Author Topic: Hey Matt, this "meme" is for you.  (Read 30315 times)

Kafiri

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Hey Matt, this "meme" is for you.
« on: June 09, 2008, 09:22:24 AM »
One of Matt's favorite subjects, Memes (-)smblsh(-), is discussed by the doyen of memes, Susan Blackmore, at a recent TED presentation:  http://www.ted.com/talks/view/id/269.  If you want a basic understanding of memes and their relation with evolution,  this 20 minute talk provides a good beginning, and she introduces what might be a third replicator, "Temes."
"We lie loudest when we lie to ourselves."
      -Eric Hoffer

Matt Koeske

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Re: Hey Matt, this "meme" is for you.
« Reply #1 on: June 10, 2008, 03:39:03 PM »
One of Matt's favorite subjects, Memes (-)smblsh(-), is discussed by the doyen of memes, Susan Blackmore, at a recent TED presentation:  http://www.ted.com/talks/view/id/269.  If you want a basic understanding of memes and their relation with evolution,  this 20 minute talk provides a good beginning, and she introduces what might be a third replicator, "Temes."

Thanks, Kafiri!

Of course, I tend to side with the meme skeptics (yea, I'm actually with a majority on something  (-)laugh(-)!).  The question I've always had regarding memes (that I have yet to see answered satisfactorily . . . or even much considered by mimeticists) is basically: what evidence (or even argument) is there that so-called memes are the agents "using" our biological structure that contradicts the (more Darwinian and, I think, scientific/data-based) hypothesis that our biological structures are the agents using memes to perpetuate themselves?

The latter seems much more likely to me . . . and this likelihood makes mimetics seem like a wildly abstract idea.  I.e., a rejection of Occam's Razor.  In the short list of things I dislike most about memes (or mimetic theory, more accurately) is the idea that they are "mind viruses" that serve only "selfish, self-replicating" functions . . . and therefore the actual ideas and beliefs that are commonly cited as examples of memes are abracadabra! converted into fallacious stupidities (opening the door to ideological prejudice/tribalistic dehumanization of the other expressed and justified through the vehicle of mimetics).  Of course, religion is the favorite example of Dawkins (and perhaps Dennett).  But Dawkins thinking on religion strikes me as ridiculously simplistic and in no way scientifically constructed.  For instance, to my knowledge, Dawkins has made no attempt (at least no scientifically credible attempt) to demonstrate (with data and logical argument) that all of the potentially adaptive and function social behaviors that religions inspire are actually entirely non-beneficial to human individuals and groups who employ or believe them.

But such a recognition takes very little knowledge to generate and even less "intelligence" (i.e., it is intuitively accepted by most of the people on the planet).  Christianity and Islam are the most clearcut examples, as each belief system has driven (and been driven by) the construction of large civilizations.  But the phenomenon is probably best studied in more tribalistic/animistic/totemic religions . . . in which there is really no abstraction at all in the connection between religious belief and adaptive living or survival.  The gods, ancestors, spirits, and oracles "speak" specifically to the group (usually through a medicine woman or man of some sort) about survival issues like migrations, food conservation, hunting strategies, warring and raiding, threats to the tribe, location of resources, and general living strategies for both individuals and the tribe as a whole.

I apologize for being so blunt, but the rejection of this kind of data is boneheaded and unprofessional.  It doesn't even come close enough to scientific thinking to be "unscientific"  (-)laugh(-).

Very clearly in the instances of tribal religions and more arguably (but I think still demonstrably) we see fairly arbitrary and abstract laws, behaviors, and beliefs used to implement very concrete biological needs and drives.  The arbitrariness of these religious beliefs is certainly worthy of study and deep reflection.  And it's true that we humans seem to have a tendency to follow erroneous (and at times unadaptive) beliefs into our own very material ruin (on a level that probably greatly exceeds the self-ruination of most other animals).  It is, I think, also true that our species deals primarily with fairly arbitrary abstractions, ideas, beliefs, laws, codes, and memories . . . and is less beholden to "instinctual commandments" than other species. 

What this means is that there is a very real, very material burden placed on us to be adept information evaluators.  But information evaluation (especially in the modern world) is an impossibly complex task to navigate perfectly.  This is greatly heightened by the conflict between our modern societies and our state of biological evolution (which seems to be stuck in the age and environment of our evolutionary adaptedness anywhere between 6000 and 100,000 or more years ago . . . more likely on the latter end).  That is, the error rate of our (instinctually driven) beliefs has increased exponentially because we are less well adapted to modern society than we are to tribal society.  We live, informationally and perhaps also ecologically, in an environment of catastrophic upheaval.

In such an environment, it is hard for even something as fundamental as religion to be functional.  Some organized religions are simply not adaptable to the modern environment, and attempts to make the square peg fit in the round hole lead to anxiety and injury of others who are not as insistent about square pegs and yet live in the same ecosystem (and sometimes the same neighborhood) as the square-peggers.

Another gripe in my anti-mimetics list is the attribution of what essentially amounts to agency to memes.  We know that genes self-replicate more or less by generating organisms that can facilitate this self-replication.  It is fair to say, I think, that genes have the "intention" of self-replication . . . not to imply that they have a mind or personality.  But they have a specific goal.  Self-replication uses energy and converts it into survival behavior and perpetuation.  There is no evidence that ideas and beliefs have even this minimal degree of agency, volition, or "teleology".  There is, on the other hand, often an abundance of logical reasons for why ideas become so "catching".  What the mimeticists seem to be failing to do is to look beyond the first level of "meaning" or purpose in ideas/memes.  If someone decided to wear a red flower in his or her hair, and other people see this and begin to emulate it until eventually this trend is both common and considered "proper", then the red flower wearers can, but adopting the custom, demonstrate to others which group they belong to. 

It's no different than the reason a woman might wear a fancy dress to a formal event like a wedding or I might wear "casual dressy" clothes to work (as casual as I can get away with without attracting unwanted attention).  If we break a norm, we advertise our rejection of mystical participation in the culture and totems of the group.  In most social species, and definitely in our ultra-social species, rejections or even indirect "critiques" of accepted customs are potentially very dangerous to the survival and contentment of those individuals who would issue them (and a lack of social cohesion is potentially dangerous to the group's survival, which is why conformity is enforced to the degree it is).  Even when we unintentionally issue deviations from custom, we endanger ourselves.  Just think of jr. high school.  If we did anything "not cool", our nosy, culture maven peers would spot it and hold us accountable.  We are and have been bred to be experts in conformity.

So why does a trend for red flowers in the hair rise and fall, giving way to a trend for yellow ribbons, which gives way to green rubber bands?  Because, in the long term, the ritual of conformity must be reinforced again and again.  If a ritual of conformity is not reinforced by trend (and trend is a temporary investment in shared belief or a shared model), then conformity is not being reinforced . . . "culture" starts to erode.  But in this cyclical process, the "meme" is always the tool of the sociality instinct in our species, and never the other way around.  The "meme" is arbitrary and volitionless, while biological instinct drives on and on, accepting imprint after imprint from "memes", so long as these memes can serve the instinctual function (or at least serve a version of the instinctual function that would have been adaptive in the environment of evolutionary adaptedness).

I have every confidence that mimetics will itself be proved a trend that rises and falls.  What biological function, then, does it serve?  Probably a number of different ones . . . but clearly it helps unify a tribe of mimeticists and their sympathizers, and in that unity, they have more power, more clout.  They can even manage to pass off their pseudo-scientific concept as "legitimate science".  This gives them status, audience, attention of their peers, career benefits, publication, probably increased wealth and access to resources (within various professional communities . . . and, for instance, the stage at the TED conference).  The usage of such "arbitrary" yet complicated intellectual ideas as membership and status cards is rampant in all field of academia.  We can see this arbitrary intellectuality in the way Dawkins and Dennett and Sam Harris and others have tried to court atheists with semi- and pseudo-scientific propaganda, thus assuring that the tribes they seek to ignite (and prosper from) are more cohesively drawn together into shared belief, and the "cohesivists" gain status within these tribes.  Even though I radically disagree with the new-atheists on the subject of the usefulness of religiosity, I still think of these few men as the foremost champions of the tribes they seek to support and be championed by.  That is, their "memes" have successfully served adaptive and instinctual biological functions (at least within their chosen tribes) . . . and they didn't even have to be "right" (supposedly necessary in scientific circles).  The theories themselves are totally arbitrary . . . hardly different than "fortune telling" that relies on telling people what they are already eager to believe.

Mimetics will start to disappear as soon as it no longer effectively reinforces tribal cohesion among a specific group of intellectuals.  And indications of this are already apparent.  More and more biologists and trained scientists or scientifically minded people are beginning to see the flaws with mimetics and move away from it.  The trend is on the wane.  Eventually, the vast majority of credible scientists will reject (at least the current variations of) mimetic theory.  Those who still cling to it will be outcast from the greater tribe of academic scientists . . . and they will either relinquish their belief in the mimetic meme due to this exclusion from the benefits of tribal participation or form a "true believers'" cult around the meme.  One in which all manner of scientific thought is sacrificed in order to sustain the belief . . . which sustains the cult or tribe.  Probably the latter will precede the former.  We see this sort of thing happen all the time . . . and actually, it happens very commonly in academia.  Dysfunctional beliefs linger longer in academia, because academics tribalize them, forming cultic groups with a few other true believers and using their academic pulpits both to publish their "propaganda" and to indoctrinate students (who have numerous reasons to "believe" in things that make no sense . . . so long as their professors believe in the same things).

