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Daniel Dennett - Religion as a Natural Phenomenon
Posted: 07 July 2006 10:13 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 16 ]
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Doug, thank you! Glad to be here.

First, it is very hard to distinguish one thought from another. Second, it is very hard to distinguish when a thought has remained the same versus when it has changed to a different thought. (None of these are controversial when it comes to DNA, of course).

Is it also not hard to distinguish how one particular gene effects the body?  Scientists can pinpoint a certain gene, but they have no idea what its total effects are.  And remember, a thought alone is not a meme.  So I believe you have a misinterpretation of what a meme is, and I mean no disrespect by that.

When we say “memes evolve” are we really saying anything different than “people change their minds”?

That is not what is meant by “memes evolve.”  It has to do with copying fidelity, or errors or deviations in the meme as it replicates.  Don’t look at the meme as something internal in someone’s mind.

When we say “memes multiply” are we really saying anything different from “people adopt new ideas”?

Well, it’s not just new ideas.  It’s new behaviors, and more importantly, new “mimicked” behaviors and ideas.  If I just have an idea that pops in my head it is not necessarily a meme, even if I am influenced by another person.


The biggest problem skeptics and critics have with memes is that they don’t fully understand what they are or how they work.  And it is a very difficult concept to fully grasp.  I like to think of memes as mind viruses.  But there is a lot more to it than that.

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Posted: 07 July 2006 10:26 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 17 ]
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[quote author=“rogerflat”]Is it also not hard to distinguish how one particular gene effects the body?  Scientists can pinpoint a certain gene, but they have no idea what its total effects are.  And remember, a thought alone is not a meme.  So I believe you have a misinterpretation of what a meme is, and I mean no disrespect by that.

Hello Roger,

It is hard to figure out how genes affect the body, but it isn’t hard to figure out what a gene is, or distinguish one from another.

If a thought isn’t a meme, could you help describe what a meme is?

[quote author=“rogerflat”]

When we say “memes evolve” are we really saying anything different than “people change their minds”?

That is not what is meant by “memes evolve.”  It has to do with copying fidelity, or errors or deviations in the meme as it replicates.  Don’t look at the meme as something internal in someone’s mind.

Hmmm ... but how are those “copying errors” different from people mistaking the thoughts of others? How are “deviations” different from people just changing their minds?

[quote author=“rogerflat”]Well, it’s not just new ideas.  It’s new behaviors, and more importantly, new “mimicked” behaviors and ideas.  If I just have an idea that pops in my head it is not necessarily a meme, even if I am influenced by another person.

OK, fair enough, memes may not be thoughts in particular, but a whole ensemble of behaviors linked to thoughts and ideas. But the question still stands ... “memes multiply” sounds just like “people adopt new behaviors because they agree on certain ideas”.

[quote author=“rogerflat”]The biggest problem skeptics and critics have with memes is that they don’t fully understand what they are or how they work.  And it is a very difficult concept to fully grasp.  I like to think of memes as mind viruses.  But there is a lot more to it than that.

I’m certainly willing to entertain the possibility that I don’t well understand the concept of a meme. So what is it? Us skeptics and critics do have problems with concepts that are very difficult to explain and grasp. We wonder if there isn’t some wool being pulled over our eyes.

:wink:

Although, clearly, I hold Dawkins and Dennett in the highest regard.

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Posted: 07 July 2006 11:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 18 ]
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dougsmith wrote:

It is hard to figure out how genes affect the body, but it isn’t hard to figure out what a gene is, or distinguish one from another. If a thought isn’t a meme, could you help describe what a meme is?

When you have the proper conceptual understanding of a meme, it isn’t hard to figure out either.  Remember that Dawkins even describes memes as “arches”...as in architecture, or physical buildings.  A meme can be bell bottom pants (fashion).  Before you say “That is not a meme!” I will disclaim by saying that those are the manifestations of memes, or the concept the meme represents.  Just like a body is not a gene, but it is the manifestation of what the gene represents.  I would get into genotypic/phenotypic/memotypic effects, but right now that is overkill.

Hmmm ... but how are those “copying errors” different from people mistaking the thoughts of others? How are “deviations” different from people just changing their minds?

When people change their minds or make mistakes that is the same as copying errors and deviations.  I know what you’re getting at.  You think that since humans are concious agents that they can overpower their memes and render the memes inept.  This is a very complex issue and its hard for me to do it justice in this short of a reply.

OK, fair enough, memes may not be thoughts in particular, but a whole ensemble of behaviors linked to thoughts and ideas. But the question still stands ... “memes multiply” sounds just like “people adopt new behaviors because they agree on certain ideas”.

They adopt new behaviors because they have been exposed to a mental replicating device which confers a perceived benefit to them.

I’m certainly willing to entertain the possibility that I don’t well understand the concept of a meme. So what is it? Us skeptics and critics do have problems with concepts that are very difficult to explain and grasp. We wonder if there isn’t some wool being pulled over our eyes.

