Re: virus: The "science" of memes?

XYZ Customer Support (
Fri, 13 Dec 1996 12:41:56 -0700

>From: Schneider John <>

>>But memetics is NOT used in brainwashing and your point does not
>>make the idea any more valid.

>Wait... you wrote in your earlier post:
> >Meme is just a metaphor for something else more familiar.
> >That something else is called brainwashing, propaganda, and
> >persuasion.

>So are memes used in brainwashing or not?

Of course not...unless you have evidence that they have been? Memes
are a metaphor and you can't use metaphor for anything but
communicating. You can't brainwash someone with a metaphor.

>(And my point was only that you have not made memes 'invalid'.)

And my point was only that you have not made memes "valid".

>>The only way to validate anything is with evidence and I just
>>wanted to know what evidence there is that memes is a valid
>>science or a passing fad. Memes may be a useful tool but when?

>(1) Selfish gene theory is sufficient to explain biological
>evolution quite well in a very simple way. Memeticists would
>like to explain cultural evolution via 'selfish meme' theory.
>(2) We have seen how powerful genetic research is. I think
>memetic research is just as powerful. Memetics is a framework,
>within which we may put things that you mentioned: brainwashing,
>propaganda, fashion, etc.... these are powerful tools.

Proof by assertation is not proof. Just because you can "explain
away" the world using memes is not evidence that it is valid. If that
were valid, then the Christians are right and God does exist. If that
were valid, then the UFO freaks are right and we are all in danger of
being abducted.

>Those are two uses, and keep in mind that memetics is a young
>field, (I won't say young 'science' if you prefer me not to).
>If you don't want to study it, then don't. If your prediction
>is that it will go nowhere, that's fine. I disagree with this
>prediction, and I happen to find it interesting, so I am going
>to learn a bit about it. I hope you don't mind.

I'm not predicting anything. I'm asking for evidence that memetics is
not just another passing fad. I hope you don't mind me asking.

>Now, I note that you don't seem so fond of selfish gene theory,
>so you might reject the usefulness of selfish meme theory as
>well. That's your prerogative, I guess. To me, selfish gene
>theory is so incredibly plain, simple, and straight-forward,
>that Occam's Razor forces me to accept it.

Usefull does not mean truthful (truthful in the sense that it
accurately reflects reality without any internal inconsistancies).

>For all we know, Richard Brodie might be deprogramming people
>with his 'Getting Past OK' book.

But why guess? Either he is or he isn't. Is there any evidence that
he is "deprogramming" people with his book /Virus of the Mind/?

>Also, in the language of memetics, all deprogrammers do is rid
>people of various memes, and is hence a subfield of memetics,
>whether they want to be or not.

There is no subfield of memetics...whether you want it to be or not.

>Correct. In the language of memetics, the scientific method is
>a meme. Period.

Meme: A unit of info in a mind whose existence influences events such
that more copies of itself get created in other minds.

The scientific method is not a meme. Period. It isn't spreading (I
see you unfortunately haven't been infected by it yet either). Look
at this month's issue of Sci American. Our society is being inundated
with anti-science and psuedoscience. 60% of all Americans still
believe that the earth is less than 10,000 years old and it was
created. Are you one of those people?

If the scientific method were a meme, then we should be consciously
spreading it to as many people as we can. Let's start with you.

>I'll leave Richard to discuss that. I merely support selfish
>gene theory.

>>Let me explain this to you. Genes don't evolve. Genes change in
>>reponse to evolution. They don't cause it. They are a byproduct
>>of evolution. They replicate what information evolution dictates
>>to it.

>Genes don't change...species change as a result of this.

So how do mutations get passed on? ESP? Psychic miricles?

>But - evolution of the species is explained by selfish gene theory,
>which is how I should have argued in the first place. (oops.)

But evolution of the species is also explained by the Christian God
theory. Just because it is a good explanation doesn't mean it should
be used. It can be misleading you.

