RE: virus: Meme, the Underlying Cause

Robin Faichney (
Wed, 1 Oct 1997 12:15:59 +0100

> From: Tadeusz Niwinski[]
> Robin wrote:
> >I'm just guessing that the "intention/purpose" thing lies behind
> >your claim that genetic information is "more important than
> >life itself". I may be wrong. Why don't you explain what you
> >mean by it. More important to/for whom or what?
> I mean "more important" the same way as in "underlying cause", the
> term you
> used.
That helps. But recall I used that phrase in connection with
the position I was criticising. It's not what I believe myself,
but what I believe that others believe.

> >Do you think
> >either memes or genes have intentions?
> No, I don't think memes or genes have intentions.
> >If not, what does
> >it mean to say that "Memes had to use genes and us to
> > build Internet first"?
> That they were the underlying cause :-).
Alright, maybe now we're getting somewhere.

> >Genes are the underlying cause of the phenotype, in the sense
> >that they embody its design, and it develops due to the interaction
> >between them and their cellular (and extra-cellular) environment.
> >Memes are not, in the same sense or anything like it, the
> >underlying cause of behaviours. They *are* behaviours.
> OK, I think I understand out differences now. Genes do not interact
> directly with the physical environment. It is the DNA which does.
> Your
> thoughts are using words and chatracters as well as telephone lines in
> order
> to get to me, but those characters are not your thoughts. Your
> *thoughts*
> are the underlaing cause of my action right now, when I am touching
> certain
> keys on my keyboard, although I never saw your thoughts. Genes
> control life
> using DNA as their means. The same with memes: somehow they control
> our
> behaviour, they are not our behaviour.
> Why am I typing this now? My behaviour now is controlled by your
> thoughts.
> Your thoughts are "more important" than my lunch!
> Second thought... talk to you later (to be continued).
I'll respond now, anyway. You are so wrong!!!! :-)

But where to start explaining? Well, one thing: you seem to
identify memes with thoughts. But if you think about it, that
obviously won't fly (or even hold water). Just go back to
Dawkins' original list of examples: pop tunes, clothing
fashions, etc. These are not thoughts. Or, for that matter,
go to any of the various definitions of memes... you can do
that for yourself.

But the main point for me is this: to assume that anything
must have one particular cause, that can be distinguished
from all other preconditions, is wrong. "The cause" is
just what *we* consider to be the most important of the
preconditions, but it's a *subjective* judgement. All
preconditions are necessarily of equal importance. I
think you are mislead by "causal thinking" to see memes
as causing behaviour in the same way as genotypes
seem to cause phenotypes -- but that's not accurate
thinking either! The whole "underlying cause" thing,
precisely like the "most important" thing, is a mental
snarl-up. They are subjective judgements, and anti-
science. Genetic information is no more important
than life, and genes are no more important than their
environment. Evolution has no particular "driving
force". Behaviour has no single cause. My thoughts
do not control your behaviour (gawd forbid!), they
are just one of many, many factors interacting in a
multi-dimensional web of related events. Memes are
not mysterious forces controlling anything, just a
useful theoretical construct that allows the analysis
of culture on an evolutionary model. And the observable
aspect of culture, the one that's amenable to a scientific
approach, unlike thoughts, is behaviour. Memes are
behavioural abstractions.