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Memes anyone?
Posted: 08 February 2008 10:06 PM   [ Ignore ]
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From Wikipedia:

Memetic Theories:

  1. The least controversial claim suggests that memes provide a useful philosophical perspective with which to examine cultural evolution. Proponents of this view argue that considering cultural developments from a meme’s eye view — as if memes, or the people who carry them, acted to maximise their own replication and survival — can lead to useful insights and yield valuable predictions into how culture develops over time. Dawkins himself seems to have favoured this approach.[citation needed]
  2. Other theorists, such as Francis Heylighen, have focused on the need to provide an empirical grounding for memetics in order for people to regard it as a real and useful scientific discipline.[citation needed] Given the nebulous (and in many cases subjective) nature of many memes, providing such an empirical grounding has to date proved challenging.[citation needed] However, a recent study by Mikael Sandberg, further elaborates the memetic approach to empirical studies of innovation diffusion in organisations.[4]
  3. A third approach, exemplified by Dennett and by Susan Blackmore in her book The Meme Machine (1999), seeks to place memes at the centre of a radical and counter-intuitive naturalistic theory of mind and of personal identity. Evan Louis Sheehan uses the hierarchical model of cortical architecture proposed by Jeff Hawkins to develop such a memetic theory of mind in his book The Mocking Memes: A Basis for Automated Intelligence.

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I personally find memetic theory to be extremely fascinating (if even a tad unnerving) though it seems to me that memetic theory is unfalsifiable and is therefore, doomed to remain nothing more than a notion, or a kind of sustained thought-experiment.

What do you think?

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Posted: 09 February 2008 10:18 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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baffledking - 08 February 2008 10:06 PM

I personally find memetic theory to be extremely fascinating (if even a tad unnerving) though it seems to me that memetic theory is unfalsifiable and is therefore, doomed to remain nothing more than a notion, or a kind of sustained thought-experiment.

What do you think?

We’ve had some chats about this in the past ... if you do a search I think you’ll turn up a bunch. I go back and forth on it—mostly it seems that “meme” talk is just a cute way of talking about the spread of ideas, and that we don’t need a separate word for it. But in the final analysis we’ll just have to see if anthropologists, cognitive scientists, etc., can find interesting uses for it. If not, it’ll turn out to have been a failed meme ...

wink

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Posted: 09 February 2008 05:00 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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I go back and forth on it—mostly it seems that “meme” talk is just a cute way of talking about the spread of ideas, and that we don’t need a separate word for it.

What seems to me to be one of the most interesting things about memes is their supposed “dominance” of our conscious and subconscious mind so that the subjective, individual experiences or qualia we normally claim as our “own” are just expressions and representations of any group of memes with property in our heads at the current time.  But then at the same time, memes give us mental life and are the reason for our survival and prosperity on earth…so far.

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Posted: 09 February 2008 05:34 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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I’ve avoided getting involved in discussions of “memes” because I feel they are just a modern version of bible fairytales, and they take about as much critical thinking and faith to accept as do the other fairytales.  I agree with Doug, that whatever characteristics and properties of humans one lumps in the meme idea, they can be expressed more logically and scientifically within the framework of anthropology, sociology and psychology without bothering with cute catchwords.

Occam

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Posted: 09 February 2008 06:35 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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I just feel that the word “meme” is an easy way to sum up the transmission of a thought or idea as it passes through a culture and is added to or subtracted from, and our somewhat unconscious cultural memory. I am not sure it can be proven in the sense of empirical data and the like, but I am sure some type of soft science approach can show some aspects of basic memetics to be valid in much the same way we approach most socialized phenomena.

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Posted: 10 February 2008 09:10 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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I personally buy into meme theory at least for now.

Have any of you read Blackmore’s book “The Meme Machine” the book “The Tipping Point” by Malcom Gladwell also supports meme theory whithout meaning to, showing that fads predictably follow the same patterns as epidemics.

The real question is there primary research being done on memes, and does the theory have predictive power?

I haven’t looked into that yet, but I’m definitely interested.

I think calling them fairy tales is a little far fetched.

There are plenty of reasons that great minds like Dawkins, Dennet, E.O Wilson, and Blackmore have bought into this, because at least some cultural events definitely follow an evolutionary pattern. Most obvious are the major religions.

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Posted: 10 February 2008 01:03 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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The real question is there primary research being done on memes, and does the theory have predictive power?

Yes, very interesting.  If it was indeed, predictable with relative accuracy that THIS meme as opposed to THAT meme would “survive: and spread amongst a certain target population, a whole new industry of MEMETIC WEAPONS could and no doubt, would be established by the military/government as a potential means of say, overthrowing antagonistic world leaders, priming an economy for a new product, manipulating voter allegiance etc….

