeticist, and neither is Stanovich. Could you give me some staple authors other than Dawkins? You mention Blackmore, for example.

    • Tim Tyler says:

      Re: But then when it comes to an example of vehicle interests (recreational sex), you claim that “that’s just a combination of memes and genes – from my perspective.” Well, “the mind” is not just genes or memes; it is something over and above these.

      More specifically, contraceptives appear to be *mostly* for the memes.

      Their effect on genes is mostly too negative for it to be adaptive for DNA-genes – except for the DNA-genes of the condom company directors.

      Memes typically benefit by sterilizing their hosts – since then they cen use the host’s reproductive resources for spreading more memes. So, memeplexes benefit from association with contraception memes – so soon contraception memes are everywhere, via memetic hitchhiking.

      Another perspective is the “evolutionary psychology” one – that points out that contraception facilitates behaviour patterns that would have been adaptive for DNA-genes in the ancestral environment (having sex). The fact that having sex in the modern world doesn’t lead to the same payoff is down to the modern would being radically reshaped by memes.

      Vehicle interests are mostly gene or meme interests, one way or another. There are a *few* exceptions to that – I already mentioned drugs, I believe.

      Re: I can’t see how you can abide the many various STRONG claims for memetics that I was attacking in my two blog posts.

      Well, IIRC, one of your targets was Howard Bloom, who tends to have a rather colourful rhetorical style. It is easy for critics to find fault with this sort of material – it mostly doesn’t pretend to be scientific in the first place.

      Some examples of the genotype/phemotype criticism, excerpted from my book:

      Jonathan Marks (2004): In microevolutionary theory we distinguish between genes, the hereditary units themselves, and phenotypes, their expression and interface with the outside world. Memes are commonly used in both senses, suggesting that the analogy breaks down very quickly. […]

      Massimo Pigliucci: To begin with, unlike the case of genes, there doesn’t seem to be any distinction between memes themselves and the phenotypes they produce. […]

      Willem Drees (2011) writes: In the theory of memes, the distinction between the genotype and the phenotype, in other words the one that exists between the recipe (genes) and the complete organism, is simply not there.

      Blackmore and Dennett are worth reading on the topic. Most memetics these days goes by the name of “cultural evolution” instead – and there there is interesting material in that area by Boyd, Richerson, Mesoudi, Laland and others.

  15. Re: More specifically, contraceptives appear to be *mostly* for the memes.

    You can’t be serious. Who is propagating memes while sport fucking? Nearly all of the modern vehicle’s time is spent figuring out ways of sport fucking and if given the chance, this is pretty much all vehicles would do. How is this helpful to meme propagation? NO resources are being “freed up” for memes…they are being freed up for more sport fucking! Furthermore, you cannot list both procreation and contraception as serving meme interests. This is what I was referring to regarding unfalsifiablility. Earlier you referred to certain religious memes encouraging procreation so as to create more meme vehicles…now you are talking about contraception as a means by which memes free up reproductive resources for more meme creation. It seems that whatever the hosts do short of a frontal lobotomy, it will always be in the memes interests.

    It seems we have lost pretty much all of the progress I thought we had made vis a vis genes and vehicle interests being important. Its *mostly* just for the memes again. This is incompatible with axioms 1-4, which you largely agreed to. Insofar as practices are in the memes interests, they are so via the vehicle and/or genes interests, which cannot be excluded by cavalierly saying that its mostly just for the memes (which implies that it is for the memes to the exclusion of the other interests).

    Re: so soon contraception memes are everywhere, via memetic hitchhiking

    Show me one example. What memeplex has so benefited from the contraception meme or “hitchhiked” on it? This is nonsense. Contraception became prolific because it satisfied a ton of vehicle interests and vehicle interests alone. Full stop.

    But here is a good test: remove the pleasure centers from peoples heads and see how motivated they will be to hump each other based purely on the puppet strings of the many memeplexes that you claim have attached to the contraception meme. How much sport fucking do you think would be going on fueled by rogue ideologies? None. “Mostly” for the memes you say?

    Re: Vehicle interests are mostly gene or meme interests, one way or another. There are a *few* exceptions to that – I already mentioned drugs, I believe.

    How about the exception of sport fucking? No gene interest, though a bunch of gene payoffs (pleasure, lower stress, social affirmation, self-esteem, etc). Where are the meme interests being served? It is quite clear that you view the human individual as so many memes placed on top of genetic interests. There is no other way of reading this statement that vehicle interests are mostly gene or meme interests. This is nothing short of epiphenomenalism regarding consciousness as well as a flat rejection of the robots rebellion. You are claiming that there are no freed robots (vehicles), just freed memeplexes.

