RE: virus: Absolute Truth

Vicki Rosenzweig (
Tue, 21 May 1996 13:49:00 -0700 (PDT)

Richard makes a couple of interesting points, but I think he's
exaggerating things (possibly for rhetorical effect). I also want to
drop in a couple of boring factual notes. First, I think it was Stephen
Jay Gould who pointed out that "how many angels can dance on
a head of a pin?" was not about whether it was 7 or 23, but whether
the number was finite. Given a world model in which angels were
important spirits that could act to affect everyday life, it made sense
to be curious about their nature: and whether an infinite number can
fit into a small space is not an unreasonable question. It may be,
100 years from now, that people will consider current discussions
about quarks equally silly. (I think the quark hypothesis is more likely
than the angel hypothesis, but nobody I trust has ever seen either.)

Also, the starter's gun analogy sounds good, but I don't think it works.
After all, without previous knowledge of races and how they work, we
wouldn't know to start running in a particular direction only when we heard
a gunshot. (We might flee at an unexpected shot, but probably not run
in ovals around a racetrack.)

I also have a feeling that the "Absolute Truth" issue is less a disagreement
about the existence of an external universe than about whether there is
objective truth outside the realm of physics. The speed of light is a
measurable fact, but I can't see how you would derive an ethical system
from it. Many of the more subjective truths have to do with ethics and
aesthetics. I'm happy with the Wiccan formulation "An you harm none,
do what you will," but I realize that there are a lot of people on this
who disagree with me. And physics won't decide which of us is right.

From: owner-virus
To: ''
Subject: RE: virus: Absolute Truth
Date: Tuesday, May 21, 1996 10:23AM

This is a very very interesting thread.

Tad wrote:
>>It's comforting to hold beliefs in things like Absolute Truth, God,
>>Karma, and so on. But as a practical matter I'd rather program myself
>>with more useful memes.
>What is so comforting about believing in Absolute Truth?

Like God and Karma, it resolves the chaotic dissonance of an inherently
unstructured universe into a recognizable pattern. This produces an
emotion of mental comfort, like when a baby looks around for his mother
and finally sees and recognizes her face.
>Is putting Absolute Truth and God and Karma a "bundling technique" you
>against on pp. 143/144?

I bundled those in hopes that it would shock people that I think
Absolute Truth is in the same category as God and Karma. I want people
to think about why that might be so.
>What memes do you consider more useful? What are they more useful for?

Memes that help you produce the results you want are what I consider
useful. But I do cover this in great detail in chapter 12, don't I?

>Richard replied:
>>I don't really care whether or not there is an Absolute Truth;
>>it's angels on the head of a pin. My position is that a human mind can
>>never know the Absolute Truth, so you'd better realize that all your
>>memes are half-true at best.
>Another bundling technique with angels.

=) Tad is right to always be looking for linguistic tricks from people
who know the tricks! In this case, however, I was referring to the
Medieval practice among religious scholars of debating seemingly
important theological questions such as "How many angels can dance on
the head of a pin?" The point is, while we're debating these questions,
life is passing us by.

>Genes evolve to match the reality of the physical world.

I don't know what that means, Tad. Genes evolve to be better
replicators, no?

> Do you care where
>the memes evolve towards? What do you think it is -- if not the truth?
> I
>don't see any other direction for the evolution of memes.

I thought I covered my thoughts on this quite extensively in Virus of
the Mind. Briefly, memes are evolving to be better replicators. Truth
has nothing to do with it. How well they can take over our minds has
everything to do with it. That's why we need to use all the tricks in
the book to spread the memetics metameme.

>"Analyzing past events, trying to figure out who was right" is the
>source of knowledge, since we are not able to analyse future events.

OK, let's have a race. When the starter's gun goes off, you analyze past
events, trying to figure out who was right, and I'll start running.
We'll see who wins.
>can predict, then perform an experiment, analyze it, and draw
>*from the past events*. Many inventors found it enjoyable. It is
>conquering the truth about the world, about us, our psychology, our
>programming, our memes which many people find enjoyable.

No argument here. But just because you enjoy searching for the Absolute
Truth doesn't mean it exists. Many people enjoy searching for God, past
lives, and the Loch Ness monster.

>I hope before conquering TeTa you would try to "figure out if you were
>right", wouldn't you, Richard? The "I don't care about the Absolute
>meme prompts people to conquer, *because* they can afford it. Not what
>right (since there is no Absolute Truth) but what is practical and
>counts. On TeTa we call it the "M" meme.

I really disagree here. I think the Absolute Truth meme is used far more
often to conquer and war than is the No Absolute Truth meme. I think
Hitler, the Crusades, gay-bashing, and so on all made or make repugnant
use of the Absolute Truth meme.

One needs to stand behind one's morals, not have them imposed
externally. Then one can truly lead a principled life.

Thanks for the meaty discussion, Tad.


Richard Brodie +1.206.688.8600
CEO, Brodie Technology Group, Inc., Bellevue, WA, USA
Do you know what a "meme" is?