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 Dennett, memes and Darwin TNG. 
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Joined: Wed Mar 19, 2008 3:19 am
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Post Dennett, memes and Darwin TNG.
Dennett is fascinating. Especially his ideas on memes.

One of his ideas has been on my mind for the last six months, since I first encountered it.

I used to believe that we first and foremost are driven by our instincts... I never really gave it much thought, it was more something I took for granted; that instincts make us competitive, greedy and often cruel. That culture is this thin delicate veneer waiting to disolve at any moment – and when it does we'll kill the neighbor for food. That wars are part of “Human nature” and therefore inevitable and so on.

Sound dark I know... and bad examples probably, but you get the idea ;)... anyway, my belief started to shift slightly after I was exposed to a meme from Noam Chomsky: His idea was that we behave as we do because we are taught so and because society rewards certain behavior. He said that the idea that 'Humans are naturally greedy' isn't true because there are plenty of examples of the opposite if one looks for them. That there are many subcultures where looking out for the interest of others is rewarded. As I remember Chomsky's example was the army... the soldier is expected to - and frequently does - lay down his life for the good of his country.

Chomsky makes a good argument. His meme was the first that shook my 'We follow instincts – culture is a thin veneer' theme. But it doen't explain everyting... instincts obviously affect behavior too. Dennett's model accounts for this.

Dennett's explanation:

Humans are different from animals in that a human can talk to another human and by doing so change that humans behavior. In other words: Humans have memes.

Memes abide by the rules of natural selection. But while genes select for survival of a string of molecules – the memes select for the survival of an idea.

Some memeplexes have been subjected to natural selection for a long time and have powerful survival and replication mechanisms. The obvious examples are the main religions... others are democracy and country.

In humans genes and memes sometimes compete. It can for instance be of interest for the meme to kill off the individual(and there by gene line) if it ensures the survival of the meme.

Elegant

...and there is much to be said about what this implies. Dennett leaves this to the reader/listener.

So our actions are not dictated by genes or memes alone. They are dictated by both, and we as humans can not escape this. Genes don't have precedence over memes. Their goals can conflict and if they do - either of them can prevail... because we're humans and built that way.

There is freedom in this.

-Splicer

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Fri Nov 20, 2009 11:07 pm
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Post Re: Dennett, memes and Darwin TNG.
That's inherent in the very concept of a meme; in fact, it's exactly what the word was coined to describe in the first place, before Dennett got a hold of the idea. It was even deliberately made to rhyme with "gene" to tie memetic evolutionary behaviour to genetic evolutionary behaviour. Genes survive in a physical environment with other genes, and transmit themselves down germlines; memes survive in an informatic environment with other memes, and transmit via communication. What survives depends, in both cases, on their ability to integrate, cooperate or out-compete other genes/memes, and propogate themselves efficiently. Complexes form between codependent units that form systems of propogating together more often than not, making the distinction of a single genetic/memetic unit more of a gradient than an absolute line.

And we, humans, are environments for both, and completely controlled by neither.

He is very poetic about it, though, isnt he?


Sat Nov 21, 2009 1:18 pm
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Post Re: Dennett, memes and Darwin TNG.
clouded_perception wrote:
That's inherent in the very concept of a meme; in fact, it's exactly what the word was coined to describe in the first place, before Dennett got a hold of the idea. It was even deliberately made to rhyme with "gene" to tie memetic evolutionary behaviour to genetic evolutionary behaviour. Genes survive in a physical environment with other genes, and transmit themselves down germlines; memes survive in an informatic environment with other memes, and transmit via communication. What survives depends, in both cases, on their ability to integrate, cooperate or out-compete other genes/memes, and propogate themselves efficiently. Complexes form between codependent units that form systems of propogating together more often than not, making the distinction of a single genetic/memetic unit more of a gradient than an absolute line.

The way I understand it Dawkins invented 'memes' as a device to illustrate that evolution/natural selection works in another field too. He never wrote much about it, it was more something he mentioned in bypassing.

When the idea was picked up by others they tried to expand it and formalize it, but the idea has never really taken off. Maybe because it's such a simple idea and so self evident...too small to have a hook maybe. It's just a device. Maybe it needs to be part of a memeplex to get spread.

It's a powerful device though. Like the realization that whether a meme is true or not has little to do with if it gets spread. And that a person is more likely to think a meme is true if he/she hears it from many sources - and that the result is that one person can reject a meme everyone around him/her hold and very well be right.

When I started thinking about this I began to look at new memes and ask: If this isn't true, would it still spread? I started to look for the hook and replication mechanism. This was a revelation.

Memetics is this small elegant personal thing. It's a bit like not eating pork. The meme of not eating pork doesn't spread well by itself, but if it's a part of the larger memeplex of a religion you get a lot of people not eating pork.

Now if memetics was part of a biopunk identity and that took off....

What Dennett does is to take memes a bit further than just being a personal device. What he is doing is incorporating memes into Darwinism... he is not just saying that it's a neat device for personal use. Which is what the others were doing and the reason why they were busy expanding and formalizing the thing. Dennett says that memes – for humans – can be as defining as genes are.


clouded_perception wrote:
And we, humans, are environments for both, and completely controlled by neither.

I think Dennett is the first person to actually say that. It's a Darwinian explanation to why our species most of the time doesn't behave like animals. A question there wasn't really a satisfying evolutionary answer to before. Dennett solved the problem by pointing out the obvious.

It's incredibly elegant. (Now that I think about it. Maybe Dennett provided the vehicle most likely to spread memetics.)


clouded_perception wrote:
He is very poetic about it, though, isnt he?

I like the guy a lot, can you tell? ;)

-Splicer

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Sat Nov 21, 2009 7:55 pm
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Joined: Mon Jun 01, 2009 4:34 pm
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Post Re: Dennett, memes and Darwin TNG.
Splicer wrote:
clouded_perception wrote:
And we, humans, are environments for both, and completely controlled by neither.

I think Dennett is the first person to actually say that. It's a Darwinian explanation to why our species most of the time doesn't behave like animals. A question there wasn't really a satisfying evolutionary answer to before. Dennett solved the problem by pointing out the obvious.


Dawkins made the point in TSG, although now that I think about it he didn't make the connection of his point to memetics quite as clear. He just sort of mentioned it.

I really think that social sciences should focus on memetics more. It could be a very useful model for analysis culture, beliefs and behaviours.


Sun Nov 22, 2009 9:16 am
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