    How does this position differ from the following: tools like hammers, shovels, and airplanes control their makers, who have no interests of their own which don’t amount to tool interests.

    Re: Blackmore and Dennett are worth reading on the topic.

    Thanks for the recommendations. I respect Dennett as the highest caliber of philosopher, though I don’t share this respect for Blackmore. But even Dennett is a little misguided when it comes to memes:

    “it cannot be ‘memes versus us,’ because earlier infestations of memes have already played a major role in determining who or what we are. The ‘independent’ mind struggling to protect itself from alien and dangerous memes is a myth.” He continues, “It is no accident that the memes that replicate tend to be good for us, not for our biological fitness…but for whatever it is we hold dear. And never forget the crucial point: the facts about whatever we hold dear–our highest values–are themselves very much a product of the memes that have spread most successfully.”

    He is right that the independent mind struggling to protect itself from alien and dangerous memes is a myth but he is misleading when he suggests that our highest values are “themselves very much the product of memes that have spread most successfully.” Memes are involved, but “very much the product of memes” is WAY too strong a statement. Moreover, he is getting the causal story backwards. The memes that spread most successfully were those that furthered our highest values, or furthered what “we hold dear.” Eventually, you get back to something that humans hold dear that has nothing to do with memes! Take the god hole, for example, which is something you are willing to grant. The god hole has certainly been the source of many successful memes, and has evolved as a value along with those memes such that Dennett’s statement is nearly true. But trace that cultural evolution back far enough and you will still have a god hole. The feral child in the closet has a damned god hole! Our highest values are NOT reducible to memes or meme interests…although it is true that memes modify these values.

    The same goes for Egos. Before Jaynes’ breakdown of the bicameral mind, there were no fully conscious humans (in the sense of their being able to introspect, see time spatially, etc). It took some memes to allow the unconscious ego to be a conscious ego…but that doesn’t mean that the conscious ego is a meme! So Dennett is correct that previous meme “infestations” (again, inappropriate viral terminology) “played a role” in determining who we are, but that does not mean that who we are is a succession of meme infestations. Memes “played a role in determining”….they did not “determine who we are” by themselves, which you imply by suggesting that most vehicle interests are just meme interests.

  16. Tim Tyler says:

    Re: You can’t be serious [about contraceptives being mostly for the memes] Who is propagating memes while sport fucking?

    Condoms are cultural artefects. The associated memes are at the condom manufacturers HQ, uin theior factories, and in their advertisements and marketing efforts.

    Re: Nearly all of the modern vehicle’s time is spent figuring out ways of sport fucking and if given the chance, this is pretty much all vehicles would do. How is this helpful to meme propagation?

    So: fewer babies: more host resources for meme propagation.

    Re: NO resources are being “freed up” for memes…they are being freed up for more sport fucking!

    People actuallly only spend a small proportion of their time having sex. The rest of the time they are doing other things – and many of those other things turn out to involve memes.

    Re: Furthermore, you cannot list both procreation and contraception as serving meme interests. This is what I was referring to regarding unfalsifiablility. Earlier you referred to certain religious memes encouraging procreation so as to create more meme vehicles…now you are talking about contraception as a means by which memes free up reproductive resources for more meme creation. It seems that whatever the hosts do short of a frontal lobotomy, it will always be in the memes interests.

    Amish / mormon memes *do* seem to enhance host fitness. While certain contraceptive-related memes do apparently have a negative effect on host fitness. That is not being “unfalsifiable”, that is just modelling the real world situation where some memes benefit their hosts while others are deleterious. Nobody claims the idea of symbiosis is “unfalsifiable” just because there are mutualists and parasites. That would be a totally unreasonable complaint. Similarly there is no reason to apply the same dud argument to memetics.

    Re: Insofar as practices are in the memes interests, they are so via the vehicle and/or genes interests, which cannot be excluded by cavalierly saying that its mostly just for the memes (which implies that it is for the memes to the exclusion of the other interests).

    Well, not necessarily *totally*. Maybe some condom manufacturer made lots of money and used it to start a family and make babies. Maybe Stud Smith used contraceptives to coax a girl into sleeping with him (it’s OK, I’ll use protection) – and now they are married with three kids. Maybe Susie J used condoms to stop herself from getting AIDS from her third husband, which allowed her to finish raising her teenage kids. Condoms are not *all* bad for gene fitnesses. It’s just that they seem to be bad on average – via damage to overall fertility.

    Re: Show me one example [of “contraception” memes spreading via memetic hitchhiking]

    So: disease-avoidance memeplexes embraced barrier contraception. Feminism memeplexes embraced the pill.

    Re: What memeplex has so benefited from the contraception meme or “hitchhiked” on it?

    I meant the “contraception” meme hitchhiked on other memeplexes, examples of which are given above.

