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Post new topic Reply to topic  [ 11 posts ] • Topic evaluate: Evaluations: 0, 0.00 on the average.Evaluations: 0, 0.00 on the average.Evaluations: 0, 0.00 on the average.Evaluations: 0, 0.00 on the average.Evaluations: 0, 0.00 on the average. 
Memes 
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Post Memes
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The concept is that of the meme. When Bloom is discussing the evolution of societal systems, he's *not* just talking about the Darwinian evolution of the genetic replicator, but of the Darwinian evolution of the replicator known as the meme. Its a huge, huge difference.

The meme is a seperate entity from the gene, even if they go hand-in-hand much of the time. The meme is an idea that is able to replicate by storing itself things like human-memory, books, and magnetic fields such as hard drive. It uses the human bodies that it becomes a part of to spread itself. Memes that allow sucess of the population that embrace them are replicated in new humans. The humans that are successful often are afforded genetic replication benefits as well... It is the memes themselves that configure a genetic population into such a powerful force. A weak meme, on the other hand, will cause the genetic stock that had absorbed it to die off in favour of the dominance of the genetic stock that carried the more powerful meme.


Yes, it's a huge, huge difference - and a difference significant enough to render the analogy to a gene inappropriate, or at least very questionable. This article might be a good starting point for whether memes are a valid concept: Lanier on Dennet




Thu Nov 28, 2002 12:56 pm


Post Re: Memes
I don't think that Bloom ever describes the meme as analogous to the gene except where they have similar properties. He almost always describes them as Tangent to the gene. They're a completely seperate entity that has some of the same properties (replication, evolution). The memes do effect genetic evolution, however, just as the genes effect the evolution of memes.

They're seperate entities that happen to interact a fair amount.

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Thu Nov 28, 2002 1:01 pm


Post Re: Memes
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I don't think that Bloom ever describes the meme as analogous to the gene except where they have similar properties.


Which is a huge problem when he relies on models of evolution that depend on the nature of genes. Dawkins who invented the meme concept says: "The meme, the unit of cultural inheritance, ties into the idea of the replicator as the fundamental unit of Darwinism." In other words, there is a metaphorical equivalence between a gene and a meme (Dennet also explicitly states this equivalence). If as you're suggesting, Bloom doesn't draw that equivalence (I think he does, actually), then he cannot use population genetics and genetic processes as analogous models for memetic evolution because the match wouldn't be there.

Speaking of metaphor... From Lanier's interview with Dawkins:

Quote:
JL: Sometimes metaphors are presented as scientific facts, when they're not. For instance, I'd like to discuss your concept of `memes' [units of meaning, or ideas] as being similar to genes. Ideas do everything that genes can't. We have an ability to hold ideas on the basis of their long-term value, and not their immediate survivability. Ideas can also influence each other without being extinguished.

RD: I agree with most of what you say. But if you look at my original suggestion of memes, they were really almost a rhetorical device for telling people that in spite of what they'd just read about the selfish gene, DNA was not everything. Memes provided a way of saying, Look, genes aren't the only self-replicating entities. Maybe ideas play that role. I'm not committed to memes as the explanation for human culture.


I think Bloom has mistaken a metaphor for a scientific fact. That memes, being a product of conscious thought, have a significant teleological factor alone throws Darwinian models thoroughly out of whack. Differences like that, I'm sure, are why Dawkins refuses to commit to those models.

Quote:
The memes do effect genetic evolution, however, just as the genes effect the evolution of memes.


Interesting notion, though I'm not sure how well supported that is. Can you give me an example? The only possible one I can think of off-hand would be the notion tool-tech drove the evolution of the brain (a theory that's been largely discredited).

As far as Bloom seperating genes from memes, I don't think he does a very convincing job. For example, Bloom cites the emergence of memes disociated from genes as a recent development beginning roughly 2-3 thousand years ago (pp. 103-104), and that this new ability to transfer ideas signaled the rise of the superorganism - hindered in the past, presumably because genetically different tribes couldn't absorb/cooperate/etc. each other without 'transferable religion' - all they could do was kill each other. Even assuming memes are a valid concept, evidence indicates that there was cultural exchange between moderns and Neanderthals pretty much as soon as they came in contact - meaning such transfer occurred not just between different tribes, but between different species. That seems to render Bloom's idea for what a meme is pretty weak, and the notion that it's a recent development bogus.

As far as the actual validity of memes, let me simply quote from the Edge article:
Quote:
Objection #1) There are no predictions that can be tested, no potential for falsification. Memes are, as Dennett points out, open enough in their possibilities to account for the wild variations imaginable in potential cultures. But there is no basis for preferring memes over other potential equally open theories. Are memes more testable than the vague obfuscations of recent "postmodern" philosophers? Or do they merely adopt a cybernetic style that certain people find more comforting?

Objection #2) Ideas and other cultural elements are Lamarckian. That is one reason why people didn't understand Darwin at first. God was supposed to have thought the world into existence. Even people who were ready to question God had trouble getting over the idea of ideas. Indeed, I have seen students adopt incorrect understandings of genes because of the publicity for memes. They thought that genes must work like ideas, and be able to influence each other on contact. Lysenko would have loved memes.