>>When a species evolves, it isn't that one animal happened to
>>accidentally make a useful error in it's replicating process.
>>When evolution happens, many many individuals mutate in response
>>to the specific demands imposed by their environment. It is
>>approximately simultaneous and widespread. It is never localized
>>to the point of one individual.

>This would suggest to me that various genes lie dormant in all
>individuals, waiting to spread when environmental demands allow
>them to. It does not suggest that I should reject evolution
>based on genetics.

It is obvious you don't know anything about evolution. Try reading
something about punctuated equilibrium for example.

>SAID follows naturally from inexact replication, which is random:
>Only those randomly inexact replicas more suited for survival
>within their environment will actually survive to pass on their
>genes, hence SAID.

Guessing again? Mutations are never random in evolution. Never.
Unless you have some proof? Evidence? Look around you. There are no
random mutants hanging around. There are no random mutants in the
fossil record. Try reading something about evolution.

>>Is there really such a thing a "memeticist" or are you making
>>that up? Can you name a few "memeticists" who are known in the
>>scientific community as being such?

>Dennet, Hofstadter, Dawkins are three.

These aren't memeticists...they are self-proclaimed memeticists (make
up a word, add -cist to the end of it, and POOF! you become one).

>And, does it matter?

That you might be making things up? Yes it does matter.

>>Disasters can be random, evolution cannot. I don't see how you
>>could miss that obvious conclusion.

>(1) I believe that replication is random and inexact.
>(2) Which inexact replicas survive to pass on their genes, of
>course, is not random.

You have faith in the "inexact replication god". Isn't it strange
that for millions of years, millions of plants and animals have
reproduced likenesses of themselves so well, that scientists cannot
tell the difference between their ancient greatgreat...
greatgrandparent and their modern-day relatives?

That observation puts an end to that "replication is random and
inexact" dogma.

>>The other conclusion was that greater number of individuals in a
>>species does not mean they will have a more numerous chance of
>>surviving. Serving my DNA therefore couldn't mean having tons of
>>kids. It would mean having a more "fit" kid(s).

>Then again, if you have tons of kids, you'll probably have more
>'fit' kids as well, no?

No, that is not a gaurantee that they will be more fit.

>'Having tons of kids' is certainly not the /only/ way to pass on
>ones genes, but it is one good way.

Having one kid is a better method (which is the point I was making).

>>That isn't a theory, that is just plain and simple logic. Of
>>course theories are just theories! I never agreed or disagreed
>>on that point. But one thing you don't seem to realize is that
>>any theory, no matter how useful, well-established, or long-held,
>>cannot stand in the face of one relevant, contradictory fact.
>>Richard's (and yours) theories must be discarded as irrelevant
>>due to at least one relevant, contradictory fact such as I
>>pointed out.

>Which "fact" was this?

You mean you missed it again? Go back and look at the first posting I
made in this thread and do a search for the word trilobite.

>Methods may have authority, however. You appeal to the authority
>of the scientific method. (Please note, however, that I did say
>that I do accept this particular method's authority (over other
>methods). We have no real argument here.)

I never appeal to the authority of the scientific method. You are
projecting things onto me which never existed. I appeal to logic and
common sense reasoning.

>Didn't I already say that "I happen to agree"? Nonetheless,
>science has its boundaries.

Science doesn't have boundries...people do!

>psychology hardly qualifies to be considered 'science' in the
>same way that physics is. The reliability of psychological
>results and theories cannot begin to compare. In this sense,
>while I said that "memetics is hardly physics", I will also
>say that I don't see any reason to think it is any less valid
>than 'psychology', which also fails to faithfully apply the
>scientific method.

Apparently you don't know much about psychology either. You are
probably making the same mistake the most people do in confusing
pop-psychology with the science of psychology. If memetics is not
just a passing fad, it will be cataloged under the science of
psychology. If it is, it will be cataloged under pop-psychology.

>>Examples are not evidence.