    Re: But here is a good test: remove the pleasure centers from peoples heads and see how motivated they will be to hump each other based purely on the puppet strings of the many memeplexes that you claim have attached to the contraception meme. How much sport fucking do you think would be going on fueled by rogue ideologies? None. “Mostly” for the memes you say?

    So: in the sense that contraception has a pretty negative effect of most modern gene fitnesses – whereas it does help to spread many memes around.

    Re: How about the exception of sport fucking? No gene interest, though a bunch of gene payoffs (pleasure, lower stress, social affirmation, self-esteem, etc). Where are the meme interests being served?

    So: I already went into that.

    Re: It is quite clear that you view the human individual as so many memes placed on top of genetic interests.

    Plus some non-cultural environmental inflences and some self-organising systems.

    Re: This is nothing short of epiphenomenalism regarding consciousness as well as a flat rejection of the robots rebellion.

    FWIW, I deny epiphenomenalism regarding consciousness.

    Re: You are claiming that there are no freed robots (vehicles), just freed memeplexes.

    So: certainly Stanovich’s manifesto is a big bunch of memes.

    Re: How does this position differ from the following: tools like hammers, shovels, and airplanes control their makers, who have no interests of their own which don’t amount to tool interests.

    Humans having “no interests of their own” seems like a pretty daft perspective. I don’t endorse anything like that.

    Re: But even Dennett is a little misguided when it comes to memes […]

    Perhaps. This is the bleeding edge of evolutionary theory, after all.

    Re: He is right that the independent mind struggling to protect itself from alien and dangerous memes is a myth but he is misleading when he suggests that our highest values are “themselves very much the product of memes that have spread most successfully.” Memes are involved, but “very much the product of memes” is WAY too strong a statement.

    So, without memes, you have something like a cave man. Memes make the difference between human and cave man values – which seems like quite a difference in a number of respects.

    Re: Memes “played a role in determining”….they did not “determine who we are” by themselves, which you imply by suggesting that most vehicle interests are just meme interests.

    I never said that. Rather: most vehicle interests come from genes *or* memes.

  17. Re: People actuallly only spend a small proportion of their time having sex. The rest of the time they are doing other things – and many of those other things turn out to involve memes.

    Right, but they do spend most of their time TRYING to have sex! Most people spend all day mindlessly laboring at work so that they can go chase tail at the bars. Suggesting that this is helpful for meme propagation is just wrong. But you can just argue that the budweiser memes or trendy clothing memes are winning here, so its still all about memes…hence, unfalsifiable hypothesis! You can always show that some meme or other is benefiting, so its all about meme interests. There is no example that cannot be discarded in this intellectually dishonest fashion.

    Re: Nobody claims the idea of symbiosis is “unfalsifiable” just because there are mutualists and parasites. That would be a totally unreasonable complaint. Similarly there is no reason to apply the same dud argument to memetics.

    Right..NOBODY makes this claim, so why are you ascribing it to my argument? I was not arguing about host (genetic) fitness at all. I was talking about memetic fitness. If both procreation and contraception serve the interest of memes, then your theory has got problems.

    I’ll tell you what, since you seem to think that these claims about the power of memes are falsifiable, why don’t you make a prediction and test it? If we could get an example going, perhaps I could demonstrate that memetics gives itself enough theoretic space in which to maneuver such that it cannot be falsified. But first, we must get past this aversion to seeing vehicle interests as something other than memes or genes. If you think that vehicle interests are memes, then there is simply no outcome of such a test that cannot be written off as memes. While slavishly adhering to a biological paradigm you seem quite comfortable jettisoning virtually the entire cannon of philosophy, psychology, comparative mythology, anthropology, philology, and every other field that acknowledges the “psychological level” or the existence of ACTUAL agents or persons. You don’t seem to be aware of the fact that statements like “political systems are our imperious masters” are completely incongruent with these other fields of study. I just can’t take memetics seriously…its worse than behaviorism! Yet, you are willing to agree that the measure of things like “responsibility” or “control” or “master” is determined by how “agent-like” something is. Then in the next breath the only thing whose agency is GUARANTEED (the individual, with his/her vehicle interests), the very thing by which we are measuring the agency of stuff like political ideologies, gets left out of the picture! This will not do.

    Re: Well, not necessarily *totally*. Maybe some condom manufacturer made lots of money and used it to start a family and make babies. Maybe Stud Smith used contraceptives to coax a girl into sleeping with him (it’s OK, I’ll use protection) – and now they are married with three kids. Maybe Susie J used condoms to stop herself from getting AIDS from her third husband, which allowed her to finish raising her teenage kids. Condoms are not *all* bad for gene fitnesses. It’s just that they seem to be bad on average – via damage to overall fertility.