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Posted: 10 February 2008 01:21 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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baffledking - 10 February 2008 01:03 PM

Yes, very interesting.  If it was indeed, predictable with relative accuracy that THIS meme as opposed to THAT meme would “survive: and spread amongst a certain target population, a whole new industry of MEMETIC WEAPONS could and no doubt, would be established by the military/government as a potential means of say, overthrowing antagonistic world leaders, priming an economy for a new product, manipulating voter allegiance etc….

Cool! Memetic eugenics!  grin

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Posted: 10 February 2008 01:55 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Cool! Memetic eugenics!

Exactly.  The infamous Clash of Civilizations between say Islam and the West is precisely a battle of memes.

Looking at it this way, it may be easier to see why people are put off by the idea of eradicating religion from society since such extermination does seem to smack of the exact same eugenicist approach espoused by say, the Ayatollah of Iran or Hitler in Nazi Germany.

For example, take Hitler.  He was convinced the world would and should only survive and flourish to its full potential if all “sub-par” humans were culled from the flock, so to speak.  He didn’t have faith in the process of natural selection which he saw as being inefficient and derelict of its “detoxing” duties.  Of course, he was wrong.  His criteria for ratting out the “bad seeds” was ridiculously misinformed, unscientific and near-sighted. For example, by eradicating the ill and deformed instead of seeking to cure them, he was in effect, destroying the sciences’s road to advancement. 

But if you think about it, if memes are real, then any “my idea is better than yours” type mentality is not unlike the zeitgeist of the Third Reich.  I guess the best thing to do would be to really examine ideas not only for their moral and rational content, but for their use as tools for the survival of the human race at the degree of maximal happiness.  The question is: what memeplex does this?  Democracy and Freedom of Speech?  Communism and cooperation? Totalitarianism and efficiency?  Anarchy and chaos?

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Posted: 10 February 2008 02:20 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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So I guess when I told Brennen that Tolstoy can write better than Tolkien, it should make me some kind of a “memetic racist.” Or as I’ll call it: a memist! Yeah, that’s what I’ll do next time when my client doesn’t like my design presentation: I’ll accuse him of memism (memetic racism)... LOL

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Posted: 10 February 2008 03:52 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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mindcore - 10 February 2008 09:10 AM

I think calling them fairy tales is a little far fetched.

There are plenty of reasons that great minds like Dawkins, Dennet, E.O Wilson, and Blackmore have bought into this, because at least some cultural events definitely follow an evolutionary pattern. Most obvious are the major religions.

I didn’t call their content fairy tales, but rather the concept of memes as existing in a scientific sense a fairy tale.

One of the reasons I’m an atheist is because I refuse to accept authority unless I can eiher independently verify, or at least, feel comfortable with the logic of their presentation.  I agree that Dawkins is bright, but in my opinion, he’s also a jerk.  “Great minds” is a word pair that that screams authority and causes me to grind a bit of enamel off of my teeth.

Occam

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Posted: 10 February 2008 08:44 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Occam - 10 February 2008 03:52 PM

I agree that Dawkins is bright, but in my opinion, he’s also a jerk.

Occam,

As fat as I remember Dawkins used the meme idea in his Selfish Gene very lightly — more like a thought experiment than an actual new scientific theory. It was Dennett et al, who took it to the next level.

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Posted: 11 February 2008 10:29 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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dougsmith - 09 February 2008 10:18 AM

mostly it seems that “meme” talk is just a cute way of talking about the spread of ideas, and that we don’t need a separate word for it. But in the final analysis we’ll just have to see if anthropologists, cognitive scientists, etc., can find interesting uses for it. If not, it’ll turn out to have been a failed meme ...

wink

I agree that memes are a cute way to talk about spreading ideas.  However, the reason I think “meme” has its place is that while talking about ideas and how they spread has primarily been the playground of scientists & philosophers the introduction of the term meme has opened up interest and sort of made evaluating ideas and thinking, cool again.  Memes are like SUVs for critical thinking where previously only ideawagons were available.

Occam - 09 February 2008 05:34 PM

I’ve avoided getting involved in discussions of “memes” because I feel they are just a modern version of bible fairytales, and they take about as much critical thinking and faith to accept as do the other fairytales.  I agree with Doug, that whatever characteristics and properties of humans one lumps in the meme idea, they can be expressed more logically and scientifically within the framework of anthropology, sociology and psychology without bothering with cute catchwords.

