RE: virus: The "science" of memes?

Schneider John (
Fri, 13 Dec 1996 05:04:17 -0500

XYZ wrote:
> But memetics is NOT used in brainwashing and your point does not
> make the idea any more valid.

Wait... you wrote in your earlier post:
> Meme is just a metaphor for something else more familiar.
> That something else is called brainwashing, propaganda, and
> persuasion.

So are memes used in brainwashing or not? (And my point was only
that you have not made memes 'invalid'.)

> The only way to validate anything is with evidence and I just
> wanted to know what evidence there is that memes is a valid
> science or a passing fad. Memes may be a useful tool but when?

(1) Selfish gene theory is sufficient to explain biological
evolution quite well in a very simple way. Memeticists would
like to explain cultural evolution via 'selfish meme' theory.
(2) We have seen how powerful genetic research is. I think
memetic research is just as powerful. Memetics is a framework,
within which we may put things that you mentioned: brainwashing,
propaganda, fashion, etc.... these are powerful tools.

Those are two uses, and keep in mind that memetics is a young
field, (I won't say young 'science' if you prefer me not to).
If you don't want to study it, then don't. If your prediction
is that it will go nowhere, that's fine. I disagree with this
prediction, and I happen to find it interesting, so I am going
to learn a bit about it. I hope you don't mind.

Now, I note that you don't seem so fond of selfish gene theory,
so you might reject the usefulness of selfish meme theory as
well. That's your prerogative, I guess. To me, selfish gene
theory is so incredibly plain, simple, and straight-forward,
that Occam's Razor forces me to accept it.

> So what people have been succesfully deprogrammed by memetic
> scientists? I would guess none. Well, "professional deprog-
> rammers", may not want to admit that memetics work but why
> wouldn't they? I don't know of any deprogrammers that aren't
> willing and open-minded enough to try anything to help their
> customers. That is what they are being paid for and there is
> no professional pride to prevent them from accepting any
> method so long as it works for them.

For all we know, Richard Brodie might be deprogramming people
with his 'Getting Past OK' book. (I have never read the book,
since I'm getting past OK already.) Also, in the language of
memetics, all deprogrammers do is rid people of various memes,
and is hence a subfield of memetics, whether they want to be
or not.

> Have you ever heard of "JW speak"? Jehovah's Witnesses are given
> a whole new vocabulary just as a method to indoctrinate their
> followers even more effectively. What you are doing is "meme
> speak". The scientific method is not a meme and it is not good.

Correct. In the language of memetics, the scientific method is
a meme. Period. Which language are you speaking in when you say
"the scientific method is not a meme"? Obviously not 'meme-speak'.
[By the way, if you're trying to make a 'bad' association between
'meme-speak' and 'JW-speak', keep in mind that scientists just
talk 'science-speak'. It is a pointless observation - everybody
must first choose a language, if they desire to communicate.]

> >>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'.
> No, it is not the evolution of genes either. It is the evolution
> of the species. Richard Brodie's whole chapter on evolution
> suggests that evolution is of individuals. His examples of things
> replicating with a little bit of infidelity amongst individuals
> is just not realistic nor is it supported by science.

I'll leave Richard to discuss that. I merely support selfish
gene theory.

> Let me explain this to you. Genes don't evolve. Genes change in
> reponse to evolution. They don't cause it. They are a byproduct
> of evolution. They replicate what information evolution dictates
> to it.

Genes don't change. They either die off or survive. Species
change as a result of this. In this sense, you are right to
correct me: it /is/ evolution of the species. But - evolution
of the species is explained by selfish gene theory, which is how
I should have argued in the first place. (oops.)

> When a species evolves, it isn't that one animal happened to
> accidentally make a useful error in it's replicating process.
> When evolution happens, many many individuals mutate in response
> to the specific demands imposed by their environment. It is
> approximately simultaneous and widespread. It is never localized
> to the point of one individual.

This would suggest to me that various genes lie dormant in all
individuals, waiting to spread when environmental demands allow
them to. It does not suggest that I should reject evolution
based on genetics.

> >>If evolution were a random process, Richard would be correct,
> >>but evolution is not random.
> >Proof? I happen to think it's random.
> You need to do more research then. The problem with this thinking
> is that events aren't observed to happen more or less "randomly".
> All natural processes behave in a predictable fashion. The
> evolutionary process is no exception to this observation and,
> in fact, it has been observed to be very specific. Evolution
> is about the Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands or the
> SAID principle.

SAID follows naturally from inexact replication, which is random:
Only those randomly inexact replicas more suited for survival
within their environment will actually survive to pass on their
genes, hence SAID.

> >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.
> Is there really such a thing a "memeticist" or are you making
> that up? Can you name a few "memeticists" who are known in the
> scientific community as being such?

Dennet, Hofstadter, Dawkins are three. And, does it matter?

> Disasters can be random, evolution cannot. I don't see how you
> could miss that obvious conclusion.

(1) I believe that replication is random and inexact.
(2) Which inexact replicas survive to pass on their genes, of
course, is not random.