    You are avoiding the point by focusing on “gene fitness.” In this example, vehicle interests simply DOMINATE the picture, but you won’t even mention them. Why? Because you think that they are just meme-interests, which is preposterous. Memes do not render sexual stimulation pleasurable…genes do. But vehicles freed from the demands of genetic fitness devote ENORMOUS amounts of energy to receiving sexual pleasure. How could you possibly write this off as being governed by memes?

    Re: You are claiming that there are no freed robots (vehicles), just freed memeplexes.
    So: certainly Stanovich’s manifesto is a big bunch of memes.

    Is that all it is, really? A bunch of memes? You don’t seem to agree with the entire point of his book, which was to point out a robots rebellion and thus the existence of the “psychological level,” the existence of vehicle-interests. You have mentioned Hofstadter with some respect…have you not read GEB or I Am A Strange Loop? I think you will find that plenty of your fellow memeticists are willing to grant vehicle interests as something over and above meme interests.

    Re: Humans having “no interests of their own” seems like a pretty daft perspective. I don’t endorse anything like that.

    But you do! Because all vehicle interests are just written off as either genetic interests or meme interests. You can’t have it both ways! Either you acknowledge the psychological level as real, and powerful, or you write it off as either level 1 or level 3.

    Re: So, without memes, you have something like a cave man. Memes make the difference between human and cave man values – which seems like quite a difference in a number of respects.

    We have gone over this. You are egregiously committing the genetic fallacy and ignoring the emergent phenomenon of “mind” or consciousness.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genetic_fallacy
    Though memes make a ton of difference, they do not “make the difference between human and cave man values.” Remember my argument about the airplane? Engines make all the difference in the world, but they don’t make an airplane. You are arguing something like the following: the difference between a glider and an airplane is an engine, so airplanes are just engines and all you need in order to fly is an engine. No…you need the glider + an engine! I could similarly argue that you need cave man values + memes to get modern values, but this leaves out THE MOST CRUCIAL STEP: the emergence of “the mind” or consciousness. Read Bruno Snell’s “The Discovery of the Mind.” He argues very persuasively that the mind was not “created,” but “discovered.” Though memes aided in this discovery, they did not CREATE “the mind”! They were involved…they made all the difference. However, once “the mind” was discovered, it plays the crucial role in cultural development which you are ascribing to memes. So the actual equation goes like this: cave man values + memes gets you consciousness, THEN cave man values+ memes + consciousness=modern values. If you leave out the vehicle interests, the human person, consciousness, etc in your equation, then you are missing the most crucial part of the equation. Moreover, you cannot write off consciousness or the person as just so many memes. Memes did not create the mind, though they aided in its unfolding. Cave man values+memes=modern values is just plain wrong!

    Will you agree that consciousness and vehicle interests play a role in cultural development? Will you agree that consciousness, though made possible by certain memes, is something other than memes? If not, then there is not much point in our discussing this further.

  18. Tim Tyler says:

    Re: Right, but they do spend most of their time TRYING to have sex! Most people spend all day mindlessly laboring at work so that they can go chase tail at the bars. Suggesting that this is helpful for meme propagation is just wrong.

    How so? Much work creates memes. Social networking creates memes.
    Memes use human reproductive resources to further their own propagation. That explains the demographic transition, and why meme-rich countries – such as Japan – have such low birth rates.

    Re: But you can just argue that the budweiser memes or trendy clothing memes are winning here, so its still all about memes…hence, unfalsifiable hypothesis!

    *Which* hypothesis is supposedly unfalsifiable? The original idea that contraceptives result in human reproductive resources being diverted towards memes? If you have training in the scientific method, it should be obvious that there are lots of ways to test that. One is to have two populations, one with easy access to contraceptives, and the other with restricted access, leave them to it for a while and measure some proxy for meme transmission rates (e.g. ISP bills). Another approach is to find natural experiments that approximate these conditions, do the best you can to control for confounding factors, and consider multiple populations. Catholics vs protestants make an interesting test case regarding access to contraception.

    The charge of unfalsifiability is actually a very strong one in most social science domains. *Usually* when someone claims a social science hypothesis is “unfalsifiable”, they are simply wrong.

    Re: I was not arguing about host (genetic) fitness at all. I was talking about memetic fitness. If both procreation and contraception serve the interest of memes, then your theory has got problems.

    My comments about the Amish made no mention of meme fitnesses. It only talked about gene fitnesses. I said: “However, with religious memes, they are woven into memeplexes that often enhance fitness. Mormons and Amish, for instance, have lots of babies. There, the memetic immune system won’t be putting up much of a fight – those memes seem to be pretty alinged with the interest of the DNA!”

