Re: virus:"other reality"

Reed Konsler (
Sun, 12 May 1996 20:47:55 -0400

"Therefore, I still say that a definition of an object does not depend on
observing that _particular_ object. We don't need to define a method of
observing beliefs in other people in order to have a definition of 'belief.'
I don't even think I need to be able to observe a 'belief' in myself to know
what a 'belief' is. Think of predjudices: we all know what they are, but
are still shocked to discover that we have them, even when they affect our
outward behavior. Again, a workable definition does not depend on our
ability or skill of observation." ---Dan Henry (May12,12:14pm)

I think we are closer to agreement, here. It is possible to define something
as an object which is, in principle "observable" or verifiable, but for which
evidence does not yet exist. The concept of a "meme" is such a thing. It is
an idea, and a useful one, that has (currently) only partial verification.
Such defintions I would call "hypothesis" or "speculation" and what I have
been saying is that such construts must be given less weight in further
processes of thinking and action, for the very fact that they are not yet
verified by observation.

Obviously, every conclusion one reaches is in some sense only tentative. There
exists, as I said before, a continuum from "Certian" to "Suspect" knowledge. A
new hypothesis always must begin at the "Suspect" end and gradually move
towards "Certain". However, it is tautological that far more "Suspect" ideas
will be found wanting and discarded than will ever move into the middle realms
of ontological certianty and only a precious few will ever achieve even the
tentative title of "Certian Fact".

The process whereby a hypothesis is evaluated is one of observation. Some
ideas are so interesting that they seem to demand that they be tested. The
concept of the "meme" is such an idea. It is so revolutionary that it
encorages a process of refutation, comment, criticism, evaluation, and
modification. We are in the midst of the process. So far, the concept holds
up to scrutiny pretty well...but it is still kind of ambigious. Time will

Besides, Marek and I have reached agreement on a definition that, in
principle, submits to the possibility of external detection:

"To believe X is to incorporate X into one's meme-structure
permanently with corresponding physical change in one's neural structure
(synaptic complexes in the brain)."

I'm wary of this definition on two counts (maybe really only one).

First, the meme is an ill-defined concept itself. It's a pretty new word, and
what it "means" in the context of society will likely shift a great deal in the
next decade until it more or less settles down. Really, it is only very
recently that the "greater public" has begun to "hear the word". The effect of
Brodie's book is yet undetermined. Who knows what agent(s) might usurp,
pervert, or divert this concept? This makes a definition based solely upon
this idea somewhat vague.

As a result, my second objection arises. Christianity is part of my
"meme-complex". I know a great deal about it. I understand it (I think)
pretty well. I'm sure that this understanding exists in some observable
physical way in my brain.

But I don't believe a word of it. It doesn't motivate me to action. I don't
go to church, I don't pray.

I also know a great deal about Social Darwinism.
I'm familiar with Locke's Mind first concept of reality.
I know that people used to think the world was flat, and it looks like it was.
The Sun sure seems to be rotating around the Earth, doesn't it?

But I don't believe any of that crap either. I don't act as if it were so,
even though the concepts are imprinted on my brain.

I think the definition Dan and Marek have agreed upon is a definition of
knowledge, learning, or understanding. A belief, however, is a motive for
action. I would define beliefs as a subset of knowledge. Knowledge includes
all the memes one has recorded in the brain. Beliefs are those memes which get
to help run the system.

Now, maybe I don't understand exactly what they mean by "meme-structure".
Maybe that word is intended to exclude just the problems I've mentioned. If
so, see my first point...memes are, as yet, ill-defined. Definitions based
upon this concept are confusion magnets. Still, if this is the root of our
disagreement then I'm hopeful. As the concept of the meme is more rigorously
defined in the Global Village it is possible that what currently seems to be a
difference of opinion may fade into agreement. Language is like that.

So once again, I'll trot out my own little homily (Those of you getting tired
of reading this can skip to the next message now ;) )

"An individual observed to act as if X were true is said to believe X"

This defintion does not inhibit us from speculation as to the beliefs of any
person. I can wonder if Dan believes that e-mail is transmitted from person to
person by little e-mail fairies. I haven't seen any evidence either way. So,
Dan might believe in e-mail fairies. But nobody I know believes in e-mail
fairies, so Dan probably doesn't either. He probably does believe that the
Earth is a roughly spherical solid orbiting the Sun, though. He hasn't said
so...but I infer that he does becuase I've observed that most people think so,
So Dan probably does too. I'm speculating that Dan is a round-Earther and a
Copernican, and not a believer in e-mail fairies. In this case, I'm pretty
confident becasue it is rare, these days, to find a flat-Earther...etc.

Note also, that this definition allows one easily define and identify
hypocrites. If I say "I believe that the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church is
right about eveything". I might be defined as believing it, if we aren't
careful. I might even think I do believe it. But, if I eat Fish on Fridays
(this is no longer a bad thing, so I'm told, but it was when I was growing up)
use condoms, and have sex before marriage, with more than one person...

to quote the old adage:

"actions speak louder than words"

If I think recycling is a good idea but never get off my butt and DO ANYTHING
about it, do I "believe" in recycling?

If I say "I Love You" at the same time I'm beating you up do I believe?

Haven't you ever looked at anyone and said "They say X, but they don't believe
it"? Just because I have a certian perception of my own beliefs doesn't mean
that is what I belive. What I believe is what motivates me to action, and
anyone can observe that as well as I can. I might be confused as to my
motivations, but what I actually do is definate, if not necessarily easy to