Objection #3) Ideas often have objective value. Mathematical ideas can be proved. Scientific theories can be falsified. Technologies can function, or fail. Political ideas have harder to assess but real moral and ethical implications. A candidate for a virulent meme, such as the music for a Diet Pepsi commercial, might truly be a lesser achievement than, say, a late Beethoven string quartet- yet that judgement cannot exist in the framework of memes alone. Furthermore, in all of the above cases people have created cultural institutions that have formally, rationally improved human achievement in the course of history. Culture is a watchmaker with vision, at least some of the time.

Objection #4) Culture doesn't generally suffer from constraints of the sort found in biological processes. For instance, bad ideas typically don't really die, alas, while the dominant mechanism of evolutionary selection is pre-reproductive death (the other primary mechanism being mate selection). Your genetic traits were largely selected for because your would-be ancestors with alternate traits were killed by your actual ancestors or other organisms, particularly microorganisms- or starved to death. In that sense, the ideas that perished in the library at Alexandria were more like memes than any ideas in currency today. Furthermore, culture doesn't generally have impassable species boundaries. Although cultures become isolated on occasion, in a vast number of cases ideas flow into one another and selection pressure, if it existed, could not be focused on a unit of potential change, as it is in biological systems.

Objection #5) Ideas and other cultural phenomena do not necessarily have an inheritable substrate that functions as a specification layer. Biological organisms are reducible to an evolutionary interpretation to the degree that traits are described by genes. (As in: An undernourished animal will be smaller than a well nourished genetic twin, so not all observed traits are genetic.) In order for a meme theory to say anything it would have to be able to identify some structure that could serve as the basis for reductionism. It is possible that some human behaviors are not reducible. (In my experience, for example, you cannot learn to play Indian classical music without becoming immersed in Hindu culture, including a style of movement, of interpersonal and intergenerational contact, and a great many other things that do not have names.)




Sat Nov 30, 2002 7:09 pm
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Post Re: Memes
Richard Dawkins is actually not the right person to question for information about memes. He stated the concept and coined the term as a sidebar to discussion of replicators (as the quotes made clear). He has explicitly stated that the further implications are completely outside his expertise and interest.

Susan Blackmore is the leading proponent of memetics. The evolution of memes is, in fact, Lamarkian, and memes are very different from genes in a number of ways: what they have in common is replicator status.

For me, learning about memes was a tremendous "aha!", and I find the concept so simple and compelling that I think its truth stands on its own. An idea that people want to teach to other people will spread; whether it is because it is true, or because it inspires fear, or because it resonates on some emotional level. An idea that is false and unatractive will not spread.

I do not, however, think that memes are all there is to our intellectual life, nor do I think every claim of memetic scholars is automatically true. It is a new discipline, still being worked out.




Sun Dec 01, 2002 1:18 am
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Post Re: Memes
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Interesting notion, though I'm not sure how well supported that is. Can you give me an example? The only possible one I can think of off-hand would be the notion tool-tech drove the evolution of the brain (a theory that's been largely discredited).


I kinda thought it seemed self evident. Look that the meme of Islam or the meme of "stick throwing" that was discussed. Essentially, genetic evolution is based on environmental factors. The interrelationships between humans and the ideas that humans posess and spread *ARE* envrionmental factors.

If someone kills me because I believe in God, this means the meme that contains the belief in God is affecting my biological reproductive abilities. And thus the evolution of my species. Or if my brain contains the meme of throwing a stick to kill meat, I will be thrust to the forefront of my tribe and have the most reproductive rights. Anyone of my species can *physically* throw a stick, but the fact that I have the *idea* to do it allows me more reproductive freedom, thus affecting the biological evolution of my species.

When we've got memes that affect millions or billions of humans, they've got a *profound* impact on our biological evolution.


[ps... I know I didn't respond to your whole post... sorry... just didn't have time... wanted to hit what I thought was the most important point.]

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Edited by: AvatarofPower at: 12/1/02 12:46:29 pm



Sun Dec 01, 2002 1:32 pm
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Post Re: Memes
Memes do NOT exist!

Tell all of your friends to spread the word!

Edited by: LanDroid at: 12/11/02 6:50:27 am



Fri Dec 06, 2002 7:18 pm
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Post Re: Memes
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I kinda thought it seemed self evident.


Perhaps the apparent obviousness is the problem, as in the explanations offered through memes are superficial. For me, they always seem to fall apart when looked at closely. Part of that is because no one seems able to define exactly what a meme is in a formal or precise way (it tends to simply mean whatever you want it to), making the concept useless for anything except making suggestive statements.