    When I said “enhance fitness”, that was the genetic fitness of the Amish hosts.

    Of course, host procreation serves the interest of *some* memes. Those that get transmitted vertically, for example.

    Re: I’ll tell you what, since you seem to think that these claims about the power of memes are falsifiable, why don’t you make a prediction and test it?

    The idea that contraceptive use promotes meme transmission? That is itself a prediction: “increased contraceptive use incrteses meme transmission rates”. Or else, what claim are you talking about?

    Re: If we could get an example going, perhaps I could demonstrate that memetics gives itself enough theoretic space in which to maneuver such that it cannot be falsified.

    Maybe – but the “cannot be falsified” charge is usually just daft. The idea that culture evolves along Darwinian lines is a massive one. It predicts gradualism, phylomemetic trees, extreme evolution on islands, the need for island cUltural diversity programs – and a raft of other things. Whatever memetics is, “unfalsifiable” is not among its attributes.

    Re: While slavishly adhering to a biological paradigm you seem quite comfortable jettisoning virtually the entire cannon of philosophy, psychology, comparative mythology, anthropology, philology, and every other field that acknowledges the “psychological level” or the existence of ACTUAL agents or persons.

    Uh – you what?!? A supporting quotation? Or indication where you got any of that from?

    Re: Yet, you are willing to agree that the measure of things like “responsibility” or “control” or “master” is determined by how “agent-like” something is. Then in the next breath the only thing whose agency is GUARANTEED (the individual, with his/her vehicle interests), the very thing by which we are measuring the agency of stuff like political ideologies, gets left out of the picture! This will not do.

    Vehicles do have interests. They are not being “left out”. The idea is that their interests are (mostly) the product of genes and memes.

    To summarise, goal directedness in nature arises from optimisation processes. There are three main optimisation process involved here: genetic evolution, memetic evolution, and the human mind. However the human mind was *built* by the first two processes. Its interests are as closely-aligned to the genes that built it as nature can manage.

    Re: You are avoiding the point by focusing on “gene fitness.” In this example, vehicle interests simply DOMINATE the picture, but you won’t even mention them. Why? Because you think that they are just meme-interests, which is preposterous.

    Vehicle interests are (mostly) the product of gene interests and meme interests. I did just gave three examples of gene fitness being involved – those of the condom manufacturer, Stud Smith and Susie J – so it doesn’t *all* boil down to memes.

    Re: Memes do not render sexual stimulation pleasurable…genes do. But vehicles freed from the demands of genetic fitness devote ENORMOUS amounts of energy to receiving sexual pleasure. How could you possibly write this off as being governed by memes?

    So: memes regularly use human emotions in order to manipulate them. Fear of hell, desire for slavation – and so on. This is commonplace. By giving humans sexual pleasure without the inconvenience of making babies, memes have hit on the ultimate human reward button. Well, that and pornography – which is another example of a big collection of memes being used to manipulate humans. It looks as though it is no accident that plenty of cheap porn and sex makes humans better hosts for the memes – ones less likely to be feeding the baby or fighting with each other. The memes are manipulating the environment to promote their own spread.

    Re: Is that all [Stanovich’s manifesto] is, really? A bunch of memes?

    Well, plus some paper, ink and cardboard.

    Re: You don’t seem to agree with the entire point of his book, which was to point out a robots rebellion and thus the existence of the “psychological level,” the existence of vehicle-interests.

    It is true that I don’t agree with most of his book.

    I do think there’s such a thing as vehicle-interests, though. I said so already – giving the example of drug addiction as something favouring neither genes or memes.

    Re: You have mentioned Hofstadter with some respect…have you not read GEB or I Am A Strange Loop?

    Sure: both of those, and most of his other ones too. Hofstadter’s writing on memes was actually *mostly* in “Metamagical Themas”.

    Re: But you do! Because all vehicle interests are just written off as either genetic interests or meme interests.

    Vehicle interests are (mostly) the product of gene interests and meme interests. There are a few exceptions: drug addiction. Plus there’s the evolutionary-psych point that there’s an adaptation lag – we are talking about genes that *were* adaptive in ancestral environments.

    Re: [caveman + memes = human] You are arguing something like the following: the difference between a glider and an airplane is an engine, so airplanes are just engines and all you need in order to fly is an engine. No…you need the glider + an engine!

    So, the argument goes: the difference between a cave man and a human is memes, so humans are just cave men plus a bunch of memes.

    The objection of “No…you need the cavemen + the memes!” fails – since I already clearly have the cave man in there.

    Re: So the actual equation goes like this: cave man values + memes gets you consciousness, THEN cave man values+ memes + consciousness=modern values.

    You don’t think the other apes have consciousness?!? We are not on the same page at all there. You should consider revising your low opinion of our primate breathren, IMHO.