In this light, perhaps it's no wonder that academically bred thinkers like Dawkins and Dennett find the notion of memes so enticing . . . and then see it demonstrated everywhere but in themselves.
« Last Edit: June 11, 2008, 09:22:34 PM by Matt Koeske »
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hanscees

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Re: Hey Matt, this "meme" is for you.
« Reply #2 on: June 11, 2008, 03:32:38 PM »
Hi there,

I did some thinking on memes :-)
Rather than react to every issue in that very very long writing above I'd rather write down my own thinking. I am a memeticist but do not necessarily agree with all Dawkins or  Dennet have to say. In my view memetics is a good way to understand:

- that humans can fall victim to strange and weird ideas that do not benefit them. These ideas can be shaped by a selection process to benefit themselves

- that humans live in a cultural society where this culture has a history. Most ideas and habits and moral beliefs have specific lineages that you can trace back like gene-lines or species. For instance the reason that the USA is so repressive on marijuana (I love that spell checker on this site by the way) has to do with the history of a specific political individual in the past.

Memetics for me is a rich view with which I can understand the world around me a lot better. At this time it is not a living science with a large scientific community. But it is certainly not a priory unscientific in any way.

The text above is attacking a rather simplistic "memeticist view" that does not exist. Who says memes can't benefit their believers as well? Who say memes only serve selfish functions? This is of course what is counter-intuitive, but reducing the memetic view to only that is not really good reasoning at all.

greetings
Hans-Cees Speel
« Last Edit: June 11, 2008, 03:45:17 PM by hanscees »

Matt Koeske

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Re: Hey Matt, this "meme" is for you.
« Reply #3 on: June 11, 2008, 04:59:25 PM »
Thank you for replying, Hans-Cees!

My friend and colleague, Kafiri is a blind match-maker, extraordinaire  (-)laugh(-)!

I don't disagree with the points you just made at all.  And you are perfectly correct to say that my attack is staged against a rather simplistic memeticist view.  As to whether this view exists or not among mimeticists, I am in less a position to say than you are.  I am not deeply read in mimetics.  My reaction here is based primarily on the video of Susan Blackmore from the TED conference that Kafiri linked above and my readings of some Dennett and Dawkins writings.

Kafiri's winking title for this thread is (I assume) based on grumblings I've voiced to him numerous times in the past regarding (mostly) the "New Atheism" . . . which I do find to be unscientific in its general arguments (as I feel it prejudicially ignores a reasonable evolutionary biology "explanation" for the function and omnipresence of religion in human societies).  I have also grumbled to him about the meme theory as I have heard Dawkins and Dennett (and now Blackmore) explain it.

My attack (legitimately labeled . . . hey, I'm passionate about thinking  (-)dogma(-)) is really oriented to the notion that religion is entirely a meme . . . and a "viral idea" that happens to serve no positive function for its "hosts", which is basically what Dennett and Dawkins have said.  It's hard for me to get past this attitude/theory, which sits perched on the threshold of mimetics like Poe's Raven.  It is credibility-wounding, in my opinion.

I'm not sure that I am the one reducing mimetics to the simplistic.  It seems to me that Dawkins and Dennett have done that work for me.  I welcome a much more complex and scientific explanation of mimetics and would be happy to check into any article and book recommendations or to hear out any theoretical reconstructions.

I wonder, though, whether advocates of a more subtle and complex mimetics should not be arguing against the simplistic attitudes of Dennett and Dawkins and Blackmore to fellows like me, rather than seeing the simplification as my interjection (if that's what you meant to imply?).  This is what we are trying to do here on this site with Jungian psychology.

As I assume mimetics also isn't, Jungian psychology is far from uniform.  I see many conventional Jungian ideas as simplistic and generally wrongheaded.  When I meet non-Jungians who are trying to understanding Jungian thinking, I can't fault them for not understanding the intricacies of Jungian theory, because those intricacies are filled with many contradictions and avenues of interpretation.  Jungians (starting with Jung) have failed to adequately communicate and revise their theories.  I have often found myself in the uncomfortable position of having to half agree with non-Jungian criticisms while still trying to argue for the potential validity of some Jungian theories.


I still feel that I issued some questions in my initial post that have not been answered by and for mimetics.  My goal is to understand, not condemn.  I accept that my understanding is limited to what I have read and heard so far about memetics . . . and this knowledge of mine is absolutely inadequate.  But we are always forming opinions based on what (little) we know.  Such is human nature.

My friend Kafiri has often sought to keep me honest in my criticism (either that or pimp me off like a fighting dog, I'm still puzzling that out  (-)laugh(-)).  Luckily for me, I always look forward to learning something (or Kafiri would have driven me off a bridge by now!).

Best Wishes,
Matt
« Last Edit: June 11, 2008, 09:05:42 PM by Matt Koeske »
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Matt Koeske

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Re: Hey Matt, this "meme" is for you.
« Reply #4 on: June 11, 2008, 09:25:49 PM »
Dan Dennett at TED: http://youtube.com/watch?v=KzGjEkp772s

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hanscees

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Re: Hey Matt, this "meme" is for you.
« Reply #5 on: June 12, 2008, 04:26:59 PM »

Kafiri's winking title for this thread is (I assume) based on grumblings I've voiced to him numerous times in the past regarding (mostly) the "New Atheism" . . . which I do find to be unscientific in its general arguments (as I feel it prejudicially ignores a reasonable evolutionary biology "explanation" for the function and omnipresence of religion in human societies).  I have also grumbled to him about the meme theory as I have heard Dawkins and Dennett (and now Blackmore) explain it.

My attack (legitimately labeled . . . hey, I'm passionate about thinking  (-)dogma(-)) is really oriented to the notion that religion is entirely a meme . . . and a "viral idea" that happens to serve no positive function for its "hosts", which is basically what Dennett and Dawkins have said.  It's hard for me to get past this attitude/theory, which sits perched on the threshold of mimetics like Poe's Raven.  It is credibility-wounding, in my opinion.

Hi Matt, good to see passionate thinkers any time!

I think Dawkins Dennet and Blackmore would agree with the notion that memes can be good for people. It is just not a very sexy thing to say, so they won't start their talks mentioning that.

Religion in my opinion can have strong positive effects for individuals but more so for groups: it taps into the social psychology of individuals to stop thinking for themselves, or rather how I believe it, religion comes from a past where very few people would think for themselves at all. It is strange how human kind sees itself as so different from all else in nature because humans can think. In my opinion people usually do not think but rather act on feelings/emotions and later on come up with a reason. Humans are just so easily influenced by otehr people, by authority and so on.
The nice twist to that from memetics is that some of the influence is not for the good of some "clever human of group", but for the good of some memes.

I once saw a documentary about a Palestinian woman that lost a child in the war with Israel. Her reaction was to encourage her other children to go out and kill themselves too: she depicted her son as a marter and by doing that signed a death warrant of her own other children. To who's benefit is that? To any scientist such behavior asks for an explanation. To get revenge and be enraged is human nature but would the islamist meme of martership (is that a good word)  makes herself an agent that encourages the future death of her other children too. Would a non-islamist so the same?

These are the kinds of questions the memetic view can offer.

greetings

Hans-Cees





Matt Koeske

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Re: Hey Matt, this "meme" is for you.
« Reply #6 on: June 13, 2008, 12:05:43 AM »
I think Dawkins Dennet and Blackmore would agree with the notion that memes can be good for people. It is just not a very sexy thing to say, so they won't start their talks mentioning that.

Hi Hans-Cees,

Absolutely!  How about education, science, storytelling?  These are (or are made up of) memes that allow us to experience more of our humanness, our complexity.  I suspect there is an important connection between "theory of mind" and the value of memes like these.  That is, we so-called "meme-machines" experience ourselves and become susceptible to memes through the projection of consciousness and agency.  Perhaps this stems from the activity of the "mirror neurons" (but I suspect it is more complex than this alone).  Not just "contagion" in our cultures and ideas, but empathy in our cognitive structures, intuition, the ability to find ways to be and think and feel beyond what we might have imagined ourselves simply by observing others.  We can incorporate diversity into our sense of self and our survivability by interpreting and reconstruction others . . . even animals, plants, inanimate objects (Zen philosophies abound with such analogies . . . or, look to the New Testament: mustard seeds, lilies, and such).  What a fantastic ability to learn we have.

Maybe it's good memes . . . but the hardware these memes run on is not exactly a blank slate.  I think that if we want to (even casually) talk of good vs. bad memes, we need to investigate whether the meme-machines are totally neutral in this regard or more clearly structured to choose "good" memes over "bad".  Where by "good", I mean adaptive, fit.  In the mimetics I've read, a great deal of importance is placed on the "volition" of memes, their metaphorical drive to replicate themselves.  But if the replication of memes benefits the meme-machine, how accurately can we pinpoint "volition" in the memes themselves?  How can we differentiate their volition from the more widely accepted and better understood volition of human brains and their genetic "drivers" (hmm, I wonder what the better analogy is, software drivers or the drivers of vehicles?).

But isn't this differentiation essential for mimetics to be useful scientifically?  Mustn't it be able to say with scientific credibility what drive belongs to the machine and what to the meme?  Without this, how can it even say what a meme is?  How can it justifiably assign memes those wondrous properties unless it can say with certainty what, in the whole equation, is not the meme?