>Allow me to clarify: the 'examples' he gives /are/ factual
>evidence, and he fits that factual evidence neatly into his
>theory, and that is why I call it "ample supporting evidence".
>(Moreover, you have yet to provide any fact, (that I have taken
>note of... I may have missed one), that does not fit neatly into
>his theory, hence there is no need for me to reject it just yet.)

Anyone can fit facts into their "theories of everything", but can it
predict new ones? Memetics can't do that. And I've seen the
"evidence" you are talking about: references to the prisoners dilemma
computer contest (whole chapters even!). That is definitely what
could be called pseudoscience. Dawkins wrote a book to make money,
not win a nobel science prize. There isn't much in his book that fits
into acceptable scientific reasoning (notice I didn't say
"illogical"? Just because something is logical doesn't mean that it
is scientific).

>And theories which have nothing to do with reality? ('Reality'
>being (in my own words) "that which can be shown in repeatable
>experiments". For all intents and purposes, theories of evolu-
>tion are not concerned with reality, since evolution already
>happened, and is not repeatable. Same with cosmology. Same
>with 'mysticism'.)

Are dreams reality? They are reproducible. Evolution is happening
right now, you just can't see it. Wake up! Have you ever heard of
inductive or deductive reasoning? They don't require mechanically
reproducible evidence to accurately reflect reality. Evolution is
repeatable you just don't know it yet.

>>Just concentrating on a theory's usefulness is a sure-fire
>>method to kill progress.

>I disagree; Example of progress by concentration on usefulness:
>Quantum mechanics. We don't know where a particle is when we are
>not looking (the question has no meaning, according to the theory),
>but we do know that the theory gives splendid results for predict-
>ing experimental outcomes. The fact that the theory is counter-
>intuitive is of no accord: it works, it is useful, and that is
>what counts.

Your misunderstanding again. Quantum mechanics is more than just a
useful theory. It isn't even a theory. It is a branch of science like
physics is a branch of science. The theorems and hypothesis used in
that field of science are the same as in any science. They don't use
those theorems and hypothesis just because they are useful, they use
them because they are scientific. Useful is only secondary.
Knowledge is primary.

>>You can't have progress if you don't question the validity of
>>everything at least once in a while.

>This, I'll agree with, but note that it says nothing about useful-
>ness. I think we ought to keep an eye ought for both, and should
>keep in mind that theories can be valid and/or useful in a number
>of ways, depending on what you want the theory to do. How do we
>determine which valid/useful theory we should use: We go with the
>one that's useful towards the fulfillment of whatever our goal is.
>(Oops! back to usefulness again....)

There are millions of useful speculations out there in the world.
Pop-psychology is chock-full of useful speculations. But
useful=useless if you are looking for something that accurately
reflects reality. You are getting sidetracked by the usefullness of a
hypothesis rather than the accuracy of the hypothesis.

>There are thousands of theories of everything, and all of them are
>being worked on by scientists (I assume you mean superstring type

No, I don't mean superstring stuff. Do an internet search for
"theories of everything" and see if you can come up with anything

>So, while the collective group of scientists does not support any
>single the theory, it is a big part of science to go out on limbs
>and to see how far one can get before the limb breaks. The limb
>'memetics' has not yet broken, that I can tell.

That's because there is no limb. Fads can last forever no matter how
weak they are in logical reasoning.

>This doesn't mean it's any more valid than alien-abuction theories
>(although I'd certainly like to think it is), but it happens to be
>one theory that gels with my personal past experience and way of
>thinking, (unlike UFO theories), and that is why I pursue it.

It agrees with your world view so you accept it by faith?

>>If they can't be validated with evidence, they are simply

>No: They must be invalidated with evidence to be false. If there
>is no evidence one way or the other, then they are simply outside
>of science.

Another falsehood. I've heard that line so many times from xians. You
ask them, "Prove that God exists" and they reply, "Prove that he
doesn't exist". Hehehe. You can't prove the non-existence of
anything. But let me tell you this, if you cannot prove or disprove
the existence of something, then you cannot disprove that it isn't
your imagination. Prove that memetics isn't your imagination. This is
the scientific method.