X-Message-Number: 11966
Date: Tue, 15 Jun 1999 23:01:04 -0700
From: Peter Merel <>
Subject: Memetics short replies

Chris Fideli writes,

>that break radically with the accepted wisdom of the past
>several thousand years.  Memetics arguably pushes this
>envelope the farthest, painting what is perpahs the most
>unsettling picture of the self and our desires so far.

I think that's stretching it. I compared memes with thetans;
seriously I don't see any difference between the two, or between memes
and sins, platonic ideals, morphic resonances, kharmic forms, or any of 
the other thousand and one ways of pretending to be objective while 
adopting a bill of goods. What's new in this?

>I will challenge the first claim that Mr. Merel
>made in his opening gambit, namely that memetics predicts
>conceptual jump to envision the possibility of computer
>aided evolutionary modeling of large scale cultural phenomena.  

GIGO. If the underpinnings of your model are just magical 
thinking, the model will be worthless. Show me the math. Show
me a falsifiable theory. Show me empiricism. Then maybe I'll 
see how we could do engineering based on that.

>My argument is a speculative one, but if
>speculative arguments can be taken seriously by anyone,
>cryonicists would be have to be among them.

We're open minded, sure, but we're not credulous. If we were,
we'd be lining up for tombstones with the religionists.

Robert Ettinger writes,

>Now I'm not so sure. For one thing, ordinary Darwinian evolution, applied to 
>ordinary organisms, is presently lacking in predictive (or even retrodictive) 
>power in many areas. For example, we know that stress applied to fruit fly 
>populations will produce mutations pretty soon, but we don't know what those 
>new traits will be.

Though no one can predict next week's weather, any barometer is good for 
an hour or two ahead. Likewise although you can make large populations 
do unpredictable things, Mendelian genetics is both predictive and 
falsifiable. There's no such beast in Memetics.

>Beyond that, some pretty heavyweight thinkers are inclined to believe that 
>all patterns, of all kinds, in all media, necessarily engage in something 
>like Darwinian competition. Lee Smolin, in THE LIFE OF THE COSMOS (Oxford U. 
>Press, 1997), suggests that even whole universes, even the constants of 
>physics, even the laws of nature may appear and disappear in this way. 
>Moravec in ROBOT says in part: "Beings will cease to be defined by their 
>physical geographic boundaries, but will establish, extend, and defend 
>identities as patterns of information flow in cyberspace." 

Do I deny that evolutionary forces play in cultures as they do in many 
other contexts? I do not. If memetics treated ideas as organisms in an
ecosystem I'd have very little problem with it. Unfortunately, it doesn't
do that - it treats them as alleles within an organism. An evolutionary 
theory of mind is fine by me - but let's base it on empiricism and 
falsifiable math-hardened theory, not appealing analogies.

Mike Perry writes,

>memes as like individual organisms in their own right that compete, at least
>against others in their same "niches," with the most viable or "fittest"
>propagating and dominating over their competition. 

There you go, no problemo. An ecology, not a biology, of mind.

Peter Merel.

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