Another big problem is that the arguments are alwyas up of Just So stories, which always involve a good deel of selective vision on what data is used and what ignored, as well as a great amount of interpretive bias on the data that does get used. Bloom's book strikes me as a prime example of this kind of thing - it is almost entirely made up of Just So stories, which while very interesting and fun to read are not evidence. The example that comes immediately to mind is Bloom's portrayal of T.E. Lawrence. Bloom claims Lawrence lost his purpose in society and this caused his despondency, etc. That's a good story that certainly supports his ideas, but I think it's at best flimsy and presumptuous. From what I know of Lawrence, Bloom's selective vision is seen in the way he ignores the purpose to which Lawrence devoted himself after the war: namely, creating a united arab nation (same purpose he had during the war) - it was different in method (publicity campaign instead of military campaign), and may have been more difficult and frustrating; but I find it difficult to credit the idea that he lost his purpose. Also as I understand it, Lawrence had something of a moral/psychological crisis stemming from the brutality in the war and his involvement in it - common problem with vets which I think well explains his despondency esp. in combination with the frustrations he had in fulfilling his purpose (ultimately successful though. In other words, in order to get Bloom's version, you have to completely ignore way too much, and you have to impose way to strong a bias of interpretion on the events - and that seems typical of the explanations you get from memes.

I think Bloom's book also illustrates another problem that I was trying to get at earlier with the simultaneous incompatibility with and the deep dependence upon hard core Darwinian models. Bloom criticizes the ultra- and neo-Darwinian models, and then turns around and uses them for how memes work. That puts him in the position (and meme theories in general when they do not make it a close analogy to a gene) where if he is right then he is wrong. I find that kind of paradoxical logic nonsensical, and why I say, "huh?" instead of "aha" when I read about memes. It seems pretty clear to me that that sort of thing is going on when memetic evolution is described as Lamrkian while simultaneously modeled as an ultra-Darwinian system like the selfish gene. These are completely antithetical and incompatible concepts which require a good deal of wishful thinking (Just So stories) and waving of magic wands (undefined terms, etc.) to begin to reconcile.

I would definetly say that there is more to evolution than strictly 'changing allele frequencies,' and that behavior is a big part of that. Memes just don't do it for me.




Mon Dec 09, 2002 3:03 pm
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Post Re: Memes
I have probably read less about evolution than most on this board, but it seems the "hard scientists" in this group that don't accept memes or group evolution have a problem to overcome: Humans and many other animals communicate. We are not individuals operating in isolation against individual competitors - we talk to each other and form alliances. Ever since cro-magnon man wiped out the neandertal (debatable, but likely), long before the believers in Yahweh annihilated the followers of Baal, groups have unified to unleash genocide on opposing groups, :x significantly affecting the gene pool in the process. Whether this communication is memetic or not sounds like wordsmithing - obviously it exists.

Edited by: LanDroid at: 12/26/02 9:19:26 pm



Thu Dec 26, 2002 10:14 pm
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Post Re: Memes
LanDroid

I very much agree with you. Memes seem to have so much more potential to effect a change than genes ever would. I'm not referring to a change in our biological makeup...but heck, this too. What I mean is that memes shape the course of human events. Massives of individual human organisms are slaughtered due to certain memes. The dead do not pass on their genetics obviously, so what am I missing? It seems memes do indeed play a key role in human evolution.

Chris

Edited by: Chris OConnor  at: 10/30/05 3:46 pm



Fri Dec 27, 2002 1:10 am
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Post Re: Memes
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I have probably read less about evolution than most on this board, but it seems the "hard scientists" in this group that don't accept memes or group evolution have a problem to overcome: Humans and many other animals communicate.
Memetics and "group evolution" are two entirely different things. In the case of memes, it is the meme itself that is evolving. A meme is a replicator, separate and distinct from the person who carries or spreads it. I think the scientific community has generally accepted the explanatory power of memetics, although it is not necessarily considered part of biology. An example: say a teacher is trying to get an idea across to a crowd, perhaps on the slope of a hill that he stands on top of. He says, "Blaspheming are the Peacemakers!" Perhaps he is a republican, who knows? Anyway, he's a strong supporter of war and considers attempts at peacemaking so improper that he chooses the word "blasphemy". Now one person in the crowd hears it as stated; and thinks, oh, ok, this guy thinks peacemaking sucks. But there isn't any action involved, so it has little effect. Another person in the crowd hears "Blessed are the Cheesemakers"; this leads to some discussion, but isn't very catchy. A third person hears, "Blessed are the Peacemakers"; a concept diametrically opposed to what the speaker was trying to say. Imperfect replication has caused variation. Now selection. Neither the "Blaspheming" nor "cheesemaker" is particularly catchy; they lead to some discussion, but quickly die out. "Blessed are the Peacemakers", on the other hand, strikes a chord in the listener, who repeats it to another person



Sun Dec 29, 2002 7:57 pm
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Post Re: Memes
Yes, memes and group evolution are quite different, but both rely on communication. Groups become different by isolating themselves. Humans and some other animals are very skilled at identifying individuals that look or believe the same and cutting themselves off from those who look or believe differently on the minutest detail. Religion & Government play a huge role in this for humans. Sagan pointed out that these isolated groups would evolve a little bit differently, but would get rare "shots of genetic diversity" when an individual mates outside of the group.

Another example: I suspect the slaughter of Native Americans had a much larger impact on the human gene pool than eons of individual selection. IIRC, the genetic diversity of the Bison was also dramatically reduced by this warfare.




Mon Dec 30, 2002 11:30 am
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