I don’t think Dawkins, Dennet, Blackmore, Aunger, or myself have any motivation to pull the wool over peoples eyes…well, maybe to sell books. But from a strictly scientific perspective we are objective.  Hopefully I have helped you to understand memes a little better at least.

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Posted: 08 July 2006 06:57 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 19 ]
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[quote author=“rogerflat”]When people change their minds or make mistakes that is the same as copying errors and deviations.  I know what you’re getting at.  You think that since humans are concious agents that they can overpower their memes and render the memes inept.  This is a very complex issue and its hard for me to do it justice in this short of a reply.

That’s not so much the issue ... free will doesn’t concern me, rather I wonder how fruitful the notion of ‘memes’ really is. I’m just saying that we already had language to describe the same phenomena that we do with ‘meme’ language. Before we said “Joe changed his mind about modern art because of the power of Pollock’s work”, etc. How does ‘meme’ language really help us understand anything we couldn’t otherwise?

[quote author=“rogerflat”]They adopt new behaviors because they have been exposed to a mental replicating device which confers a perceived benefit to them.

Or, which seems to me the same thing, they behave differently because they have new beliefs (and they have the new beliefs because they perceive them as better than their old ones).

The difference between ‘meme’ talk and the explication I just gave is that the latter is much clearer and more obvious.

[quote author=“rogerflat”]I don’t think Dawkins, Dennet, Blackmore, Aunger, or myself have any motivation to pull the wool over peoples eyes…well, maybe to sell books. But from a strictly scientific perspective we are objective.  Hopefully I have helped you to understand memes a little better at least.

Sure. I don’t really think anyone is trying to deceive here. I just don’t see the utility of introducing all this complex meme language when it doesn’t appear to me to clarify or explain anything.

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Posted: 08 July 2006 09:21 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 20 ]
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How does ‘meme’ language really help us understand anything we couldn’t otherwise?

I don’t know if you have read Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene.  It is a must for anyone who wants to learn about, or claim expertise in, Evolution and Memetics.  In his book Dawkins gives an example of a “necker cube” which is a two dimensional drawing that can appear to the naked eye as a three dimensional shape in two different positions.  This is really a metaphor for looking at genes (or memes) in two different ways.  You, Doug, are looking at memes as thoughts.  I am looking at them as replicators.  But it’s two sides of the same coin.

I just don’t see the utility of introducing all this complex meme language when it doesn’t appear to me to clarify or explain anything.

Hopefully you are familiar with the premise of a replicator (see the first couple chapters of The Selfish Gene). Instead of saying, “This is what a meme is, now let’s look for occurences of it in the real world”, say this, “This is what a replicator is, now let’s look for occurences of them in the real world.”  Basically, I’m trying to get you to think of memes strictly as replicators and not as the pre-conceived concept in which you believe them to be, and which also, may or may not be accurate.

Darwin described evolution, very accurately in fact, but was completely oblivious to the underlying, fundamental agent which made it function (the gene).  Modern science describes cultural evolution and human thought processes very accurately, but until recently, they were oblivious to the fact that it functions through memetic processes.

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Posted: 08 July 2006 10:48 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 21 ]
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[quote author=“rogerflat”]I don’t know if you have read Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene.  It is a must for anyone who wants to learn about, or claim expertise in, Evolution and Memetics.  In his book Dawkins gives an example of a “necker cube” which is a two dimensional drawing that can appear to the naked eye as a three dimensional shape in two different positions.  This is really a metaphor for looking at genes (or memes) in two different ways.  You, Doug, are looking at memes as thoughts.  I am looking at them as replicators.  But it’s two sides of the same coin.

Yes, I have read Dawkins’s book, relatively recently in fact, and was surprised at the thinness of the concept of ‘memes’.

(I actually did a lot of work in Philosophy of Biology awhile back during my Ph.D. and went through a lot of anti-Dawkins arguments ... long story short I generally find that I am very sympathetic to him, except for the idea of memes which I find otiose).

[quote author=“rogerflat”]Hopefully you are familiar with the premise of a replicator (see the first couple chapters of The Selfish Gene). Instead of saying, “This is what a meme is, now let’s look for occurences of it in the real world”, say this, “This is what a replicator is, now let’s look for occurences of them in the real world.”  Basically, I’m trying to get you to think of memes strictly as replicators and not as the pre-conceived concept in which you believe them to be, and which also, may or may not be accurate.

Darwin described evolution, very accurately in fact, but was completely oblivious to the underlying, fundamental agent which made it function (the gene).  Modern science describes cultural evolution and human thought processes very accurately, but until recently, they were oblivious to the fact that it functions through memetic processes.

Yes, I am very familiar with the idea of a replicator. Genes are the paradigmatic replicators for people like Dawkins. Fair enough. With genes the replication is obvious and immediate, base pair for base pair. Nothing remotely like that happens with memes. Hence the idea of a “replicator” for memes is nothing more than an illustrative metaphor. And I think it’s not a particularly useful one.

Happy to be convinced otherwise, of course.

:wink:

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