    Re: Moreover, you cannot write off consciousness or the person as just so many memes.

    FWIW, I place consiousness many millions of years before memes.

    Re: Cave man values+memes=modern values is just plain wrong!

    So, the original idea was that you get the cave man, add the memes, and produce the human. It is harder for me to imagine what physical procedure your equation is intended to represents.

    Re: Will you agree that consciousness and vehicle interests play a role in cultural development?

    OK.

    Re: Will you agree that consciousness, though made possible by certain memes, is something other than memes?

    OK – consciousness != memes. Those are very different concepts.

    • First of all…I do apologize…my last was quite a bit too ‘ranty’ and melodramatic.

      Re: You don’t think the other apes have consciousness?!? We are not on the same page at all there. You should consider revising your low opinion of our primate breathren, IMHO.

      Hmm…this clears up a lot. We are using ‘consciousness’ in very different senses. You mean something like ‘awareness’ or ‘sentience,’ where I mean a suite of features including the spatialization of time, introspection, long-term planning, recall as opposed to recognition, etc. I don’t think that most modern human beings are exercising consciousness all that often from hour to hour, let alone a chimp. Clearly there is unconscious ‘cognition’ or ‘thought’ going on in animals…even those who don’t have memes (ala the kitten playing with a leaf upon which it has projected phantom prey). But this unconscious thought is very different than introspection, IMO. Chimps can recognize their bodies in a mirror just as they can recognize that a red dot has been placed on their body, but this is not “self-awareness”…this is just recognition of their body. Humans can be aware of a symbolic identity usually organized in a metaphorical space “in here” and it is this that they recognize in the mirror to qualify as truly Conscious, in my sense. It appears that you don’t think that consciousness is much different between apes and humans. Is this correct? Just a matter of degree and not kind (quantity and not quality)?

      Re: Memes use human reproductive resources to further their own propagation. That explains the demographic transition, and why meme-rich countries – such as Japan – have such low birth rates.

      Well there are two sides to such an explanation. You grant that memes always use bait and so I could equally argue that “human persons use memes to counter their reproductive drives so that they can gain more sensual or aesthetic pleasure, which helps memes as a bi-product.” Since humans are the gold standard for agent status, I say my explanation is far more accurate.

      Re: When I said “enhance fitness”, that was the genetic fitness of the Amish hosts.

      Yes but you just admitted that the memes interests are aligned with the hosts genetic interests and thus memes are benefiting. So regardless of whether contraception or procreation are “in vogue,” memes benefit. So basically whatever we begin discussing, memes benefit. In high birthrate countries you get more children…children like making stuff up and spreading ideas…so its all in the memes interests after all. Can you see why this would seem like an unfalsifiable view of things?

      Re: Uh – you what?!? A supporting quotation? Or indication where you got any of that from?

      Well, if human persons are “mostly” genes plus memes, then the agency you ascribe to memes is coming at the cost of the agency of, well, the actual agents! If you think that the agency of memes is participating in or feeding off of the agency of humans, then you very well cannot make strong claims about ideologies being our imperious masters and such. If I am canoeing down a river and complete my trip I cannot proclaim victory as the imperious master of the river because my vector and the rivers were the same…I was drafting off of the rivers energies the whole time. Similarly, memes (if we take a memes eye view at all) are just drafting on the humans stream of consciousness.

      Re: However the human mind was *built* by the first two processes.

      Would you agree that after this”building” process that the human mind or consciousness became an emergent phenomenon? Because if so, then you can’t just claim that the human mind is (mostly?) genes+memes…genetic fallacy. Water is “build” from hydrogen and oxygen, but you wont find many of the properties of water in its constituent parts…these are emergent. It is incorrect to say that water is just the properties of H + those of O….just as it is incorrect to say that the human mind = the properties of memes + the properties of genes.

      Re: By giving humans sexual pleasure without the inconvenience of making babies, memes have hit on the ultimate human reward button.

      Or you could more accurately say that “humans have hit on the ultimate human reward button and they won’t take the finger off of the damned thing to do anything productive, like discuss fruitful ideas.”

      Re: pornography – which is another example of a big collection of memes being used to manipulate humans. It looks as though it is no accident that plenty of cheap porn and sex makes humans better hosts for the memes – ones less likely to be feeding the baby or fighting with each other.

      Haha, plenty of cheap porn makes humans less likely to be feeding the baby or fighting with each other and MUCH more likely to be masturbating!

      Re: It is true that I don’t agree with most of his book.

      Me neither, but I do agree with the basic concept of a robots rebellion…of the human realizing that it can have interests distinct from its genes interests. You seem to think that chimps share this self-awareness, or you are denying this self awareness to humans…i can’t quit tell. Your use of the term ‘consciousness’ is too broad and thus I don’t actually know what you think of the distinctively human variety.