The interesting part of memes, at least for me, is that most of what we call memes (ideas) may actually be a memeplex (idea).  How to actually break down a memeplex (idea) to a singular meme unit (idea part) is a big controversy among memeticists.  Doesn’t that sound like Smurf language?  The way I see it, is that memeplexes can be decoded to the simplest units, I.E. Humans decoded to their genes – memes decoded to specific neural stimulation types and locations. 

Based on this information we can design a specific meme (idea) targeted to stimulate the necessary neurons to efficiently convey our message.  This leads to a meme methodology of persuasion and persuasion avoidance via efficient neural stimulation.  Knowledge of this methodology will inevitably take the system to higher and higher evolved complexities.  You know advertising dollars would fuel this research.  If these discoveries are made, you better get with the meme program or risk getting manipulated by the informed.

I know this is all speculation, but I don’t see how that has anything to do with modern bible fairytales.

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Posted: 17 February 2008 08:35 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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didn’t call their content fairy tales, but rather the concept of memes as existing in a scientific sense a fairy tale.

One of the reasons I’m an atheist is because I refuse to accept authority unless I can eiher independently verify, or at least, feel comfortable with the logic of their presentation.  I agree that Dawkins is bright, but in my opinion, he’s also a jerk.  “Great minds” is a word pair that that screams authority and causes me to grind a bit of enamel off of my teeth.

Occam

Just noticed this thread! Apologies for my late arrival.

I have to agree with Occam here, and am glad to see the point being made. Dawkins doesn’t seem to have much interest in his own offspring. Memetics are simply a new wrapper for vulgar idealist attacks on materialism. Even recognizing that the history of science is not Dawkins’ field, it is kind of hard to believe he could be so unserious about something like this.

The Enlightenment rationalist Philosophes of the early 1700s wrestled with a kind of ‘chicken and egg’ problem in looking at the relationship between ideas and the societies of which they were part. But in contrast to ‘memetic’ quackery, both sides of the argument at least recognized that ideas, customs, laws, and religion could not be understood in isolation from the social institutions and economic relations with which they interacted. While not politically radical, the Philosophes looked to the possibility of social progress and how it might be achieved (another respect in which they seem to have been way ahead of the ‘New Atheists’).

The circular argument among the early materialists about the role of ideas vs institutions was answered by the Great French Revolution: the ‘enlightened despotism’ of Frederick II of Prussia, to whom Voltaire had looked for a time, was a dead end. Social change could not be engineered ‘intellectually’ from within the rotting social order of European Absolutism, but armed with the texts of the Philosophes, the revolutionary French Bourgeoisie led the urban artisans and sans culottes to sweep away the old feudal-derived property relations and lay the material basis for new, bourgeois institutions based on Enlightenment principles. This opened the door for the later development - though in a roundabout way - of idealist philosophy via Hegel in Germany, to Feuerbach and the formal resolution of the problem by Marx in favor of materialism - dialectical materialism: in the final analysis it is not consciousness that determines being, but being that determines consciousness.

That Dawkins lame-assed ‘mimetics’ speculation could be taken seriously - at least in the English-speaking world - over 200 years after history buried its basic premise - testifies to a kind of senile dementia in bourgeois intellectual life in the epoch of putrefying capitalism.

Somebody rightly mentioned above how well this mimetics shite dovetails with the reactionary ‘Clash of Civilizations’ - a thesis embraced by the new Sun-Kings and their Neo-Con courtiers in the leading circles of U.S. imperialism…

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Posted: 01 March 2008 02:16 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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I don’t know if I’d call memetics “shite”.  After all, it is not unlike Plato’s theory of Form (form, that is, pattern and structure are more “real” than material substance) and should not be thrown out just because it may be an “attack” on materialism.  Indeed, sense-perception itself is only possible when it is gained in a patterned way.  The real world, as we have the capacity to know it, is hinged upon the recognition of pattern.  The message is the medium, if you will.  Memetic theory is a way to take the otherwise abstract and disorganized world of ideas and examine them in a scientific way.

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Posted: 01 March 2008 02:25 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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baffledking - 01 March 2008 02:16 PM

  The message is the medium, if you will.  Memetic theory is a way to take the otherwise abstract and disorganized world of ideas and examine them in a scientific way.

This is an interesting conversation. I am still largely skeptical of the usefulness of “memetics”. Could you give an example of what you are saying above so I get a better idea of where you’re coming from? I have seen the claim that there is a “science of memetics”, but I see little to tell me that there is something scientific going on. Evolutionary psychology seems to be making some progress once the wheat is separated from the chaff and “memetics” seems to hold little information to make itself useful to the process.

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