RE: virus: The "science" of memes?

Schneider John (
Mon, 16 Dec 1996 03:23:27 -0500

XYZ wrote...
> >>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.
> Proof by assertation is not proof. Just because you can "explain
> away" the world using memes is not evidence that it is valid. If
> that were valid, then the Christians are right and God does exist.
> If that were valid, then the UFO freaks are right and we are all
> in danger of being abducted.

I showed two examples where the use of memes is 'useful', as you
requested. I did not purport to prove anything.

> >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.
> I'm not predicting anything. I'm asking for evidence that memetics
> is not just another passing fad. I hope you don't mind me asking.

Well, it has proven capable of standing against your attempts to
poke holes in it, and it does have its uses. Why don't you tell
us what would constitute the sort of "evidence" that you're after,
then perhaps we can answer your question much more quickly.

> >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.
> Usefull does not mean truthful (truthful in the sense that it
> accurately reflects reality without any internal inconsistancies).

If you would be kind enough to point out the internal inconsist-
encies, perhaps my viewpoint will change.

> >For all we know, Richard Brodie might be deprogramming people
> >with his 'Getting Past OK' book.
> But why guess? Either he is or he isn't. Is there any evidence that
> he is "deprogramming" people with his book /Virus of the Mind/?

Well, if someone reads his book, and discovers the ability to
think for imself, and gives up some cultish belief or another,
then I suppose it could happen. As to whether or not it's
really happening, I don't know: ask Richard.

> >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.
> There is no subfield of memetics...whether you want it to be or
> not.

I said, "in the language of memetics", which you do not speak.

> Meme: A unit of info in a mind whose existence influences events
> such that more copies of itself get created in other minds.
> The scientific method is not a meme. Period. It isn't spreading
> (I see you unfortunately haven't been infected by it yet either).
> Look at this month's issue of Sci American. Our society is being
> inundated with anti-science and psuedoscience. 60% of all
> Americans still believe that the earth is less than 10,000
> years old and it was created. Are you one of those people?
> If the scientific method were a meme, then we should be
> consciously spreading it to as many people as we can. Let's
> start with you.

Blahblahblah. Three insults in two paragraphs.... and you are
almost talking meme-speak there. Perhaps you're beginning to
see its use?

Anyway. The scientific method was first written down by Descartes.
It then spread throughout the world and replaced, largely, the
simpler religious thought of medieval times. As you've pointed
out, that sort of thinking is still around.

> So how do mutations get passed on? ESP? Psychic miricles?

Replication. How else? (You might want to give a clearer
example, including at least two generations of an example
species, if you want a better explanation.)

> >But - evolution of the species is explained by selfish gene
> >theory, which is how I should have argued in the first place.
> But evolution of the species is also explained by the Christian
> God theory. Just because it is a good explanation doesn't mean it
> should be used. It can be misleading you.

And whatever theory you use might be misleading you. Are you
suggesting a different theory?

> >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.
> It is obvious you don't know anything about evolution. Try
> reading something about punctuated equilibrium for example.

Which books have you read? Perhaps I'll have a look at them and
see if they cause me to change my stance. In the meantime, perhaps
you could give another example which is harder to wave my hand at.

> Guessing again? Mutations are never random in evolution. Never.
> Unless you have some proof? Evidence? Look around you. There are
> no random mutants hanging around. There are no random mutants in
> the fossil record. Try reading something about evolution.

A random mutant, of course, will not have survived long. The
/species/ will only mutate as the environment demands. Also -
provide me your stellar reading list, and please direct approx-
imately to where the examples requiring a different interpreta-
tion are located.

> >>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.
> These aren't memeticists...they are self-proclaimed memeticists
> (make up a word, add -cist to the end of it, and POOF! you become
> one).
> >And, does it matter?
> That you might be making things up? Yes it does matter.

When I asked, 'does it matter', I meant: Does it matter whether or
not some 'authority' supports the theory? You were appealing to
authority when you asked your question.

> >>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.
> You have faith in the "inexact replication god". Isn't it strange
> that for millions of years, millions of plants and animals have
> reproduced likenesses of themselves so well, that scientists cannot
> tell the difference between their ancient greatgreat...
> greatgrandparent and their modern-day relatives?
> That observation puts an end to that "replication is random and
> inexact" dogma.

It would also put to rest any theories of evolution at all. The
species which pass through unchanged are just based on /exact/
replicators. But when we talk /evolution/ we're talking /inexact/

> >>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?
> No, that is not a gaurantee that they will be more fit.

So? Nobody guaranteed they would be less fit. Statistically, if
I've X% chance of having a fit kid, then as long as X% doesn't
change from kid to kid, I might as well have as many as I can,
in hopes of making more fit ones.

> >'Having tons of kids' is certainly not the /only/ way to pass on
> >ones genes, but it is one good way.
> Having one kid is a better method (which is the point I was
> making).