      Re: Hofstadter

      Ok, good, we have an author in common then. So what part of GEB or I Am A Strange Loop do you think could possibly support something like “political ideologies are our imperious masters”? I can find plenty of quotes that manifestly defend a robots rebellion…not a memetic rebellion, mind you…but the genuine emergence of a new level of order (the psychological).

  19. Tim Tyler says:

    Re: It appears that you don’t think that consciousness is much different between apes and humans. Is this correct? Just a matter of degree and not kind (quantity and not quality)?

    That’s a *fairly* reasonable assessment. The human neocortex is three times bigger – and that’s quite a difference. FWIW, I rate dogs and pigs as being probably-conscious too.

    Re: I could equally argue that “human persons use memes to counter their reproductive drives so that they can gain more sensual or aesthetic pleasure, which helps memes as a bi-product.” Since humans are the gold standard for agent status, I say my explanation is far more accurate.

    It seems as though we generally agree about contraception resulting in more memes, but differ on the detailed mechanisms.

    I think you really are going to need an evolutionary model to deal with this. One of the effects involved is likely to be that those with the pro-contraceptive memeplexes have fewer kids, and thus more time and energy for spreading those memeplexes to others. Models based on humans fulfilling their desires with contraceptives will just fail to account for such effects.

    Re: Yes but you just admitted that the memes interests are aligned with the hosts genetic interests and thus memes are benefiting.

    …those *particular* Amish/Mormon memes, might well be benefiting, yes. It is perfectly OK for contraception to be good for contraceptve memes and for baby-making to be good for memes relating to baby-making.

    Re: So regardless of whether contraception or procreation are “in vogue,” memes benefit. So basically whatever we begin discussing, memes benefit. In high birthrate countries you get more children…children like making stuff up and spreading ideas…so its all in the memes interests after all. Can you see why this would seem like an unfalsifiable view of things?

    Yes, but from my perspective, there appear to be severe distortions going on.

    To recap: I think contaception is good for memes, overall, while making babies are bad for memes, overall. There’s a big association between these things – in which rich countries use lots of birth control and have few babies, while poor countries use little birth control and have lots of babies. Of course, the memes lead to contraceptive use – as well as the other way around. It looks as though it is a big positive feedback loop.

    Re: Would you agree that after this”building” process that the human mind or consciousness became an emergent phenomenon?

    Sure.

    Re: Because if so, then you can’t just claim that the human mind is (mostly?) genes+memes…

    So, the idea is more specific than that. Goal-directedness in the human mind (mostly) arises out of the “goals” (or optimisation “targets” if you prefer) of the evolutionary processes that built it (genetic and memetic evolution). Those are essentially gene and meme reproduction, respectively. So, that explains why human minds find members of the opposite sex attractive, for example. Minds are built by evolution, which mostly tries to construct the minds so that they reproduce the genes that built them.

    Re: Water is “build” from hydrogen and oxygen, but you wont find many of the properties of water in its constituent parts…these are emergent. It is incorrect to say that water is just the properties of H + those of O….just as it is incorrect to say that the human mind = the properties of memes + the properties of genes.

    Right – so I am pretty sure that I never said anything like that.

    Re: Or you could more accurately say that “humans have hit on the ultimate human reward button and they won’t take the finger off of the damned thing to do anything productive, like discuss fruitful ideas.”

    That’s the “humans are in charge” model. However, humans are not in charge. There’s a big evolutionary process with multiple types of self-reproducing agents in it with a complex mesh of symbiotic relationships – and there’s nobody in charge of it, the whole thing just evolves.

    Re: Haha, plenty of cheap porn makes humans less likely to be feeding the baby or fighting with each other and MUCH more likely to be masturbating!

    Yes, but most can’t masturbate the whole time without running dry.

    Re: I do agree with the basic concept of a robots rebellion…of the human realizing that it can have interests distinct from its genes interests. You seem to think that chimps share this self-awareness, or you are denying this self awareness to humans…i can’t quit tell.

    Humans can and do rebel against their genes and memes. K.S. advocates this. Rebelling against your deleterious memes makes sense to me – but rebelling against your own genes seems questionable to me.

    Re: So what part of GEB or I Am A Strange Loop do you think could possibly support something like “political ideologies are our imperious masters”?

    Memes are mostly in “Metamagical Themas” – with a tiny bit in “The Mind’s Eye”. Hofstadter only wrote a little about memes, though – mostly giving an anatomical breakdown of how memes operate.

  20. Re: That’s a *fairly* reasonable assessment. The human neocortex is three times bigger – and that’s quite a difference. FWIW, I rate dogs and pigs as being probably-conscious too.