Religion in my opinion can have strong positive effects for individuals but more so for groups: it taps into the social psychology of individuals to stop thinking for themselves, or rather how I believe it, religion comes from a past where very few people would think for themselves at all.

I have written a great deal on this site about religion as a phenomenon (or meme, if you prefer) that is divided against itself.  Jung had something similar to say when he differentiated creed from religion.  My takes is that there are two (instinctual) components to religion: the "mystical" (which is a matter of forming a relationship between the ego and the Self, or the more instinctual and autonomous and at least superficially unconscious psyche . . . the psyche in its materiality and tremendous complexity; or as the religious would say: God) and the "social" (where "social" here is meant to indicate the instinct for human sociality, which I believe is "tribal cohesion", at least in our environment of evolutionary adaptedness).

I opt for the (possibly disconcerting) term "mystical", because the word derives etymologically from mystery, initiation . . . which requires the acceptance of and relationship with something larger than oneself that yet is only accessible within oneself.  So the initiate in the Mysteries of old, was essentially learning how to recognize the presence of the "living god" inside him or herself.  I consider myself an atheist and materialist, so I see this as metaphorical, of course.  What I think this mysticism deals with is actually, fundamentally biological.  It is a combination of one's unique genetic structure in its full potential (exercising "good" memes with ideal plasticity, we could say) and the instinctual universality of our species.  So the "larger than me" aspect (which Jung somewhat muddily called the "collective" unconscious) is on one hand the power of human instinct (over the ego), or the genetic agency over the organism, that is the result of millions of years of evolution, and on the other hand, the tremendous complexity of the cognitive and physiological systems that we are.  That complexity is significantly greater than the ego's, than our sense of consciousness (which is highly conformed by the limitations of working memory and condensation, rationalization, and filtration).

The mystical aspect of religion is often depicted in narrative series of transformations, especially in the relationship between man and god or man and spirit.  These series of transformation are what I think Jung was trying to get at with his individuation theory.

The social or tribal cohesion aspect of religion always finds itself in relationship with the mystical, but often the relationship is conflicted.  There are two great "gods" for our species: the first is the Instinctual Self, the autonomous drives of the body, that which we are but do not control or dictate . . . the second is the tribe, society, culture.  I think we each tend to worship one more than the other . . . and most of us favor the tribe.  When I use the poetic term "gods", what I mean is that both of these greater orders make a claim on the ego, and often enough, these claims pull the ego in two different directions.

Tribal cohesion is not inherently "wrong".  My notion is that it works just fine in the environment of evolutionary adaptedness, in small, non-technological, non-diverse, kin-based tribes.  The way religious tribal cohesion orders and directs people socially is adaptive . . . unless you live in more modern/non-tribal conditions.  Dense, diverse populations with complex systems of conduct, class, and interrelation tend to get pathological when religions of tribal cohesion are prominent.  Religious tribal cohesion is totalitarian and xenophobic.

Islam, Judaism, and Christianity are especially inclined in this way.  All are really just tribal religions (in my opinion) that have managed to define kinship by belief instead of blood.  Totalitarianism was, for centuries, the glue that kept these huge tribes together.  Generally the rule of tribal evolution is one of growth to a maximum capacity followed by splintering.  Too many members lead inevitably to challenges from diversity and a difficulty to control and conform and regulate the group.

But what is curious and complicated about Islam, Judaism, and Christianity is that they have mystical traditions (arguably at their roots, but possibly as concurrent movements).  The Christian story is an individuation or hero story.  How curious then that it is used as propaganda, as an evangelical tool to promote conformity and obedience to the Church.  What a contradiction that is!

My suspicion is that people are instinctually drawn to the mystical traditions and their symbols and emotional and intellectual appeals.  These mystical trappings and currents in religion essentially say to us, "You are somebody!  You have validity."  And then the conforming tribal cohesion machine with its laws and codes comes along and adds, "Yes, and what you are is a member of this great tribe."  But that is not what, for instance, we are told in the words of Jesus in the Christ myth.  Jesus says the Kingdom of God is within.  He says he's come to bring a sword between members of the same family.  That is, Jesus says that the Call of the Instinctual Self trumps the conforming pressure of tribal cohesion.  And also that morality flows from this inner Kingdom.  And more recently, we've begun to realize that morality is fundamentally instinctual . . . and has widely been observed in ape societies as well as human (in the form of empathy, especially).

In other words, morality is not rooted in the obedience of a law we have been told to obey by those in power.  It comes from an ability to empathize and identify with others, and to therefore practice the Golden Rule.  That is, we could reasonably argue that the Golden Rule is not a meme, but a biological precondition (theory of mind, mirror neurons, etc, again) . . . even as its specific cultural expression and guise is mimetic.  But the Golden Rule emerges, it does not infect.  I think the mimeticists have to be careful here not to follow blindly in the footsteps of some postmodernist philosophers of language who, enamored with the wondrous plasticity of the signifier, make a religious disavowal of the signified.


It is strange how human kind sees itself as so different from all else in nature because humans can think. In my opinion people usually do not think but rather act on feelings/emotions and later on come up with a reason.

I'll see that and raise you this: I question how much we are actually able to "think" or control and determine our thoughts by conscious will.  Jung said (paraphrasing) that we do not make our thoughts and to believe we do is to deceive ourselves.  Our thoughts make us . . . stemming from the autonomous, unconscious reaches of the brain, from a kind of "quantum" level where thoughts don't behave as they do on the conscious level, but are minute and unpredictable, "irrational".  The cognitive neuroscientists have also arrived at this same concept, mostly with scientifically controlled tests of perception and cognition . . . but the original depth psychologists of the 19th century recognized this intuitively (even predating Freud, who often receives the sole credit).

Another point: feelings are (we are learning more and more from neuroscience) not differentiable from "thought", but are essential to the successful operation of cognition . . . even if they can sometimes get supercharged into self-destructive "affect".  But without feeling as quantitative valuation for complexes of information/memory, we could not think clearly at all.

But yes, we are Behemoths of rationalization.  There does seem to be a separation in our cognitive mechanism between the "quanta" of information that goes into decision making or attitude/perception formation and narrativistic constructions based on these quanta.  Could be a left brain/right brain thing . . . or just a neocortex thing.  I don't think the neuroscientists have this figured out yet.  But our complex rationalizations are themselves typically autonomous thoughts.


Humans are just so easily influenced by otehr people, by authority and so on.
The nice twist to that from memetics is that some of the influence is not for the good of some "clever human of group", but for the good of some memes.
 

On this point, I remain unconvinced.  What is, for instance, "the good of the meme".  Does the meme have some faculty by which is can deem what is good or not good for it?  Can it distinguish and adjust its behavior accordingly?  When it gets itself copied, can it even assure that it is copied with much accuracy?  This is a common point made in criticism of meme theories, I know.  But it is definitely something that differentiates its behavior and essence from its model, the gene.  The successful replication of genes is a matter of accuracy (and a very small rate of mutation).  Too much mutation or error and the replication tends to fail systemically.  As memes don't behave this way, how can we say what defines a specific meme that had mutated significantly?

Like that game where a line of people try to pass on in whisper a specific phrase.  In the beginning it makes sense, but by the end it's
purple monkey dishwasher (to crib from The Simpsons).  In this scenario, is the meme what it began as (let's say the initial phrase was "The Origin of Species")?  What it ended as?  Something in between?  Everything, including all of its permutations and transformations?  If the latter, then it would make for a very slippery science, trying to track or classify many memes.


I once saw a documentary about a Palestinian woman that lost a child in the war with Israel. Her reaction was to encourage her other children to go out and kill themselves too: she depicted her son as a marter and by doing that signed a death warrant of her own other children. To who's benefit is that? To any scientist such behavior asks for an explanation. To get revenge and be enraged is human nature but would the islamist meme of martership (is that a good word)  makes herself an agent that encourages the future death of her other children too. Would a non-islamist so the same?

To play devil's advocate, here is a potential scenario that suggests a viable biological explanation.  The mother is meaning to encourage her remaining sons to uphold the pure belief of her tribe's version of Islam.  In this tribe, martyrdom is an act of tribal solidarity that encourages other members of the tribe to bond and organize their energies and outrage at an enemy (in a jihad, let's say).  Tribal cohesion.  The mother is saying that the death of her own remaining sons could serve the survivability of the tribe.  And, as twisted as this might seem, as counter-biology as it might seem (i.e., against the "maternal instinct" and the selfish gene idea where close kin is instinctively deemed most precious), it is also (within this particular tribe) potentially true.  Martyrdoms inspire tribal cohesions and group rage directed at an enemy.

In a very crass perspective, the mother could also subconsciously recognize that sons are expendable if it benefits the group, because the group gives her protection and resources and the right environment in which to create more sons.  When we consider martyrdom a "bad meme", I think we are being culturist in perspective.  There is a logic to it, but it's a logic that offends the sensibilities of Western culture.

And yet, Christianity came to power in a very real way through the "insanity" of martyrdoms . . . although if you ask the most extreme critics of Christianity, the tales of the martyrs that inspired so much conversion were largely propaganda.  Even in the instances of actual martyrdom of Christians (who died to inspire other Christians to tribally cohere), was it the act itself or the way the act was sold and spread in story to others that made it effective as evangelism? 

In fact, when one's tribe is subjugated to another, more powerful group, martyrdom often rears its head.  And it doesn't need a meme to do so.  It's intuitive logic, a viable strategy.  Although one that contains serious risks of backfiring, of course.

