Re: virus: The "science" of memes?

Alex Williams (
Fri, 13 Dec 1996 17:07:46 -0500 (EST)

Support" at Dec 13, 96 12:41:56 pm
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Out of curiosity, is anyone else wondering why "XYZ Customer Support"
bothers to post to the CoV List with such obviously flimsy arguments
even my friends who haven't been initiated into the mysteries of the
Church yet can poke logical and factual holes in his arguments?

Ah well, just a couple points.

> 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.

By this argument you can't brainwash someone by communicating. This
is patently false.

In fact, brainwashing is typically accomplished through the use of
metaphor to catch the mind with physical control of the environment to
break down resistance to the specific metaphores (and similies) the
washer wants to impart to the washee.

> 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.

Again, one cannot logically prove a negative.

Memetics provide a very useful communicative metaphor for discussing
the way ideas and cultures operate; even if the theory itself is
completely non-predictive (and we have seen evidence where its
predictions have borne fruit) the terms and discussions engendered in
its framework are valuable in their own rights.

I can't even prove intelligence isn't just a temporary abberation in
the functioning of living systems that has yet to burn itself out in
the mere blink its existed cosmic time, and you want me to prove
memetics isn't just a passing fad? Puh-lease.

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

An excellent and admirable definition of what a meme is; bravo, you've
proven literacy is not yet dead in your family line.

> 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?

Hmmmm, I could swear that even as scientists and sages die off, new
ones are rising through the ranks to replace them. This would tend to
indicate that there is a definite spread in the meme-structure "The
Scientific Method." Might I suggest you leave pop-culture statements
to the Enquirer? Around here we tend to work with fact and
intelligently presented theory ... when we're not trying to nail down
what we're each trying to say, that is.

> 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.

Perhaps we should start with yourself, sir; its patently clear that
you haven't applied it in this instance, accepting memetics as a
hypothesis and moving along to ways in which it might be tested on the
level of theory. One of the primary questions that take things from
the level of hypothesis to the level of theory in science, especially
in soft sciences like psychology, sociology and memetics, is "does it
describe what I'm seeing?" As far as I can determine for my own
belief, it does and quite well.

> >Genes don't change...species change as a result of this.
> So how do mutations get passed on? ESP? Psychic miricles?

The genes in your body haven't changed a bit in your entire life save
for some degredation due to cosmic radiation and the like. Species
mutate when their genes are /reproduced/. Mutations are simple
reproduction errors.

> 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.

Actually, evolution of the human specie is explicitly frowned upon in
the Christian God Theory: if man is made in God's image, and God is
eternal and unchanging, then man cannot change over time. QED.

> >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.

Its clear you've never picked up a book on the subject, yourself. You
are talking about an effect, your erstwhile debater is talking
mechanism. Punctuated equilibrium evolution (or `the plateau model')
has been described, in recent theory, as a time in which the visible
phenotype of a species doesn't change but non-dominant mutations in
the genetic structure are occuring constantly. Once a gene that
changes the phenotype in a visible way pops up in a sub-population,
closely-related gene-structures typically inherit the manifesting
pattern and you see large changes all at once among a subpopulation
which, over time, can lead to the evolution of a distinct species.

> 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.

Now I am well and truly insulted. No random mutations hanging around?
Tell that to a man who enjoys the lovely benefits of arthrogryposis
multiplex (myself), or my friends who are missing arms, legs, relish
the wonder of having various genetic and congenital disorders, or even
the more-than-a-handfull that wear glasses or braces, have a skin
condition or differ in skin tone from dead average.

You have just proven, in this statement, a profound lack of
understanding of genetics and of evolution.

> 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?

Even amongst cartligious sharks, one of the oldest and least changed
species in the world, genetic drift has made a significant change in
structures in their bodies and behaviours; if genetic material was
available from million-year-old sharks, I can guarantee that a quick
genetic assay could demonstrate statistically significant differences
in the genetic structure.

Again, you're demonstrating pop-culture mentality without grounding in

> >'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).

Having one offspring is an excellent way to make sure that your genes
are lost to perpetuity. Odds are, over the long-term, that your
single offspring will die before being able to reproduce. In fact, if
you only have a single child in your life, and your mate has no
others, you're damning your lineage to wither away to nothing within
the space of only a handfull of generations. Eventually, your
offspring /will/ die before reproducing and since you only have a
single direct linear descendent, your line is ended.

On the other hand, one who spreads the seed far and wide, as it were,
stands a far greater chance of fathering a genetically superior
lineage because that maximizes the chance good genes will mix with
more good genes and the loss of even a group of offspring doesn't
significantly impact the spread.

> 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.

I really don't see how you can say this and /not/ accept that it /is/
an `appeal to authority' argument.

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

More pop-culture? As a structure of strictures, science has many
boundaries, most self-imposed by its very nature. Being unable to
address the completely intangible is one of those limitations; you
cannot talk about God scientifically.

> 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.

Since memetics encompasses both sociology and psychology under a
unified theory, its far more likely that, taxonomically, psychology
would be files as a subset of memetics.

> 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).

I find it amusing that you dismiss the IPD work so easily. The IPD is
an excellent small-scale model of certain classes of social
interaction and is usable as a tool to model larger ones. Memetics,
in fact, /does/ act as reliably predictive as psychology or sociology,
and typically on the same domain comes to much the same conclusions
but with a clearer understanding of the mechanisms involved.

> 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.

I hesitate to degrade my heretofore rather upstanding image in this
ML, but I have to ask: Are you a complete babbling idiot or do you
actually have some shred of reasoning underlying your psyche?

You've already made appeal to the scientific method, and in so doing I
had thought you understood it, at least en passantr. Quantum
Mechanics is a theory, a very wide theory in which an entire field can
be couched for research, but a theory nonetheless, because the
scientific method does not accept anything higher. Even the Theory of
Evolution is only provisional, though there is sufficent evidence
accumulated that it would be a Herculean task to overturn it.

I can only assume at this point you are a mindless troll looking for
attention on this ML and refuse to respond to more of this dribble in
the future. I can only hope my fellow list members follow suit,
though that be entirely up to them.