    And by “conscious” you must mean that they display unconscious thinking or cognition. I would agree. This will present some problems, however, for your theory of “wild” memes, as you are attempting to characterize them as “un-engineered,” or accidental, because there is no conscious deliberation or designing going on. This is why i misunderstood your use of the term ‘consciousness.’ You seem to undermine unconscious thinking as something that doesn’t design or engineer stuff, but then undermine human “self-consciousness” as being little different than the ape variety. This is another reason why I think that memetics flirts with epiphenomenalism regarding consciousness…that they view it as a simple container for ready made products bubbling up from the unconscious. But, you see, you can’t have it both ways. Either unconscious cognition “designs” and “engineers” things, which destroys your notion of “wild memes,” or unconscious cognition doesn’t design or engineer things, and only subjective (human) consciousness can do so.

    But back to animals: dogs and pigs cannot “sum up” their experience as self-conscious humans can. A dog has what, 15-30 minutes of short term memory? But it can’t sum up every successive 15 minutes of its life, thankfully. Humans have narratization, exerption, spatialized time, a metaphorical subjective mind-space, an imagination that is directly subject to their will, etc, etc. This “emergent” phenomenon of human self-consciousness is what qualifies other things in the world as “agent-like.” We recognize agent-like features in animals (their sentience or “consciousness” in your use of the term), and use agent-like terms for them. We have also programmed computers with some form of unconscious cognition, and so they too seem like agents to us. Computers don’t truly count as agent-like b/c you still need a person attacked for it to do anything. Animals will do stuff all day long with nobody attached to them pulling the strings. Perhaps this will change with AI, but that remains to be seen. For now, they are just tools. Likewise with memes IMO.

    Re: Would you agree that after this”building” process that the human mind or consciousness became an emergent phenomenon?
    Sure.

    I didn’t mean to over-simply your position vis a vis consciousness being memes+genes, but still in your more elaborated version this emergent phenomenon doesn’t seem to qualify as being special, being a “new level.”

    Re: “Minds are built by evolution, which mostly tries to construct the minds so that they reproduce the genes that built them.”

    But the interesting thing about human minds is that they can thwart all of that! A samurai can open his stomach with a kitana! A monk can remain totally celibate…can light himself on fire…can willingly starve to death! You would like to characterize this as being taken over by memes (ie the samurai was dieing b/c of bushido law, the monk b/c of some ascetic-masochism-meme of some sort). But this is precisely the opposite of the truth. These people are demonstrating the very apogee of freedom. Though they utilize memes in the process, this is the only correct way of describing their relationship: man creates and utilizes memes, not the other way around.

    Re: That’s the “humans are in charge” model. However, humans are not in charge. There’s a big evolutionary process with multiple types of self-reproducing agents in it with a complex mesh of symbiotic relationships – and there’s nobody in charge of it, the whole thing just evolves.

    There is a certain sense in which I might agree with you, but this whole time YOU have been the one providing example after example of genetic engineering and so forth…human beings are very much sitting behind the controls now! Furthermore, we have been memetic engineers for far longer! Subjective (human) consciousness seems to have been around since at least about 2000BC.

    Re: Yes, but most can’t masturbate the whole time without running dry.

    I have met plenty of porn/sex addicts, though I don’t like the term “addict.” I can assure you that somehow, they don’t seem to run dry. The term “addict,” misleading as it is, has been adopted b/c porn or sex has taken over much of their time, energy, and much of their life. If memes have orchestrated this, they done fucked up son! Hedonism is about the worst thing for meme-replication that I can think of!

    Re: Humans can and do rebel against their genes and memes. K.S. advocates this. Rebelling against your deleterious memes makes sense to me – but rebelling against your own genes seems questionable to me.

    Ok then…if humans can become aware of both their genetic imperatives and cultural conditioning, then they are FREE in a very special sense of the word…a sense so special that it becomes rather inappropriate to say that memes are in charge or otherwise to suggest that these people are still mindlessly subject to their cultural conditioning!

    Re: Memes are mostly in “Metamagical Themas” – with a tiny bit in “The Mind’s Eye”. Hofstadter only wrote a little about memes, though – mostly giving an anatomical breakdown of how memes operate.

    But he has written plenty about the human mind/soul, and NONE of this brilliant writing could possibly support the view of memes as imperious masters. I haven’t read Metamagical Themas, but I have no doubt whatsoever that Hofstadter never makes such claims about the power of memes. If you haven’t read Becker’s “The Denial Of Death,” I think it would clearly point out the conflict that I am talking about between strong claims for memes and the entire field of psychology.

  21. Pingback: Keeping The 4th Dimension In Mind Pt2 « Think On These Things

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