Best,
Matt
« Last Edit: June 13, 2008, 12:35:35 PM by Matt Koeske »
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Kafiri

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Re: Hey Matt, this "meme" is for you.
« Reply #7 on: June 13, 2008, 11:21:24 AM »
Great discussion you two; and Hans-Cees, thank you for accepting the challenge to post here.  I want to present a situation for both of you(and any others who might want to participate) to consider. You probably know by now that I am interested in that corner where Jungian psychology and Western culture meet.

Here is the situation, as best I can describe it(and my concern that I cannot unravel it):

I live in Western Nebraska, the population is overwhelmingly white and mainly rural.  There are a smattering of Blacks, the Hispanic population is increasing, and there are a few Native Americans.  By and large the white citizens are hard working, mostly kind and helpful folk who for the greatest part claim to Christians.  But underneath this surface the white population here is virulently racist.  This racism seems to have gotten into them from the local culture around here and seems impossible to deal with.  One of the reasons I am very concerned about this today is that for the first time in American history a Black man is on the ballots to be president of this country.  These people will vote against their own economic interests in order to not vote for a person of color.  Having overcome my own racism I find that I constantly must fight against their racism attempting to gain a foothold in me.  I describe it as almost like something in the "air."  But I can assure you that I discern the attempts of this racism to get into me.  In some ways Hans-Cees explanation makes perfect sense; the blatant racism out here is a meme that exists for its own purpose, without any regard for the human carriers.  Psychologically it seems to me to be projection.  Assuming, for arguments sake, that the racism here is a meme, where psychologically does it "live" in the minds it infests?  In some ways it seems to exist "collectively"(collective unconscious), in the "air" in my terms, and in some ways it seems to be very personal(personal unconscious).  It seems to me that if we could figure out the psychology of memes we might be able to effectively deal with "bad" memes.
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Matt Koeske

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Re: Hey Matt, this "meme" is for you.
« Reply #8 on: June 14, 2008, 12:46:28 AM »
In some ways Hans-Cees explanation makes perfect sense; the blatant racism out here is a meme that exists for its own purpose, without any regard for the human carriers.  Psychologically it seems to me to be projection.  Assuming, for arguments sake, that the racism here is a meme, where psychologically does it "live" in the minds it infests?  In some ways it seems to exist "collectively"(collective unconscious), in the "air" in my terms, and in some ways it seems to be very personal(personal unconscious).  It seems to me that if we could figure out the psychology of memes we might be able to effectively deal with "bad" memes.

Kafiri, I think I have a better idea of what you are getting at now.  There is a lot of racism in old school, blue collar Pittsburgh, too.  I grew up within it, but I am a first generation Pittsburgher.  My parents are from Milwaukee and Chicago and were (and remain) intellectual, mildly hippie-ish, lefties that are strongly opposed to racism.

I'm not ready to call racism a meme (or it least to define it by its meme-ness).  As abhorrent as racism is to liberal moderners, we should remind ourselves that racism is pretty much par for the course in most tribal societies.  More accurately, xenophobia.  But tribes are practically defined by an Us vs. Them cultural attitude.  I don't think we evolved to be unconsciously egalitarian and humanistic.  We evolved to value our kin and tribe members most of all and to instinctively want to protect the cohesion of the extended family.  That cohesion is the livelihood and fitness of the individual members of the tribe.  It is the god to worship, protect, and seek favor from.

With racism, I think we are seeing tribal behavior displaced into the modern social environment.  Modernism is (among other things) living within dense, diverse populations.  Pre-modern tribes didn't have to do this.  There were often enough resources to go around, and when two or more tribes coveted the same resource, war ensued.  What modernism gives us (as a humanistic development of the Enlightenment) is an alternative to tribal warfare: collective labor and resource rationing or sharing.  Negotiation, complex, mutually beneficial social strategy.  In its ideal form, of course.  Once you add human psychology and the tribalistic sociality instinct, humanistic Utopia is sandcastle too close to the tide.

Modern racism tends to cluster around places (material or ideological) where sustaining resources are competed for.  Jobs, real estate, what have you.  In the tribal environment, these kinds of things would have led to war.  In the modern environment, they lead to more subtle conflicts.  With increases in human rights, vicious practices like lynchings have been quelled (in our society), but the ideological racism is harder to get rid of.

It's hard to say racism can be seen as "logical", but the "logic" of racism often goes something like this: I deserve to have these things I want (and maybe used to have all to myself), and for you to come along and expect to have some portion of them offends me, robs me of my sense of self.  You don't deserve to have what I have.  What I have is what I am.

I'm thinking of (as model for the above) the Jim Crow South and the reaction to Jews who had "middle class" money exchanging positions in various cultures throughout many eras.  Obviously there are many other racisms.  As far as the aspects of human psychology that would allow us to dehumanize other people, I think Jung's notions are as good as any.  The projection of the shadow.  The shadow is that part of the ego that we do not identify with and which therefore seems to want to usurp the ego's power and claim squatter's rights over the personality.  The more our ego attitude is entitled (as far as "ruling" the personality goes) and tyrannical, the more threatening the shadow will seem.  Generally (although this is sort of pop psych), this ego tyranny is a reaction to feeling impotent in some way.  Finding a scapegoat we can both blame for our misery or ill-fortune and feel superior to seems to be a major temptation and inclination in human psychology.

When we feel weak and defeated, we often try to cling to anything that makes us feel stronger and more in control.  Such as race or class . . . tribal affiliations, strength in numbers, anything that makes us feel as though we do not have to bear the burden of grief and impotence alone, anything that spares us from our individualness, our loneliness.  And it is an ethical failing to seek comfort in group beliefs and protections when we do so at the cost of dehumanizing others or parts of ourselves (i.e., a failure to empathize).  But, of course, we fail ethically all the time.  To be human is to be dishonorable much of the time.  Self-protective at the expense of being abusive to others.  Honor is always a matter of consciousness, because in the face of our own tendencies to behave dishonorably (or unfairly to others), we must recognize this tendency and choose to act against it . . . or to repent for our lapses.  That is, honor cannot be emulated.  It's situational, and every situation is different, unique.

That is, it isn't a meme.

Racism may be able to spread because of "mobism", the tendency of ethics to regress so long as "everyone else is doing it".  If we want to find memes in this equation, I suggest we first look to studies in mob psychology to try to better understand the hardware our ideas and beliefs have to run on.  By hardware, I mean the instinct to conform, the instinct for tribal cohesion.  Many studies have been done in this area, but I don't really know the details of them that well.

Ritual serves a similar purpose, especially in tribal societies.  We should recall that scapegoating was an ancient Hebrew ritual, and I would argue that scapegoating is an archetypal function, a "logic" of our psychic structure.  Not a "good" or a demonstration of fitness, but an inevitability.  Not really a blank slate susceptibility, though.  It is a "logical" method of reinforcing tribal coherence by branding and exorcising an enemy or infidel.  It sends a message to all members of the tribe that to stray from conformity or to oppose conformed belief (from outside) is a great offense, a sin, a punishable sin.  And there are possible conditions in which a tribe does survive by such a scapegoating, by keeping itself solvent and coherent.  Even in modern social structures, discordant individuals can have stranger mana, a power to disrupt the order and coherence of the tribe. 

One person with moral consciousness, willing to value the Other can disrupt a whole group if they are allowed to have a voice, if people will listen to them.  A whistleblower in a company or organization is a real danger.  Even if they are in the right technically, they can still present a real risk of throwing the tribe into chaos and self-destruction rather than healing.  It is generally felt (by tribes) that gambling that a conscious voice could bring healing after the initial pain instead of destruction is simply not worth it.  Either way, it would be a massive reorganization, a state change.  Better just to get rid of the alien in a ritual manner that allows the sin of it to be cleansed and removed with the dangerous consciousness.

We don't need memes for this, for all this to play out in the modern world as racism.  We only need a natural, tribal instinct and its innate logic to imprint somewhat clumsily onto a modern situation that evokes tribal conflicts.  Perhaps where we seem to be susceptible to "bad memes" are the areas like this.  Close-enough approximations to scenarios that our instincts evolved to imprint upon.  But these situations are also different-enough from the ideal environmental imprinting conditions for our instincts that the imprinting comes out somewhat dysfunctional.  It can be "corrected" with the reflective plasticity of consciousness, which is capable of discerning what in the instinct actually needs to imprint in order for us to survive and adapt.  In the case of racism, consciousness can show us that we only need scapegoats to the degree that we cannot accept our shadows, and that we don't need tribal coherence in a primitive, rigid model, but can find empathy with a diversity of people.

When we find and accept our enemies within, those we thought were enemies without no longer seem to be as powerful and destructive to us as we first thought they were.  So I see shadow psychology as more relevant to racism than memes.  I'm not sue racism can infect us unless we want what the racist group also wants and feel entitled to it.  That is, unless we share their collective mindset.  But racism held by a group could still feel infectious to someone within that group because we are built to conform, to resonate with the tribe.  It's like a group mana . . . and it does have a mystique (participation).  It takes effort to stand against this mystique . . . conscious and moral effort.  It's contra naturum, to use the alchemical term . . . becoming and staying conscious.

