Posted by aogSunday, 29 April 2007 at 08:05
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I don’t mean to pick on Mr. Burnett but — oh, wait, yes I do. It’s quite deliberate.
Anyway, Mr. Burnett writes
Well Brit, if those are science, I’d like to know what science they are. They sure aren’t biology. What scientific evidence is there that memes exist?
This displays a common misaprehension of “memes” and other scientific principles. It’s no different from asking “what scientific evidence is there that polynomial functions exist?”. None, because the term is a descriptive one that serves to categorize things that are themselves purely mental constructs. Memes exist because they are defined to be an abstraction of things (human mental processes) the existence of which is not disputed.
One can, of course, dispute the rigor and utility of the category “meme”, much like certain baseball statistical measures, but existence is not arguable. This gets back to a post I have needed to write for years now, which lays out the conceptual framework I use to analyze these issues and ties it in the faults of post-modernism, the primary one of which is to blur the distinction between those realms of existence that are subject to human will (categorical definitions) and those that are not (laws of physics).
Monday, 30 April 2007 at 11:36|
Peter’s just way off on this one
Pistols at dawn? Bring your copy, mate.
Dawkins coined the term and used it like everyone now uses it, to describe ‘bytes’ of culture.
“Bytes” of culture? Yes, that clears everything up nicely. But I must say it bolsters your case that the West will be saved by ordinary commonsensical blokes in pubs who throw beer and crisps at purveyors of intellectual drivel.
As with Freud and Marx, the whole problem with Dawkins and his merry band of god-killers comes down to their leaning on science and its artifical abstract language to restrict or even root out the subjective, free will and the authority of conscience and consciousness in human affairs by ordaining 100% uncontrollable, unconscious, materialist origins to them. True, there is great confusion between what the sages actually say and what their fans say they say, but I see little interest among the sages in risking book sales with the truth. In our time, it is the thinking religious who lead the reaction, but it is a problem that has afflicted religion many times in the past and still does on the edges and in the Middle East. The debate may be irresolvable at an intellectual level because no one denies there is some/much influence of biological and cultural factors. The question is whether that is all there is. Dawkins, who raises coyness to new levels, is ambiguous on this point. He spends 95% of his books arguing that that is all there is, and then steps back in sudden embarassment about where it is leading him and urges us to love mankind and enjoy more sex. He is quite incoherent about human nature, as was Mayr. Darwin himself seems to have been far more cautious, but he didn’t rein in his bulldog.
Now, the next question is how much all this philosophizing matters. Brit says it doesn’t—that we will be saved by ordinary, tolerant, well-grounded folks with widepread interests and mundane priorities that bear an uncanny ressemblance to his own. He may be right—in fact, he obviously is right most of the time. Amy sings a mean tune and keeps Dawkins in the smaller lecture halls, and when she tires there is always the FA Cup. But there have been plenty of examples in history of intellectual absolutism grabbing the zeitgeist with lots of horrible results and a few good ones. God made us social conservatives to worry about that.
This is one area where I think the Europeans are quite a bit ahead of us anglospherics, especially North Americans. Our sunny, can-do optimism keeps us beholden to the idea that progress is always upwards, the past is a drag and our ancestors were thick and cruel. The Euros know their Nietzche, Dostoevsky and Conrad much better than we and realize fully that human moral automatons are not robots, they are killers. Their problem is that, although they know the dangers of scientism and rationalism, they are embarassed by their heritage and are throwing the dice on some new-fangled comfy postmodern paganism instead.
Thursday, 03 May 2007 at 06:54|
Apologies for showing up late.
As with Freud and Marx, the whole problem with Dawkins and his merry band of god-killers …
I almost had to laugh. David has frequently chided atheists for rebelling against the God of their own creation. That is to facile by at least half, and your statement demonstrates that very nicely.
There exists an single objective truth about God, whatever it might be. Let’s call that objective truth, after David’s usage, G-d.
There are also many, many, theoretical instantiations of G-d; let’s call that class god. You must agree that within the class god, mutual exclusivity means that, at most, only one instance within the class can be consonant with G-d.
Dawkins and his merry band are not killing G-d, but rather are pointing out that no instance of god survives even glancing contact with reality; in other words, every attempt to put G-d into a humanly contrived box fail.
For example, there is absolutely nothing Darwin said that negates the existence of G-d. However, to the extent Darwin is correct, the G-d box of at least a few religions is wrong; to bad for those gods, but G-d is untouched.
Unfortunately, Brit gets that quite wrong.
Brit may be guilty of a little shorthand, but he does not get it wrong. The meme is not showing support for the national team — that is the end, not the means. There are innumerable ways to reach that end. The little car flags are but one of them; viewing the flags as a meme provides a way to frame the question: “Why car flags, and not (fill in the blank with an alternate means to the end)?”
Your list of words entirely misses the point. Pick another example: girl’s names. Within the US, the 30 most popular girl’s names is very volatile compared to boy’s names (see Freakonomics).
Treating each name as a meme makes it conceptually easy to apply evolutionary principles to determine why girl’s names come into sudden prominence, how they radiate through the culture, then just as rapidly recede.
That is how the term is useful.
A meme is information, encoded in a human mind. A meme can therefore never be a physical object, such as a flag.
Wrong. A meme originates in the mind, but until it attains some physical expression, it has no cultural existence. Your word “splodeybope” is brilliant. So long as it remains in your skull alone, in cultural terms — which is intrinsic to the definition of a meme — it does not exist.
The moment you give it physical expression, however, it becomes a part of the culture: having seen “splodeydope”, which I would never have thought of on my own, I now try to use it in a complete sentence at least once a day.