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Just in Time for Dawkins

hemidactylus at my-dejanews.com hemidactylus at my-dejanews.com
Fri Apr 16 14:02:55 EST 1999


In article <37171756.1552453 at news.ox.ac.uk>,
  james.teo at chch.ox.ac.uk (Grushnik) wrote:
>
> -- [ From Psyche-D: by Jesse S. Cook III * EMC.Ver #2.3 ] --
>
> The 19 April 1999 issue of *Time* magazine contains an essay by
> Richard Dawkins that was "adapted from his introduction to Susan
> Blackmore's *The Meme Machine* (Oxford University Press)".
> Accompanying Dawkin's essay is a short article headed "Is the Mind
> Just a Vehicle for Virulent Notions?" in which it is stated that Susan
> Blackmore's book "goes so far as to suggest that we are our memes".
>

I'd like to think that I'm more than my memes, that I've got some degree of
self awareness or volition at work, but maybe "free will" is just another bad
meme;-) Actually I don't know why memes are continuously put forward as
infectious agents. That notion is a little negative. I'd prefer to think of
cultural units of selection in terms of form and function. The viral analogy
probably serves to show how memes can propgate in a population, but after
this it gets a tad distasteful. Is the meme of the "scientific method" yet
another infectious agent or does it serve a purpose?

I'd like to read Blackmore's book. I put it on that growing list alongside
fellow memeticists Aaron Lynch and Keith Henson. I've read some of William
Durham's _Coevolution: Genes, Culture and Human Diversity_ and he has
discussed memes (and the similar concepts of culturgens after Wilson and
Lumsden). Has anyone here heard of Richard Semon? His book _The Mneme_ dates
from 1921.

>
> The article also says that "Stephen Jay Gould...dismisses the meme as
> a 'meanless metaphor'" and quotes H. Allen Orr, an evolutionary
> geneticist, as saying: "I think memetics is an utterly silly
> idea...It's just cocktail-party science."
>

How should cultural evolution be operationalized then? I have respect for
Gould, but I'm not sure of his dismissal. I do grant that memetics is
probably plagued with serious methodological issues. I definitely wouldn't go
jumping on any bandwagons.

>
> Later it says: "Blackmore, taking the theory to its logical
> conclusion, suggests memes account for the evolution of culture [and],
> also, for consciousness itself.  The mind, in Blackmore's scheme of
> things, is little more than a nest of memes."
>
Evolution of culture, maybe, but consciousness? I dunno.
>
> This is follwed by some quotes from Daniel Dennett and then this: "One
> advantage of memes over tradition, Dennett points out, is that it can
> explain consciousness without resorting to a little man in the back of
> the head calling all the shots."
>

When does the individual person come into play? Taken to the extreme: Are we
just selfless vehicles for our selfish genes and memes?

>
> The article then points out that Steven Pinker does not "accept the
> nest-of- memes view of consciousness.  'To be honest, I don't even
> know what that means,' admits Pinker.  The problem, he says, is that
> memetics assumes [that] the brain is essentially passive...It doesn't
> account for the self that responds subjectively, that feels sensations
> such as love, envy, and pain.  'Babies are conscious,' he points out.
> '...And their minds have not been infected by memes.' "
>
Pinker could be right in pointing this out.
> -------------------------------------------------------------------
>
> I'm inclined to believe that 'self' is made up of memes, but I am hazy
> about how the definition of consciousness used, can be described as
> memetic. Sounds like a typical Time article now.
>
>

Yeah, secondary sources, especially your run of the mill newsstand fillers,
are probably not the best place to look.

I'd be inclined to believe that memes and genes influence whatever "self"
might be, but they are not "self". Maybe this would represent the difference
between a deterministic epigenetics and a probabilistic epigenetics. I have
this off the wall notion of something called "volition", but I'm unsure of
how you put this sort of thing into a rigid scientific or even philosophical
formulation.

--
Scott Chase


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