But I don't see the infectiousness in the idea or meme of racism, in its abstract essence.  It doesn't have to "appeal".  The pressure to conform is built into our cognitive hardware.  The meme is arbitrary and powerless.  It isn't replicating itself, it is being used, imprinted upon by the biological instinct, which compels behavior of which the meme is only a signifier.
« Last Edit: June 14, 2008, 10:39:02 AM by Matt Koeske »
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Kafiri

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Re: Hey Matt, this "meme" is for you.
« Reply #9 on: June 14, 2008, 09:29:06 AM »
Quote from: Matt Koeske
Kafiri, I think I have a better idea of what you are getting at now.  There is a lot of racism in old school, blue collar Pittsburgh, too.  I grew up within it, but I am a first generation Pittsburgher.  My parents are from Milwaukee and Chicago and were (and remain) intellectual, mildly hippie-ish, lefties that are strongly opposed to racism.

I'm not ready to call racism a meme (or it least to define it by its meme-ness).  As abhorrent as racism is to liberal moderners, we should remind ourselves that racism is pretty much par for the course in most tribal societies.  More accurately, xenophobia.  But tribes are practically defined by an Us vs. Them cultural attitude.  I don't think we evolved to be unconsciously egalitarian and humanistic.  We evolved to value our kin and tribe members most of all and to instinctively want to protect the cohesion of the extended family.  That cohesion is the livelihood and fitness of the individual members of the tribe.  It is the god to worship, protect, and seek favor from.

Thanks Matt,
I think I have slightly misstated something.  Racism itself is not a meme(though I suppose in some situations it could be), but is based on memes.

Quote
With racism, I think we are seeing tribal behavior displaced into the modern social environment.  Modernism is (among other things) living within dense, diverse populations.  Pre-modern tribes didn't have to do this.  There were often enough resources to go around, and when two or more tribes coveted the same resource, war ensued.  What modernism gives us (as a humanistic development of the Enlightenment) is an alternative to tribal warfare: collective labor and resource rationing or sharing.  Negotiation, complex, mutually beneficial social strategy.  In its ideal form, of course.  Once you add human psychology and the tribalistic sociality instinct, humanistic Utopia is sandcastle too close to the tide.

Modern racism tends to cluster around places (material or ideological) where sustaining resources are competed for.  Jobs, real estate, what have you.  In the tribal environment, these kinds of things would have led to war.  In the modern environment, they lead to more subtle conflicts.  With increases in human rights, vicious practices like lynchings have been quelled (in our society), but the ideological racism is harder to get rid of.

Here I disagree.  IMO racism as it is currently thought of, does not exist. It is not because of the different skin color that we bristle, it is because of the memes that that skin color communicates.  Psychologically, it is not skin color that is the issue(though we deceive ourselves that it is), but the conflict of their unconscious memes with our unconscious memes.  But as you have written over and over it is the memes of "our" tribe that conflict with the memes of "their" tribe. Edward T. Hall in "The Silent Language" writes that a given culture, in its entirety, is a form of communication.  And, even more psychologically significantly, the communication is carried out "outside of awareness," i.e., unconsciously.
Quote
It's hard to say racism can be seen as "logical", but the "logic" of racism often goes something like this: I deserve to have these things I want (and maybe used to have all to myself), and for you to come along and expect to have some portion of them offends me, robs me of my sense of self.  You don't deserve to have what I have.  What I have is what I am.

I'm thinking of (as model for the above) the Jim Crow South and the reaction to Jews who had "middle class" money exchanging positions in various cultures throughout many eras.  Obviously there are many other racisms.  As far as the aspects of human psychology that would allow us to dehumanize other people, I think Jung's notions are as good as any.  The projection of the shadow.  The shadow is that part of the ego that we do not identify with and which therefore seems to want to usurp the ego's power and squatter's rights over the personality.  The more our ego attitude is entitled (as far as "ruling" the personality goes) and tyrannical, the more threatening the shadow will seem.  Generally (although this is sort of pop psych), This ego tyranny is a reaction to feeling impotent in some way.  Finding a scapegoat we can both blame for our misery or ill-fortune and feel superior to seems to be a major temptation and inclination in human psychology.

When we feel weak and defeated, we sometimes try to cling to anything that makes us feel stronger and more in control.  Such as race or class . . . tribal affiliations, strength in numbers, anything that makes us feel as though we do not have to bear the burden of grief and impotence alone, anything that spares us from our individualness, our loneliness.  And it is an ethical failing to seek comfort in group beliefs and protections when we do so at the cost of dehumanizing others or parts of ourselves.  But, of course, we fail ethically all the time.  To be human is to be dishonorable much of the time.  Self-protective at the expense of being abusive to others.  Honor is always a matter of consciousness, because in the face of our own tendencies to behave dishonorably (or unfairly to others), we must recognize this tendency and choose to act against it . . . or to repent for our lapses.  That is honor cannot be emulated.  It's situational, and every situation is different, unique.

That is, it isn't a meme.

But Matt it is not the case that we choose to act(whether consciously or unconsciously)honorably or dishonorably because of a conflict between tribal memes?  And is it not the case that it is somehow easier for "our" tribe to force our memes(democracy) down the throats of the Iraqis, than admit that their memes are equal to ours.  Haven't we(basically Judeo-Christian whites, with its core myth of "The Chosen People.") over and over again, unconsciously used force to pound the square peg of another culture into the round hole of our cultural memes?  And, in the case of the Irish in this country, skin color was not the issue.

Quote
Racism may be able to spread because of "mobism", the tendency of ethics to regress so long as "everyone else is doing it".  If we want to find memes in this equation, I suggest we first look to studies in mob psychology to try to better understand the hardware our ideas and beliefs have to run on.  By hardware, I mean the instinct to conform, the instinct for tribal cohesion.  Many studies have been done in this area, but I don't really know the details of them that well.

Ritual serves a similar purpose, especially in tribal societies.  We should recall that scapegoating was an ancient Hebrew ritual, and I would argue that scapegoating is an archetypal function, a "logic" of our psychic structure.  Not a "good" or a demonstration of fitness, but an inevitability.  Not really a susceptibility, though.  It is a "logical" method of reinforcing tribal coherence by branding and exorcising an enemy or infidel.  It sends a message to all members of the tribe that to stray from conformity or to oppose conformed belief (from outside) is a great offense, a sin, a punishable sin.  And there are possible conditions in which a tribe does survive by such a scapegoating, by keeping itself solvent and coherent.  Even in modern social structures, discordant individuals can have stranger mana, a power to disrupt the order and coherence of the tribe. 

One person with moral consciousness, willing to value the Other can disrupt a whole group if they are allowed to have a voice, if people will listen to them.  A whistleblower in a company or organization is a real danger.  Even if they are in the right technically, they can still present a real risk of throwing the tribe into chaos and self-destruction rather than healing.  It is generally felt (by tribes) that gambling that a conscious voice could bring healing after the initial pain instead of destruction is simply not worth it.  Either way, it would be a massive reorganization, a state change.  Better just to get rid of the alien in a ritual manner that allows the sin of it to be cleansed and removed with the dangerous consciousness.

We don't need memes for this, for all this to play out in the modern world as racism.  We only need a natural, tribal instinct and its innate logic to imprint somewhat clumsily onto a modern situation that evokes tribal conflicts.  Perhaps where we seem to be susceptible to "bad memes" are the areas like this.  Close-enough approximations to scenarios that our instincts evolved to imprint upon.  But these situations are also different-enough from the ideal environmental imprinting conditions for our instincts that the imprinting comes out somewhat dysfunctional.  It can be "corrected" with the reflective plasticity of consciousness, which is capable of discerning what in the instinct actually needs to imprint in order for us to survive and adapt.  In the case of racism, consciousness can show us that we only need scapegoats to the degree that we cannot accept our shadows, and that we don't need tribal coherence in a primitive, rigid model, but can find empathy with a diversity of people.

When we find and accept our enemies within, those we thought were enemies without no longer seem to be as powerful and destructive to us as we first thought they were.  So I see shadow psychology as more relevant to racism than memes.  I'm not sue racism can infect us unless we want what the racist group also wants and feel entitled to it.  That is, unless we share their collective mindset.  But racism held by a group could still feel infectious to someone within that group because we are built to conform, to resonate with the tribe.  It's like a group mana . . . and it does have a mystique (participation).  It takes effort to stand against this mystique . . . conscious and moral effort.  It's contra naturum, to use the alchemical term . . . becoming and staying conscious.

But I don't see the infectiousness in the idea or meme of racism, in its abstract essence.  It doesn't have to "appeal".  The pressure to conform is built into our cognitive hardware.  The meme is arbitrary and powerless.  It isn't replicating itself, it is being used, imprinted upon by the biological instinct, which compels behavior of which the meme is only a signifier.

I reiterate that racism itself is not a meme, and I apologize for not being clear about this from the onset.  But it seems very clear to me that the concept of memes fits very well with your tribal arguments.  What I am seeking now is to see if we can integrate the concept of meme into Jungian thought.  In some ways Matt I think we are very close in our thinking here.  This is where Social Constructionism" enters the equation of our human nature.  Stick with me Matt and I think we can get to a critical item that needs scrutiny.
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Matt Koeske

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Re: Hey Matt, this "meme" is for you.
« Reply #10 on: June 14, 2008, 03:08:15 PM »
Here I disagree.  IMO racism as it is currently thought of, does not exist. It is not because of the different skin color that we bristle, it is because of the memes that that skin color communicates.  Psychologically, it is not skin color that is the issue(though we deceive ourselves that it is), but the conflict of their unconscious memes with our unconscious memes.  But as you have written over and over it is the memes of "our" tribe that conflict with the memes of "their" tribe. Edward T. Hall in "The Silent Language" writes that a given culture, in its entirety, is a form of communication.  And, even more psychologically significantly, the communication is carried out "outside of awareness," i.e., unconsciously.

