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Questioning Memes 
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Post Questioning Memes
I was reading through another board and came across this post. I think he raises a good question about free will. What do you all think?

I read this quote again today

"We have the power to defy the selfish genes of our birth and, if necessary, the selfish memes of our indoctrination. . . . We are built as gene machines and cultured as meme machines, but we have the power to turn against our creators. We, alone on earth, can rebel against the tyranny of the selfish replicators."

Dawkins is to be admired for coming up with the formulation of Memetics; but he missed the point with this comment.

Your memes allow you to think that it is possible for you to rebel. But that may be an illusion; it's like the fallacy that what man does is fundamentally opposed to nature. It creates an adversarial relation between us (men) and nature. But since we are part of nature too, nothing we do is really opposed to it. It is as possible that we are merely carrying out what nature programmed us to do.

There's a kind of hard determinism emerging from these comments; but what I am trying to say is that we may only believe we should have an adversarial relation with 'our' memes because memes allow us, or even intend us to have one.

We don't have memes; the memes have us.

I have this suspicion that our belief in free-will and consciousness will be revised sustantially from our current formulation once more research is done along these lines.

I hear the screams of protest; but let me illustrate with an analogy.

Galileo was nearly burnt at the stake for challenging a consus view that the sun revolved around the earth. It seemed such a natural and obvious phenomenon; easily accesable to anyone with eyes. It became a doctrine which illustrated the importance (meaning) of what it was to be human (the chosen of God). It was an important element in the morality of its time.

But it was also wrong.

Currently the idea of free will is crucial in our society because it supports our legal structure and our ideas of personal responsability. But the possibility exists that it may be flat out wrong.

Just because something seems intuitively obvious does not necessarily make it right. In fact most good science is usually when we discover something that intially seems counter-intuitive.

Any comments?

Original comments by SomaSteve

Wed Jun 11, 2003 12:32 pm
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Post Re: Questioning Memes

Perhaps you can get SomaSteve to participate on BookTalk and especially this thread. What a fantastic post! I love his writing style and clarity of thought.

I tend to feel that the more we as individuals hone our critical thinking skills, and overall education, the more apt we are to succeed in rebelling against the "tyranny of the selfish replicators" of memes and genes. Being aware that genes and memes are having a profound impact on influencing our motivations to do this or that is the first step to not becoming a product of these replicators.

Can we ever completely free ourselves from being influenced? Who knows. One could argue that what we consider free will is really the selfish design of nature.

I've always had a problem with the term artificial selection for this same reason. Our species is a part of the whole of nature and what we do as a species is therefore an aspect of nature. But for conversations sake it seems reasonable to differentiate between the blind actions of nature and the conscious decisions and actions of the most intellectually gifted species on this rock.


Thu Jun 12, 2003 4:31 am
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Post Re: Questioning Memes
I requested that he contact me, but I'm no sure if he still participates on that board. I agree with you that it would be a pleasure to have him with us.

Thu Jun 12, 2003 10:56 am

Post free will?
There is a TV series running at the moment in the UK (the name escapes me) with a 'stage phycologist' who demonstrates that we dont have as much free will as we thought. He set up an experiment where 2 advertising executives were asked to come in and create an advert design for a fictional company. Unknown to them, he had set up the taxi to take a specific route through London, past some carefully planted posters/objects. They were only told of the brief when they had arrived, and left for an hour to create an 'advert'. At the end of it, the presented opens an envelope, and pulled out his 'prediction', which was the same as these guys had come up with of their own 'free will'.
The trick was based on the places & images en route 'awakening' certain cultural stereotypes (memes?) and was only so obvious because it had been set up that way. Had the trick not been revealed, the two advertising execs would have been convinced they came up with the advert of their own free will.

Sat Jun 14, 2003 1:47 pm

Post Re: free will?
If this is all true, the question for me is, how ought we to reconcile hard determinism with ethical responsibility?

Sat Jun 14, 2003 10:21 pm

Post ethics...
It would be too easy to say 'shades of grey' determanism, so Ill come up with a theory:

I have noticed that at certain times I have felt the world 'crystalise' around me - acute perception of the here and now. These usually accompany moments of critical decision or realisation (epiphany?). It is at these moments when one must make an actual choice that the world feels more real. perhaps the intervening time we are led on an almost 'meme' guided autopilot, and 'free will' itself takes the form only at critical decision points.
Im sure a hunter on their first hunt would understand this feeling. It is then, in full clarity of mind & circumstance, that the moral decision is made, and that is whene the ethical responsibility resides. Once you have broken an ethic (changed a meme?) it is then much easier to repeat the act (the sense of clarity no longer accompanies the action to such a degree if your revised ethical code now allows it)

Sun Jun 15, 2003 9:31 am

Post FYI: "Freedom Evolves"
This is just for your information:

From what I've read the new book by Daniel Dennett "Freedom Evolves" is dedicated to the questions of free will and determinism. It is on my list of books to buy/read and I am looking forward to it.

Here is the link to this book on amazon:

Mon Jun 16, 2003 12:32 pm

Post Re: FYI: "Freedom Evolves"
Thanks kostya! Others here have also recommended it and I going to get around to reading it sometime. I wouldn't be surprised if it gets nominated for our reading selection.

Mon Jun 16, 2003 12:46 pm
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Post Re: FYI: "Freedom Evolves"

Hey, I have seen you lurking all day today. Are you planning to register and get involved? We'd love to have you join us. ;)


"When once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward,for there you have been, and there you will always want to be."  -- Leonardo da Vinci

Mon Jun 16, 2003 5:23 pm
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Post I have
I have registered.

I've actually lurked so much that my account got locked out and I had to create an alternative one. :)

Mon Jun 16, 2003 11:11 pm

Post Re: Questioning Memes
Some more reading on the subject.

"It is the very reliability of deterministic worlds that makes it possible for organisms to extract information from the world so that they can look ahead and avoid disasters that they see coming. In a truly random world everything really would be inevitable. It is just the opposite of what people often think a world of randomness would be a world where everything was inevitable and nothing was evitable."

The full text of the article is here:

Wed Jun 18, 2003 10:49 am
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