I believe we agree on point (2), but I'm not sure if you agree
with me on point (1), (which also explains how I missed your
"obvious conclusion").

> The other conclusion was that greater number of individuals in a
> species does not mean they will have a more numerous chance of
> surviving. Serving my DNA therefore couldn't mean having tons of
> kids. It would mean having a more "fit" kid(s).

Then again, if you have tons of kids, you'll probably have more
'fit' kids as well, no? 'Having tons of kids' is certainly not
the /only/ way to pass on ones genes, but it is one good way.

> >>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.
> That isn't a theory, that is just plain and simple logic. Of
> course theories are just theories! I never agreed or disagreed
> on that point. But one thing you don't seem to realize is that
> any theory, no matter how useful, well-established, or long-held,
> cannot stand in the face of one relevant, contradictory fact.
> Richard's (and yours) theories must be discarded as irrelevant
> due to at least one relevant, contradictory fact such as I
> pointed out.

Which "fact" was this?

> >>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.
> The scientific method is not an authority, but a method. Hence
> the name "Scientific METHOD" and not "Scientific AUTHORITY".
> Methods are not authorities, they are just ways of doing things.

Methods may have authority, however. You appeal to the authority
of the scientific method. (Please note, however, that I did say
that I do accept this particular method's authority (over other
methods). We have no real argument here.)

> Logic is wonderful method that eliminates many illogical and
> contradictory falsehoods. Since thinking is necessary for you
> and I to exist in this world, wouldn't it make logical sense to
> do that thinking in a logical way?

Of course it makes "logical sense to do that thinking in a
logical way". But it also makes irrational sense to do that
thinking in an irrational way. We just happen to prefer logic.
Why? Perhaps because it is either just 'in our genes', or
perhaps because we have found it more useful.

> The scientific method is the most logical method known.
> Do you have any better ones?

Didn't I already say that "I happen to agree"? Nonetheless,
science has its boundaries. Science has not done so well in
fields where consistent data-taking is a challenge. Example:
psychology hardly qualifies to be considered 'science' in the
same way that physics is. The reliability of psychological
results and theories cannot begin to compare. In this sense,
while I said that "memetics is hardly physics", I will also
say that I don't see any reason to think it is any less valid
than 'psychology', which also fails to faithfully apply the
scientific method.

> >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.)
> Examples are not evidence.

Allow me to clarify: the 'examples' he gives /are/ factual
evidence, and he fits that factual evidence neatly into his
theory, and that is why I call it "ample supporting evidence".
(Moreover, you have yet to provide any fact, (that I have taken
note of... I may have missed one), that does not fit neatly into
his theory, hence there is no need for me to reject it just yet.)

> >>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
> >discussion.
> Richard may not be concerned with true and false, but logical
> thinking is. Either the description of reality fits the reality
> or it doesn't. True or false. Go or no go.

And theories which have nothing to do with reality? ('Reality'
being (in my own words) "that which can be shown in repeatable
experiments". For all intents and purposes, theories of evolu-
tion are not concerned with reality, since evolution already
happened, and is not repeatable. Same with cosmology. Same
with 'mysticism'.)

> Just concentrating on a theory's usefulness is a sure-fire
> method to kill progress.

I disagree; Example of progress by concentration on usefulness:
Quantum mechanics. We don't know where a particle is when we are
not looking (the question has no meaning, according to the theory),
but we do know that the theory gives splendid results for predict-
ing experimental outcomes. The fact that the theory is counter-
intuitive is of no accord: it works, it is useful, and that is
what counts.

> You can't have progress if you don't question the validity of
> everything at least once in a while.

This, I'll agree with, but note that it says nothing about useful-
ness. I think we ought to keep an eye ought for both, and should
keep in mind that theories can be valid and/or useful in a number
of ways, depending on what you want the theory to do. How do we
determine which valid/useful theory we should use: We go with the
one that's useful towards the fulfillment of whatever our goal is.
(Oops! back to usefulness again....)

> It is interesting and that is why is enjoys so much popularity.
> This is much like the popularity that alein abductions is enjoy-
> ing right now (but within a different crowd then memes). Just
> because a theory sounds interesting is no reason to consider it.
> There are literally thousands of "theories of everything" on the
> Internet right now, and they ALL explain reality within their own
> realm of internal logic, but that doesn't make them useful.
> Science does discard useful tools and these theories of every-
> thing are good examples.

There are thousands of theories of everything, and all of them are
being worked on by scientists (I assume you mean superstring type
stuff). So, while the collective group of scientists does not
support any single the theory, it is a big part of science to go
out on limbs and to see how far one can get before the limb breaks.
The limb 'memetics' has not yet broken, that I can tell. This
doesn't mean it's any more valid than alien-abuction theories
(although I'd certainly like to think it is), but it happens to
be one theory that gels with my personal past experience and way
of thinking, (unlike UFO theories), and that is why I pursue it.

> If they can't be validated with evidence, they are simply
> falsehoods.

No: They must be invalidated with evidence to be false. If there
is no evidence one way or the other, then they are simply outside
of science.

- JPSchneider