RE: virus: The "science" of memes?

Schneider John (
Thu, 12 Dec 1996 04:23:52 -0500

XYZ wrote:
> Well, I just finished reading Richard Brodie's book, "Virus of
> the Mind" and it is just as I suspected. Meme is just a metaphor
> for something else more familiar. That something else is called
> brainwashing, propaganda, and persuasion. Therefore memetics is
> not a science but an art. It reminds me of a book I saw in the
> New Age section titled, "The Science of Numerology". Science?
> If it truly were a science, then it would do more than rename
> something else more familiar...unless renaming it would give
> new insights into the subject which memetics does not. There
> is no scientific research on memetics and no college courses
> are being offered on it.

You could say that one of the primary uses of memetics is
'brainwashing' etc... but that does not make the /idea/ of
memes any less valid. You can also say that the building of
nuclear bombs is a practice of vile unhumanity, but that does
not make nuclear physics any less valid. Memes are not yet
well understood, and may just end up a nifty curiosity, but
they can be a useful tool at times, when one wants to under-
stand the behavior of others (or even one's own behavior);
and science never discards useful tools.

> The only known method for "disinfecting" a person who has
> successfully succumbed to a brainwashing session is a thing
> called deprogramming. For propaganda and persuasion, it is
> simply learning to think for yourself, avoid logical fallacies,
> and learning the scientific method. Richard's suggestions for
> disinfection would never work according to professional
> deprogrammers and I personally think that it would make
> matters worse instead of better.

Well, perhaps we now have two succesful methods. And, of course
it would never work, according to "professional deprogrammers".
They would be out of jobs if they admitted it worked!

Anyway, I think you fail to realise that the scientific method,
the idea of 'thinking for oneself', and the notion that one should
avoid logical fallacies are just memes. Those are the memes that
you think are 'good' (good = will help humans to better survive in
the 'human pool').

> Richard makes a common mistake in forgetting that evolution is
> not the evolution of individuals, but of a species.

No. It is evolution of genes, and please point to where Richard
suggests that evolution is of 'individuals'.

> Any one of you out there could have a 1000 children and I none,
> yet it could still be my DNA that outsurvives yours. That's
> because my DNA is in my species and it is my species that
> evolves, not me. I will still contribute to the evolutionary
> process of my species, although not in a direct way. Does
> "serving my DNA" mean contributing to the overpopulation and
> reslutant suffocation of my species?

Wrong, but not entirely. Your genes are not unique to you, so
your genes could still outsurvive my genes. It could even be the
case that people closely related to you outsurvive people closely
related to me. However, your particular conglomeration of genes,
your exact strand of DNA, is unique to you, and it dies with you,
just as mine dies with me. Neither of our DNA outsurvives any-
thing. As far as species, we are both the same species: homo

> If evolution were a random process, Richard would be correct,
> but evolution is not random.

Proof? I happen to think it's random.

> Sure, if a sudden disaster were to strike it would seem that
> the more numerous species would have a more numerous chance
> of surviving. But more numerous does not mean more fit. All
> I need to do is mention the triolobites, and that fallacy is
> easily put to rest. Despite being a world-wide species, not a
> single living trace of them remains today, despite the survival
> of far less numerous species that coexisted with the triolobites.

So? Is there a conclusion? I think you'll find that every
memeticist you talk to will think of that as a very nice example
that supports randomness. For all intents and purposes, 'sudden
disasters' are random.

> Speaking of "serving my DNA", I also noticed that Richard has a
> fondness for Richard Dawkin's pet theories. Actually, theory is
> a misnomer, since what Dawkin's is really doing is speculating.

Correct. And you've just given support to Richard's theory that
theories are just theories. Their 'truth' is of no import, rather
their 'usefulness' is what really counts.

> Speculation is speculation, no matter who does the speculating.
> The scientific method says that "argument by appeal to authority
> is of no value whatever, even if the authority happens to be
> right".

You're appealing to an authority, (the scientific method), with
that very statement. I happen to agree, but not because you've
associated it with the 'authority' of science, but just because
it has been useful for me to reject authorities, in general,
when I'm trying to reach my own understanding of things.

> Dawkins may be an authority and he may be right about what he
> speculates but that in no way makes it a fact. It doesn't even
> make it a hypothesis much less a theory. Dawkin's has nothing to
> back up what he says and much of what he says is illogical when
> compared to the actual evidence available.

Good grief! Have you read /The Selfish Gene/? The book is one
example after another. (However, please note that is the only
book of his that I've read; but it does offer ample supporting
evidence for the 'Selfish Gene' theory.)

> How many authority figures believe in God? Will that statistic
> that make that belief true or false also?

Oops! There's that "truth" vs. "false" thing again. Remember,
Richard isn't concerned with that. I think you'll find that it's
useful from time to time to ignore the 'truth-value' of some
statements, and to just concentrate on their usefulness. I
personally have little use for God, and that's the end of the

Anyway... in the end, I'll agree that memetics sure as hell ain't
physics, and doesn't seem to follow the scientific method all that
closely. But I still think it is a /very/ interesting theory,
that does a good job explaining stuff around me, so I am not about
to relegate it to the dung heap of useless theories just yet.

- JPSchneider