Kafiri, I'm still not sure.  Certainly racism is not merely a matter of differences in skin color or superficial appearance.  These things are just used by tribes to denote those of other tribes, markers that are meant to represent various, deeper things.  But in my experience of racism and general reading about racism in various cultures and periods of history, what I've seen is very clearly a consciousness in racists that those they projected shadow onto were competing for resources (or imagined to be competing for resources).  This is the biggie for the Jim Crow South and European/Roman Empire Jews, as has been widely and carefully examined by many scholars.  Jews in the Roman Empire and throughout much of European history were seen by the Romans and Europeans who felt this was their ancestral land as interlopers and "thieves" taking jobs and profits away from the Romans and Europeans who were entitled to them.  In the Jim Crow south, the poor whites already had very little, and when blacks were allowed to own land and could occasionally make a little money, the poor whites felt they were being abused and robbed.  They felt they were entitled to those resources the blacks now had access too.

The skin color or alien cultural practices (monotheism, circumcision, etc. in the case of the Jews) were only the signifiers for the resource competitors.  But I don't think that even extreme racists are so unconscious that they don't see below these surfaces to recognize or fear how the blamed people could disrupt the way of life the racist tribes preferred and were used to.

I didn't mention colonialist prejudice above, but it works more or less the same way.  White men have especially developed a reputation for colonial prejudice.  This is essentially the belief that military and technological power and modernized civilization is superior to less technological, more clearly tribal civilization.  Modern and industrial civilization is a totem god . . . and "my god is better than your god".  But what colonialists have always really (and very clearly) wanted was access to the resources that less technological and empowered peoples had and were "too ignorant to take advantage of".  Colonial racism helps the racist deny and exorcise his or her own "primitive" and unsophisticated shadow.  There has been a great deal of this in the development of western civilization, and Jung noted this frequently.


But Matt it is not the case that we choose to act(whether consciously or unconsciously)honorably or dishonorably because of a conflict between tribal memes?  And is it not the case that it is somehow easier for "our" tribe to force our memes(democracy) down the throats of the Iraqis, than admit that their memes are equal to ours.  Haven't we(basically Judeo-Christian whites, with its core myth of "The Chosen People.") over and over again, unconsciously used force to pound the square peg of another culture into the round hole of our cultural memes?  And, in the case of the Irish in this country, skin color was not the issue.

I think the conflict in regard to honor is one between consciousness and unconsciousness.  We often imagine that honor is culturally stamped on us like religious laws we must obey, but I don't think real honor works this way.  If we only refrain from "sinning", because we do a quick check of the Ten Commandments and realize that coveting our neighbor's ass is forbidden by God's law, we have not acted with moral consciousness.  We made our decision based on fear and conformity.  To make a decision based on honor, we often have to go against our cultural totems and recognize the essence of the situation, not merely its abstract superficiality.  For instance, we have to recognize that actions and choices have consequences, and that the actor is in many ways responsible for these consequences.  Recognizing this, the potential actor chooses not to take an action that has harmful consequences that could be avoided with another, more complex decision.  To me, this is the essence of honorable or moral consciousness.

We can see that even as we make such honorable decisions on a daily basis, we also live in a world in which especially the empowered make dishonorable decisions all the time.  Governments, corporations, etc.  These groups even came up with a slew of euphemisms to mask their behavior (like "externalities").  But essentially, they don't want to consider the negative consequences of their behaviors, because their behaviors provide short term profit.  Therefor, a culture of profit-worship evolves out of capitalism . . . and the real "purpose" of this tribe and its totemic doctrines and beliefs is to declare that profit is a god, and therefore is entitled to treat its subordinates as terribly as it desires (for it has divine right).  The thing to do to belong to this tribe is to declare servitude to this profit god, for which one will earn the protection of tribal ignorance, scapegoating of infidels, unconsciousness of externalities.

But I still don't see the prevalence of memes in these scenarios, because it is not the beliefs that are calling the shots, replicating themselves, demonstrating volition.  The actor in all these circumstances is instinct, biological drive and the species-wide structural logic of the human brain.  We can call culture "memes" if we want.  That's fine with me.  But what I see implied in mimetics is that the ideas are driving the biology/instincts, and this strikes me as patently false and unscientific.  These beliefs and ideas are arbitrary.  They are iron filings that get sucked into the magnetic field pattern of instincts.  They have no power to determine instinct or biology.  It's the "iron" of memes that is helpless to the mangnetism of biological instinct, not vice versa.

I think the confusion comes from our modern predicament, from being displaced from our environment of evolutionary adaptedness.  Our instincts become perverted and dissociated because of this massive environmental displacement.  Instincts alone cannot sort out the many complexities of modern culture.  We cannot remain entirely unconscious and function in a way that is both personally healthy/adaptive and culturally sustaining or progressive in the modern world.  We need to employ consciousness as a plastic interpreter and channeler of instincts in order to navigate modernism adaptively.  And we are generally not up to this adaptive challenge.  Therefore, anxiety abounds.

In the case of The U.S. invasions and inveiglings in the Middle East, I don't think we are trying to shove our memes for American "democracy" down their throats, to infect and convert them as if by some chemical-ideological weapon.  This propaganda about democracy is meant entirely for the U.S. population.  No one in the Middle East believes this.  The U.S. (or some ideologues in power) wants to control or have stronger influence over oil markets in the Middle East.  Resources.  Probably this is seen as the "only" way of putting or keeping the U.S. at the top of the global economic food chain.  It's just another colonialist maneuver . . . and it's not only dishonorable, but a very radical strategy with a huge potential to backfire even in the minute chance that it could succeed in achieving its design.

Our government and its corporate conductors don't want there to be democracy in the Middle East, and if you follow journalism that is not propaganda-affected, you'll find that they have not made any legitimate efforts to support true democracy in Iraq, but have undermined such a process time and again (e.g., true democracy would elect "too Islamic" and isolationist/anti-American a government).  And that doesn't even begin to deal with the ethical and philosophical issue of wanting to bring democracy to a non-democratic foreign country (if that really had been our true intention).  What the ideological groups behind the invasion of Iraq want is for Iraq to be subjugated by American corporate power, so Iraq's resources can funnel money into the business interests of these ideological groups.  This desire necessitates taking certain anti-Islamic measures, in the sense that Islam is a tribal religion that thrives on its autonomy and righteousness, and "free market capitalism" is invasive like a weed.  Free market capitalism needs to get its seeds and roots into all the resource pools.  It is opposed to the notion of controlled markets, markets where a resource is controlled by a cartel like OPEC that can set prices on its product at whim.  Free market capitalism doesn't serve the cartels or overt monopolists, it serves those "in the know" who can wheel and deal with fiscal flow to their own advantage.

But of course, those wheeler-dealer elites become the new cartels.  The "free markets" in free market capitalism are markets that are freed for the ready usage of the new global, corporate elite, freed for the intrusion of these specific tendrils.  "Free" in this case is a PR word that doesn't really mean what the word usually means.  We could see oil drilling in Alaska in a similar way, except instead of a cartel with absolute control of a resource, the resource is protected by environmental regulations.  Free marketeers want to open it up for profitable usage, and they are not concerned with the externalities of this usage.  The "freedom" they want is access to every possible market resource, consequences be damned.  It is that "freedom" that is worshiped as a god, and the religion surrounding this god grants divine right to the ignorance of externalities.  Free market capitalism doesn't think about balance and sustainability.  It's based on consumption and the transformation of everything possible into a market resource. 

Various kinds of regulations limit this access on the principle that not everything in the world is best used as a market resource.  Some things have more value to us (not to mention other species) in their relatively unviolated condition than they do as monetary resources.  But free marketeers don't see it this way.  They see ideologically, religiously.  Profit is God . . . and it is not our place to question this.

But the free marketeers don't want to pass on these memes to others.  These memes are things they want to conserve for themselves as much as possible.  After all, they know that as soon as every Tom, Dick, and Harry hear about a great investment opportunity, it no longer remains such a great investment opportunity.  There isn't really enough wealth to go around (in the minds of the free marketeers).  So the religion of free market capitalism (or globalism, as it is sometimes called) must be protected and conserved.  It is "secret information" meant only for elite think tanks, top level executives, and their acolytes.  Because the concealed lie about free market capitalism is that it doesn't actually work for everyone, only for those who believe, utilize, and protect the sacred information.

This is why the meddlings of free market ventures like World Bank and NAFTA and so forth have typically proved devastating to the countries they have been implanted in.  Devastating to the majority of the populations, the workers . . . the indoctrinated, free market globalists have managed to do just fine.  But the countries have not, because countries are not equivalent only to their elite and wealthy (a truth that free market capitalism is not terribly concerned about).

What I mean to say is that there is a great deal more going on here than racism and memes . . . and we can't even begin to talk about an ethereal concept like memes until we actually understand the complex systems they exist in and how power and resources flow in these systems.  Maybe, after all these facts and more solid structures are sorted out (the hardware), we will find a place for mimetics in the description of these complex systems.  But the core of my gripe with what I've seen of mimetics so far is that it remains unscientifically ignorant of the systems and things it wants to see memes as conducting.  I.e., there is no control in the mimetic "testing", and this is why mimetics remains unscientific.

