Re: virus: "Religion"?

Steve (
Thu, 8 Aug 1996 22:18:43 +0800

>>But since someone else brought it up...I agree with Peter. I also have a
>>reflexive aversion to anything with the words "church", "religion", "God",
>I agree with Reed and Peter. Whenever I tell anyone about Virus, Memes and
>David's page I always suggest ignoring the initial "church" and "religion"
>references. However, some people will see the references and move on to
>their next link without ever realizing what Virus is all about.

Hmmmm.... I am most intrigued by this reflexive aversion to religion memes.
Has anyone heard of the Church of Scientism? A very popular tenet amongst
scientismics is that the brain is some kind of biological computer, with
human beings possessing the most advanced hardware that empowers them, from
amongst all the world's (and perhaps even the universe's) living organisms,
to most accurately interpret the world 'out there'. For them, it is simply a
matter of time before a sufficiently intelligent organism (scientist)
arrives to tell them how it all works.

The greatest advances in science were made when scientists were intrigued by
questions, rather than driven by answers. The Modern Church of Scientism,
however, seems to have too many answers where answers are not forthcoming. A
bit like fundamentalist religion, I suppose.

Seriously though, I wouldn't be too hasty about closing off all my options
just yet. My own humble model of memetics attibutes every single organism
with the ability to make choices. This does violence with extreme prejudice,
to the notion of brain-as-computer. To illustrate what I mean by this, I
quote something I shared with a chaos theory discussion group some time ago:

"I think that it was Richard Dawkins who first coined the word "meme". In the
context within which I use the word and, consistent with some other writers'
definition of the word, a meme is any concept that can be formulated within
the mind of an organism, consciously or otherwise. It can be a habit, a
concept, a word, a meaning or an idea. Most writers probably use the word in
place of the word "concept", in order to emphasize the replication
properties of concepts within human cultures. My personal preference is to
use it in an even more general sense, to suggest ANY concept that occurs to
any organism, according to the following assumptions:
1) The mind/body problem and the associative properties of
consciousness means that no meme can "occur" to an organism without the
organism associating its body, its past experiences and memory with the
event. Each and every meme is connected and associated with every other meme
that constitutes an organism's memory and personality (in this sense,
strictly speaking, it does not really make sense to speak of individual
'units' of meaning called 'memes'). My possession of hands, my use of my
hands to handle tools, means that I associate my hands with the hammer I
use, to give the hammer a meaning that no dog, bird or dolphin could ever
hope to give it. Consistent with Gestalt psychology. Also reflecting the
ideas of Antonio and Hanna Damasio.
2) For organisms that live in complex societies (neurons, bees,
humans, ants), the replication properties are inherent in the first
definition above - humans who possess vocal chords automatically attribute
words to events and concepts to enable concepts to be culturally shared. For
organisms that do not live in societies, my usage of the word "meme" serves
to draw attention to the connection between an organism, its body, its
experiences and its environment.
3) Every meme (in-so-far as it can make sense to isolate any single
meme as a single 'unit' of thought) has to be consistent with every other
meme that constitutes an organism's personality, in order to conform to a
single realm of personal logic. For example, a reductionist viewpoint will
attract memes that have to be consistent with that reductionest way of
viewing the world. An artist will choose a career that will reaffirm his
artistic personality. So too, an accountant. Memes (i.e., my more
generalized definition of them) provide every living organism with the
ability to visualize reality in sequences of logic, or stories. Human beings
possess the power of language to make that reality immensely more detailed.
That is why I am able to function at work, or to walk to the local bus stop.

Incidentally, I think that there is a strong case to be argued in favour of
the existence of neural level memes. In the September 1992 issue of
Scientific American (Mind and Brain), Eric R. Kandel and Robert D. Hawkins
wrote "The Biological Basis of Learning and Individuality" - an article
about learning by conditioning in single neurons. If the associative
properties of learning apply also to neurons as suggested in this article,
might this not suggest a "Gestalt psychology" for neurons, whereby coded
electrical impulses shared across neural synapses carry neural level memes
of shared meaning (in same sense that vibrations through air are interpreted
by humans as words)? Would this not suggest that neurons make choices? For
example, choices relating to which neurons to communicate with?"

I would like to extend my illustration of choice amongst living organisms to
suggest the possibility that choice plays a part even for matter particles.
I suggest that the EPR effect of quantum physics might be the mechanism by
which matter particles infect each other with matter-level memes. In just
the same way that humans know how to be human through the sharing of memes,
I am intrigued by the speculation that so too, a hydrogen atom somehow
'knows' how to be a hydrogen atom, by virtue of the hydrogen-level memes
that are exchanged via the EPR effect.

Now, with all this talk of infection by the meme virus, I've heard very
little about chaos theory and the role of attractors and initial conditions
on this group. Has anyone given thought to the possibility that a human
thought is some kind of attractor that attracts neural level memes? At the
cultural level, role models are a kind of memetic attractor, such that a
role model's clothing and mannerisms tend to be imitated, thereby resulting
in memetic attractors throughout culture. I think that chaos theory is
centrally important to the study of memetics, and I am somewhat surprised at
the lack of discussion in this regard. Yet it is a powerful metaphor,
because it enables us to toss out that silly notion of brain-as-computer. No
tricks, no mirrors, no New Age humbug or blind faith devotion required. Can
anyone suggest additional sites that I can visit that address the role of
chaos theory and systems theory, in conjunction with memetics?

Given the role of choice, of memetic attractors, of the creation of
personality through choice, what conclusions might we draw?

Mind precedes matter. Choice precedes form. Is there anything else? Can we
really be so sure that no form of religion has any place in our lives? Is
there no room for a religion that knows the fullest and the broadest
implications of the reality of memes? Is there no room for old-world
humility that knows the value of silencing those noisy, cultural memes of
conformity and clutter, to let the truths of memetic relationships emerge?