My point was: why not have two fit kids instead of one fit kid?
Why can't a species perfect both 'making fit kids' and 'making
many kids'?

> You mean you missed it again? Go back and look at the first posting
> I made in this thread and do a search for the word trilobite.

I can recall that from the top of my head: a random disaster. The
environment is random. This example has no bearing on selfish gene

> Science doesn't have boundries...people do!

Have you ever heard of "Godel's Incompleteness Theorems"? Logic
has bounbaries and so does science.

> ... If memetics is not just a passing fad, it will be cataloged
> under the science of psychology. If it is, it will be cataloged
> under pop-psychology.

Well, instead of arguing about it, let's just wait and see.

> Anyone can fit facts into their "theories of everything", but can
> it predict new ones? Memetics can't do that.

A bold statement. We shall see.

> And I've seen the "evidence" you are talking about: references to
> the prisoners dilemma computer contest (whole chapters even!).
> That is definitely what could be called pseudoscience.

Is that the only chapter you read????

> Dawkins wrote a book to make money, not win a nobel science prize.
> There isn't much in his book that fits into acceptable scientific
> reasoning (notice I didn't say "illogical"? Just because something
> is logical doesn't mean that it is scientific).

Good grief! Evolution just isn't that scientific! It is about
explaining facts which are already there.

> >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'.)
> Are dreams reality? They are reproducible. Evolution is happening
> right now, you just can't see it. Wake up! Have you ever heard of
> inductive or deductive reasoning? They don't require mechanically
> reproducible evidence to accurately reflect reality. Evolution is
> repeatable you just don't know it yet.

Evolution is repeatable. OK, I'll by it: and we can control it
by playing with genes, which strengthens theory of evolution
based on genetics.

Reasoning reflecting reality? Go read a book on quantum mechanics
(The Principles of Quantum Mechanics, fourth ed. by Dirac is very
good; an easier to read, populariztion, is Quantum Reality, by
Nick Herbert) and come back and tell me how 'reasonable' it is.
You fail to realise that your reasoning cannot accurately reflect
reality. You /must/ experiment. Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle
tells us that our knowledge via experiment is limited, thus our
knowledge of 'reality' is limited.

> Your misunderstanding again. Quantum mechanics is more than just a
> useful theory. It isn't even a theory. It is a branch of science
> like physics is a branch of science. The theorems and hypothesis
> used in that field of science are the same as in any science. They
> don't use those theorems and hypothesis just because they are
> useful, they use them because they are scientific. Useful is only
> secondary. Knowledge is primary.

Knowledge is limited. When we go beyond its limits, we are left
only with 'useful'.

> There are millions of useful speculations out there in the world.
> Pop-psychology is chock-full of useful speculations. But
> useful=useless if you are looking for something that accurately
> reflects reality. You are getting sidetracked by the usefullness
> of a hypothesis rather than the accuracy of the hypothesis.

Your examples have shown no inaccuracies. If inaccuracies are
there and you can see them, then you have failed to communicate
them to me. So far as I'm concerned, selfish gene theory is
useful for accurately reflecting evolution. If it weren't useful
in such a way, I likely wouldn't even be on this list.

You are limiting yourself to a search for truth, when no such
beast exists. The best you can do is find facts, explain them,
and maybe predict new ones.

> >There are thousands of theories of everything, and all of them are
> >being worked on by scientists (I assume you mean superstring type
> >stuff).
> No, I don't mean superstring stuff. Do an internet search for
> "theories of everything" and see if you can come up with anything
> scientific.

Superstring theory is the physicist's "theory of everything". It
is quite logical, although experiments are impossible (requiring
energies higher than we can achieve). I'll take your word for it
that these other 'theories of everything' would be a waste of my
time to dig into.

> >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.
> That's because there is no limb. Fads can last forever no matter
> how weak they are in logical reasoning.

You have not pointed out any logical weaknesses in logical
reasoning. You have tried to provide contradictory facts,
but have not done so. You have not attacked reasoning at all.

> >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.
> It agrees with your world view so you accept it by faith?

You tell me: is "I pursue it" the same as "I accept it by faith"?

> >>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.
> Another falsehood. I've heard that line so many times from xians.
> You ask them, "Prove that God exists" and they reply, "Prove that
> he doesn't exist". Hehehe. You can't prove the non-existence of
> anything. But let me tell you this, if you cannot prove or disprove
> the existence of something, then you cannot disprove that it isn't
> your imagination. Prove that memetics isn't your imagination. This
> is the scientific method.

Prove that /anything/ isn't your imagination. That argument goes
absolutely nowhere..... Can you not see that neither can be proven?
Can you not see that neither can be disproven? Such things are
/outside/ of your precious scientific method... PLEASE! Study
quantum theory to rid yourself of that silly delusion that the
scientific method can make everything 'reasonable') Can you not
see that this is exactly why we go by what is 'useful'? This is
Richard Brodie's reasoning (or, it's similar, anyway.)

- JPSchneider