The mimetic perspective is very much like the egoic perspective, it is a fixed lens, a paradigm that greatly limits and conforms what is perceived.  The goal of all scientific observation is to remove that observation as much as possible from the egoic persepctive.  The egoic persepctive (sometimes also called the subjective factor or the "personal equation" by Jung) must be made a margin of error in scientific observation.  The egoic perspective is not only the personal perspective and its limitations and prejudices, but also the cultural limitations and prejudices to which the particular ego perceiving belongs.  Ego and culture are inherently and umbilically connected.  Ego is constructed primarily by cultural conditioning . . . at least until one's spiritual or individuation journey begins.  But the ego can never become wholly the providence of the Self.  It must always be the cultural navigator and the conduit between culture and Self/instinct.  Ego and Self are always Others to one another.

I think it is only with recognition and acceptance of this (and valuation of the Other) that we can begin to consciously negotiate between the demands of culture and the demands of instinct.  Only consciousness allows for the degree of conceptual plasticity that such negotiations (in the modern world) require.


I reiterate that racism itself is not a meme, and I apologize for not being clear about this from the onset.  But it seems very clear to me that the concept of memes fits very well with your tribal arguments.  What I am seeking now is to see if we can integrate the concept of meme into Jungian thought.  In some ways Matt I think we are very close in our thinking here.  This is where Social Constructionism" enters the equation of our human nature.  Stick with me Matt and I think we can get to a critical item that needs scrutiny.

My stance is not that there is no such thing as memes, merely that "meme" is a word that may not really add much to the concepts it replaces (like "culture").  A major problem is that it remains unclear that memes really do function similarly to genes (as claimed by mimeticists) . . . which is what I have been arguing from the start.  If memes can be shown to not actually function like genes in the ways and reasons that they replicate, this calls into question both the naming and the conceiving of memes.  I worry that this core discrepancy calls into question all of which memes are applied to as "explanation".  It creates a false impression of Darwinian natural selection and self-replication.  I am not personally satisfied with the mimeticist's comparisons of memes to genes.  Their arguments on this issue do not hold up to the questions I can throw at them (and have in this thread). 

Not to be overly difficult, but none of my criticisms and questions of memes has yet to be addressed, let alone resolved by any pro-mimetic arguments.  Maybe there are answers . . . but as they are not yet presented to me (directly or indirectly), I cannot reply with responses and analyses (or acceptances of these arguments' validity).  My philosophical method is very logical.  This is how I think about everything.  I present arguments that could falsify the claims of what I am arguing against and try to investigate the validity of these falsifications.  Equally, when I develop my own theories, I throw every argument I can think up at them.  The result is that my theories are largely made up of what remains and seems most logical and likely after I have disproved every other assumption that occurred to me.  My criterion for acceptance as a component of my theories is an ability to make sense of the data and information that I have observed and considered.

Even as an "intuitive" thinker, I'm not inclined to embrace my intuitions theoretically.  Intuition tells me where to look, not what is there.  Intuition helps me construct dangerous and useful questions by opening up more, and more complex, avenues of potential analysis.  Assuming intuition tells us what is actually there is what I call the "intuitive fallacy".  I don't see intuition (and the patterns of semblance it provides) as a reason to believe something.  For me, it is a reason to investigate in a specific area using other, more functional tools.  I do my best to hold up to extreme scrutiny any idea that would seem to be self-serving or to serve my egoic inclinations.  Why might the way I am inclined to see something not be the best or most accurate way to see it?  That is the ax I swing at everything.

Meme theory has yet to pass my initial tests.  Perhaps those tests are flawed . . . and I consider this possibility constantly and seriously.  So far, I have not been able to construct compelling, logical reasons that my criticism of meme theory are flawed.  Nor has anyone else attempted to show the flaws in my criticisms.  But if we actually want to think about memes scientifically and investigate their validity, these kinds of criticisms have to be addressed and dispelled logically.  It is the obligation of mimeticists or advocates of meme theory to construct such arguments.  I feel that if they take their theory seriously as a science and not merely as a belief or ideology, they should leap at the chance to demonstrate its validity through testing and logical argument against criticisms.

I think it has been demonstrated that my approach to Jungian psychology (or my revisions of it) is based on these kinds of principles.  That is why I am so critical of Jungian ideas.  I try to test them and make them account for the data they would have to in order to be valid.  Where Jungian theories fail these tests, I have tried to construct revisions that account for the specific flaws in conventional Jungian theories.  My obligation to my tribe and philosophical perspective of choice includes scientific methods.  I see scientific validity or compatibility as beneficial to the Jungian tribe and its ideologies . . . not as threatening.  For any theory that claims scientific validity and usefulness, actual applicability to real and material situations is adaptive.

On the other hand, if what a tribe seeks from its beliefs and philosophies is not scientific functionality, but tribal cohesion, then the goal of the tribe's beliefs is religious.  This conflict between religiosity and science in Jungian psychology is also found in mimetics . . . and if mimetics is to be scientific, it will have to be able to scientifically answer the kinds of questions I and other critics have posed for it.  Just as Jungian psychology must be able to answer the questions of its critics.  I feel that conscientious advocates of either tribe need to have the vision and courage to be able to admit and correct the flaws (failures to adapt) of their own tribes.  And this kind of vision and courage is not likely to win one many friends among one's fellow members.

But that is the price of truth and honor . . . and the challenge of adaptation.

You can always come back, but you can’t come back all the way.

   [Bob Dylan,"Mississippi]

hanscees

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Re: Hey Matt, this "meme" is for you.
« Reply #11 on: June 15, 2008, 05:32:23 PM »

Maybe it's good memes . . . but the hardware these memes run on is not exactly a blank slate.  I think that if we want to (even casually) talk of good vs. bad memes, we need to investigate whether the meme-machines are totally neutral in this regard or more clearly structured to choose "good" memes over "bad".  Where by "good", I mean adaptive, fit.  In the mimetics I've read, a great deal of importance is placed on the "volition" of memes, their metaphorical drive to replicate themselves.  But if the replication of memes benefits the meme-machine, how accurately can we pinpoint "volition" in the memes themselves?  How can we differentiate their volition from the more widely accepted and better understood volition of human brains and their genetic "drivers" (hmm, I wonder what the better analogy is, software drivers or the drivers of vehicles?).

But isn't this differentiation essential for mimetics to be useful scientifically?  Mustn't it be able to say with scientific credibility what drive belongs to the machine and what to the meme?  Without this, how can it even say what a meme is?  How can it justifiably assign memes those wondrous properties unless it can say with certainty what, in the whole equation, is not the meme?



Humans are just so easily influenced by otehr people, by authority and so on.
The nice twist to that from memetics is that some of the influence is not for the good of some "clever human of group", but for the good of some memes.
 

On this point, I remain unconvinced.  What is, for instance, "the good of the meme".  Does the meme have some faculty by which is can deem what is good or not good for it?  Can it distinguish and adjust its behavior accordingly?  When it gets itself copied, can it even assure that it is copied with much accuracy?  This is a common point made in criticism of meme theories, I know.  But it is definitely something that differentiates its behavior and essence from its model, the gene.  The successful replication of genes is a matter of accuracy (and a very small rate of mutation).  Too much mutation or error and the replication tends to fail systemically.  As memes don't behave this way, how can we say what defines a specific meme that had mutated significantly?

So many questions and thoughts....

The main point to your remarks is no :-) I have the feeling you sometimes do and sometimes don't see through the metaphorically way of speaking that "memes do" or "memes want" and so on.
In my book only humans and some other higher animals perhaps have "goals", want things and so on. Memes and genes do not "want" anything, do not have goals. Species in biological evolutionary theory do not have goals. They are shaped by individuals that are shaped by genes. They survive or not. The darwinian machinery results in adaptation that is not goal directed. This is essential.
Adaptation results from selection which can be very complex, as a survival-solution (individual or species) must meet many ends to get there (get food, avoid being eaten, individuals inside the species must perhaps mate, compete with other individuals and so on).

When you speak of memes and tribes and so on that have goals you get me worried. Tribes are not conscious, only individuals are. Memes are not conscious, only humans are. Memes do not "make sure they are copied right", those memes that did so by change in the past remained, the rest perished. There are no literally conspiring memes against us. Those that tricked us (or were very useful) in the past are still around because somehow they survived. Their ecosystem is a number of brains, with the same biological heritage and a lot of stuff we are unsure of, filled with behavioral patterns that are intertwined with a body, and a lot of other memes. Probably even the ways in which we think, in which we form oru neurological connections are memetical, because they are passed on from human to human, given all kinds of behavioral ways we let our children grow up and so on.

Most of this has very little to do with "goals" of memes or humans. There is rationalization, some tinkering by individuals and that's most of it.

Your claim that we should be able to discern the meme-machine from the meme or it won't be scientific I reject. I do not see any reason why a complex whole, that is hard to study, because it cannot be broken down into convenient pieces  is not scientific. Please inform me what you see as scientific to uphold that claim.


I once saw a documentary about a Palestinian woman that lost a child in the war with Israel. Her reaction was to encourage her other children to go out and kill themselves too: she depicted her son as a marter and by doing that signed a death warrant of her own other children. To who's benefit is that? To any scientist such behavior asks for an explanation. To get revenge and be enraged is human nature but would the islamist meme of martership (is that a good word)  makes herself an agent that encourages the future death of her other children too. Would a non-islamist so the same?

