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1630Re: [nanotech] Re: screaming memies -- Memes vs. ideas

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  • Mark Gubrud
    Jan 2, 2001
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      On Tue, 2 Jan 2001 eugene.leitl@...-muenchen.de wrote:

      > Mark Gubrud wrote:
      > >
      > > Yeah, and it's sure a _lot_ shorter than "ideas spreading like viruses,
      > > except that they're not exactly like viruses, because they don't have
      > > protein coats, and they don't force you to make their parts so they can
      >
      > Protein coats? Now you're being deliberately dense. It's similiarity,
      > not identity.
      >
      > > self-assemble and launch back into the air, and people tend to spread them
      >
      > Of course they make you act as a vector, they make you blab about a
      > nifty idea, thus encoding the information virus (or symbiont) into

      You can argue that a successful idea appeals to blabbermouths, so that it
      propagates from blabbermouth to blabbermouth. But blabbermouths have
      their own motivations, usually having little to do with the content of the
      ideas blabbed. And the ideas that do appeal to them do so for complicated
      reasons that are not predicted by the "meme" metaphor. Again, the point
      is, the science(s) you are interested in are psychology, sociology,
      ideology, linguistics, culture studies... The idea that ideas may appear
      and propagate as replicating quanta is useful, but it hardly constitutes a
      theory, and making it an overarching paradigm may cause you to overlook
      other, equally (or more) important factors, such as the hierarchical
      structure of society and communication within it, the interests of those
      who control channels of mass communication, and the role of motivation and
      logic in determining how people react to ideas. The reasons why ideas are
      successful are not necessarily to be found in the ideas themselves.
      Focusing your attention on them as "memes" or "mirons" is likely to
      distract you from more fruitful considerations. The basic project of
      "memetics," to create a science of ideas as particles obedient to some
      supervening laws, abstract from their content and context, is thus far
      barren, precisely because the structure that would enforce such laws just
      ain't there; or in any case, whatever structure is there just ain't that
      much like genetics, virology, or biological evolution.

      > its transport form (it has several, including hosts imitating behaviour),
      > until it hits a susceptible target, gets translated back into its
      > canonical genotype, changes in neural circuitry,

      Very bad metaphor here; "genotype" is a specific coding which is
      universal in all organisms; the neural changes that occur in individuals
      in response to ideas expressed by others are unique.

      > and starts expressing
      > its phenotype, one of which goes something like "hey, I recently become
      > illuminated, and a burning thorn bush spoke in a thunderous
      > voice to me [...] now go forth, and preach upon the herd as I hath
      > preached upon ye, and do no cease until every single infidel is
      > converted, or they have slain thee (but preferably, slay the particularly
      > hardy cases by yourself, and of course you're protected by God Himself,
      > so you're virtually invulnerable, but just in case you should manage
      > to be killed: you will sit to the right side side of the Deity henceforth,
      > in eternity, amen). And yeah -- the Deity will indeed get pissed &
      > will smite thee with a lightning bolt of divine wrath, in case you change
      > a single iota of this Scripture".

      It seems to me you have a fiery preacher pumping up the congregation, and
      everybody's gettin' excited and jumpin' and shoutin' and they're all full
      of the Spirit and they each understand it in their own way and they'll
      each go out and preach the Gospel that they know, which probably has
      little or nothing to do with what the preacher said.

      > > for other purposes not necessarily explicit in their content, and people
      >
      > A thing has a certain meaning in one context, and will shift meaning
      > in another. If this alters meme's virulence, then it just has a lousy
      > global fitness.

      I don't see your comment here as related to the snippet of mine, but I
      note that here you have implicitly acknowledged the failure of the meme
      model, since "global fitness" is presumably what you are after. If
      unpredictable changes in "virulence" cause unpredictable changes in
      "global fitness," then what can you predict?

      > > receiving them often understand them differently than the people who sent
      > > them... well, see, they're really like genes, see, except they don't have
      >
      > Sure, errors in transcription. This is called mutation, and creates diversity,
      > which has positive, negative or neutral impact on fitness.

      Again, in the genetics case you have a universal language. You need that
      in order to be able to talk about "errors". So here you can discuss error
      only relative to the particular words which are used to _express_ an idea.
      The canonical example is the "game of telephone," but the assumption is
      that verbatim relay is the goal. But if ideas have some objective content
      apart from the particular words that may express them, that content is not
      accessible to such an approach. In fact, each person understands the idea
      in his/her own way, connects it with a unique set of experiences,
      associations, and conceptual constructs, and then tries to express his/her
      understanding in words. That is a process wholly inaccessible to the
      "meme" approach, which posits self-replication of idea particles, as if
      people were empty vessels, mere sites for the action of "selfish memes."

      > > any of the structure of genetics and neither does their evolution... but
      >
      > Why? They do have genotype and phenotype. They replicate, and mutate.
      > They get selected for fitness. They interact, building meme clusters.
      > Their hosts coevolve with them.

      As I said, your "genotype and phenotype" seem completely inappropriate
      metaphors. Replication, mutation, selection, interaction, clustering,
      and coevolution are valid metaphors, but the process does not have the
      structure that makes genetics a quantitative science. You observe that
      ideas do all these things, but you cannot use that observation to make any
      predictions about how they will do them. You have not made any progress.

      > I disagree here. You're being pretty hard on the concept, here. No
      > one claimed it to be scientific, it's threshold at best.

      It's a metaphor, nothing more. And it has the unfortunate effect of
      dehumanizing the subject, making it seem as if people don't really have
      minds at all, creating the false expectation that you can explain ideas
      and culture in terms of some simple mechanisms having nothing to do with
      the _content_ of ideas and culture, and of human beings themselves.

      > Well, I don't think Blackmoore's book only contains trivialities. But let's
      > just agree to disagree here.

      I leafed through it at a bookstore once, and I looked at the first chapter
      online when we started this thread. I didn't see anything that could be
      called science or new knowledge. If you have something specific in
      mind...
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