To play devil's advocate, here is a potential scenario that suggests a viable biological explanation.  The mother is meaning to encourage her remaining sons to uphold the pure belief of her tribe's version of Islam.  In this tribe, martyrdom is an act of tribal solidarity that encourages other members of the tribe to bond and organize their energies and outrage at an enemy (in a jihad, let's say).  Tribal cohesion.  The mother is saying that the death of her own remaining sons could serve the survivability of the tribe.  And, as twisted as this might seem, as counter-biology as it might seem (i.e., against the "maternal instinct" and the selfish gene idea where close kin is instinctively deemed most precious), it is also (within this particular tribe) potentially true.  Martyrdoms inspire tribal cohesions and group rage directed at an enemy.

What you suggest might be true, sure. The meme of "martyrdom" (thanks for the right spelling) is a piece of the causal pathways that enable a tribe to overcome "maternal instincs". In this case this meme would help the tribe.  It is still a meme by all means, but in some situation on some level of selection (the tribe) it has a use.
If this is true it might explain why some tribes sacrifice individuals when there is no war at all: you can't swith the "sacrife" meme of when there is no real need for it.

As you can see in my book memes are useful to understand the world, not necessarily "selfish" memes.


In a very crass perspective, the mother could also subconsciously recognize that sons are expendable if it benefits the group, because the group gives her protection and resources and the right environment in which to create more sons.  When we consider martyrdom a "bad meme", I think we are being culturist in perspective.  There is a logic to it, but it's a logic that offends the sensibilities of Western culture.

Best,
Matt
An individual might see the logic of that, but there si no need for it. So use occams raiser.

Hans-Cees




hanscees

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Re: Hey Matt, this "meme" is for you.
« Reply #12 on: June 15, 2008, 06:09:20 PM »

But I still don't see the prevalence of memes in these scenarios, because it is not the beliefs that are calling the shots, replicating themselves, demonstrating volition.  The actor in all these circumstances is instinct, biological drive and the species-wide structural logic of the human brain.  We can call culture "memes" if we want.  That's fine with me.  But what I see implied in mimetics is that the ideas are driving the biology/instincts, and this strikes me as patently false and unscientific.  These beliefs and ideas are arbitrary.  They are iron filings that get sucked into the magnetic field pattern of instincts.  They have no power to determine instinct or biology.  It's the "iron" of memes that is helpless to the mangnetism of biological instinct, not vice versa.

Hope I am quoting the right person here.
The actor sure is some biological instinct. But the way it is expressed has to do with culture, memes, beliefs. Please quote where you think memetics implies memes driving biological instincts. I think you are fighting windmills here.


My stance is not that there is no such thing as memes, merely that "meme" is a word that may not really add much to the concepts it replaces (like "culture").  A major problem is that it remains unclear that memes really do function similarly to genes (as claimed by mimeticists) . . . which is what I have been arguing from the start.  If memes can be shown to not actually function like genes in the ways and reasons that they replicate, this calls into question both the naming and the conceiving of memes.  I worry that this core discrepancy calls into question all of which memes are applied to as "explanation".  It creates a false impression of Darwinian natural selection and self-replication.  I am not personally satisfied with the mimeticist's comparisons of memes to genes.  Their arguments on this issue do not hold up to the questions I can throw at them (and have in this thread). 

I think memetics is a way to explain culture and culture is to a large extend made up of memes yes. You can use memetics to break up that large thing called culture into bit and pieces. Where those pieces are explained by the darwinian theoretical construct/concepts of retention, selection, variation and adaptation.

The retention bit is different: memes do not self-replicate the same way genes do. It is a metaphor and not literally the same thing. Genes are part of a cell and memes are in a brain or a part of something a mind copies.
Many particulars are different of course and believe me discussing them all will make you more knowledgeable, but not wiser.

I think the impression of Darwinian processes of memes is a very real. If it is natural selection depends on your definitions, but many biologists won't be happy to call it that. They won't be happy because there is free will and goal directed conscious behavior involved.

In the end I think memetic evolution is as Darwinian as it gets, but some important variables are not biological, which makes the outcome very different for the "typically envisioned biological adaption": probably some complex bone structure or a flower looking like a bee.
If you find this memetic darwinian view useful depends on your purposes and that's most of it. For me a lot of what is cultural, political, scientific and so on make a lot more sense with the memetic view. The darwinian concepts can reduce a lot of unexplained clutter for me into a world I can explain.
At the same time I can see that if you are used to using all kinds of other scientific constructs and concepts your need of using it would be a lot smaller.


Hans-Cees



Matt Koeske

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Re: Hey Matt, this "meme" is for you.
« Reply #13 on: June 16, 2008, 05:01:52 PM »
The main point to your remarks is no :-) I have the feeling you sometimes do and sometimes don't see through the metaphorically way of speaking that "memes do" or "memes want" and so on.  In my book only humans and some other higher animals perhaps have "goals", want things and so on. Memes and genes do not "want" anything, do not have goals. Species in biological evolutionary theory do not have goals. They are shaped by individuals that are shaped by genes. They survive or not. The darwinian machinery results in adaptation that is not goal directed. This is essential.  Adaptation results from selection which can be very complex, as a survival-solution (individual or species) must meet many ends to get there (get food, avoid being eaten, individuals inside the species must perhaps mate, compete with other individuals and so on).

Thanks for replying, Hans-Cees!  I would say that I understand this "volition" of memes I was talking about absolutely metaphorically.  Also, I was reacting to what Dennett and others seemed to ascribe to meme behavior.  If you say mimeticists don't really ascribe any volition to memes, that's good enough for me.  We are in agreement on this issue, then.


When you speak of memes and tribes and so on that have goals you get me worried. Tribes are not conscious, only individuals are. Memes are not conscious, only humans are. Memes do not "make sure they are copied right", those memes that did so by change in the past remained, the rest perished. There are no literally conspiring memes against us.

Again, I am with you here.  What I wanted to clarify was the general mimetic position on these issues.  It seemed to me that this "volition" was implied (indirectly but notably) in the ideas of Dennett and Blackmore and perhaps others.  If I have misunderstood their statements, I apologize.

Your claim that we should be able to discern the meme-machine from the meme or it won't be scientific I reject. I do not see any reason why a complex whole, that is hard to study, because it cannot be broken down into convenient pieces  is not scientific. Please inform me what you see as scientific to uphold that claim.
 

My only concern is that attributes of human instinct and biology are getting ascribed to memes by mimeticists.  Scientifically speaking, a test needs to be devised that can determine whether these ascriptions are valid or invalid.  If no such test is devised, mimetics cannot scientifically claim to know what is meme and what is biology in these gray areas.  As this testability is the foundational principle of science, I think my previous statement is fair.

Now, is it even possible to devise such a test?  I have no idea.  And in truth, I don't care.  This is something that mimeticists should care about if they aspire to make mimetics a science.  If such a test could be devised, I would be happy to try to assess it.

We in the Jungian game find ourselves in these nebulous and complex situations all the time.  I completely sympathize.  But as a Jungian, I try to clarify when my theories are scientifically testable (falsifiable) and when they are intuitive and speculative.  There's nothing wrong with intuitive and speculative theories (and all good thinking starts with these), but if there is no criteria for revision of theories (like scientific testing), then we are in the ever-precarious position of having to be supernaturally fair and honest with ourselves about what we simultaneously desire to believe and see as true.  Maybe it's not always and absolutely impossible, but it's pretty damn tough for rationalizers and self-deceivers like us humans.

And on that note, we are into depth psychology entirely  (-)howdy(-).

Best,
Matt
You can always come back, but you can’t come back all the way.

   [Bob Dylan,"Mississippi]

hanscees

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Re: Hey Matt, this "meme" is for you.
« Reply #14 on: July 02, 2008, 04:17:29 PM »

Your claim that we should be able to discern the meme-machine from the meme or it won't be scientific I reject. I do not see any reason why a complex whole, that is hard to study, because it cannot be broken down into convenient pieces  is not scientific. Please inform me what you see as scientific to uphold that claim.
 

My only concern is that attributes of human instinct and biology are getting ascribed to memes by mimeticists.  Scientifically speaking, a test needs to be devised that can determine whether these ascriptions are valid or invalid.  If no such test is devised, mimetics cannot scientifically claim to know what is meme and what is biology in these gray areas.  As this testability is the foundational principle of science, I think my previous statement is fair.

Now, is it even possible to devise such a test?  I have no idea.  And in truth, I don't care.  This is something that mimeticists should care about if they aspire to make mimetics a science.  If such a test could be devised, I would be happy to try to assess it.

We in the Jungian game find ourselves in these nebulous and complex situations all the time.  I completely sympathize.  But as a Jungian, I try to clarify when my theories are scientifically testable (falsifiable) and when they are intuitive and speculative.  There's nothing wrong with intuitive and speculative theories (and all good thinking starts with these), but if there is no criteria for revision of theories (like scientific testing), then we are in the ever-precarious position of having to be supernaturally fair and honest with ourselves about what we simultaneously desire to believe and see as true.  Maybe it's not always and absolutely impossible, but it's pretty damn tough for rationalizers and self-deceivers like us humans.

And on that note, we are into depth psychology entirely  (-)howdy(-).

Best,
Matt

Falsifiability as a test to establish what is scientific is naive, especially in human sciences. Even in physics, philosophers agree that only small parts of theories can be tested. In human sciences it is much worse.


greetings

Hans-Cees