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    Posted: 29 Aug 2015 at 20:04
In another thread I made an analogy between physical and cultural evolution.  Ordinarily an analogy is simply a way of illustrating or creating a mental picture to make it easier to or more clearly communicate what the intention of a statement may be.  The subject matter in this case is scientific and in science there are many pitfalls to using analogies.  

THE DANGERS OF ANALOGIES

"Then there's the far more sinister "argument by analogy" in which a comparison is invoked in order to derive a conclusion. It takes the form "Because M has properties A, B and C, then if N has properties A and B, it also has C." Stated in this stark way, its absurdity as a "method of argument" is obvious, for it can be used to conclude things that are patently false. The dangers of thinking by analogy are noted by nearly every book on logic, argument, and debate."


Keep in mind however that physical and cultural evolution cannot be separated and represents a special case.  What should not be done is assume that because a principle is true for one that it applies equally to the other.  Words such as random, selection, environment, transmission or fidelity can be misleading if cross applied.  Thinking of cultures as competing organisms or ignoring the tautological nature of ideas and treating them as analogous to elements of the physical environments has obvious pitfalls.

Creating mathematical models for organisms and cultures is reasonable safe to say impossible and at this early stage of understanding analogies may be useful even if proven wrong in the future.  It is also possible that the relatedness of physical and cultural evolution make analogies more accurate than we would expect.      

   
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote fantasus Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 29 Aug 2015 at 21:31
Even if some analogies like that has an intuitive appeal there will most often be a question of how far we shoukld stretch it. When that queestionis not easily answered, at least I feel it may be a warning to be cautious. And if we try to find links between evolutionary biology and human history, and why should we not, I am not so sure it is always the evolutionary biologist that should be the teacher and the historian the pupil. One crucial difference is that while historians usually either has been sceptical towards the "grand theories", or has seen their theories either rejected or at least disputed and open to controverse, evolutionary biology talk of variation (most often said to be "random")and selection. And usually they see as basical "units" dna, genes etcetera(mithocondria, rna and perhaps other elements too). Here I think there is a fundamental question wether analogies with "culutral evolution" - and history - can be seen in the same way. Or rather: I don´t think they should. What should the equivalents of those fundamental units (dna, hgenes etcetera) be if we look at culture? I know ABOUT THE IDEA OF "MEMES" (I think i read somewhere it was invented by Richard Dawkins the famous evolutionary biologist who is also knwn for serious criticism of religious thinking) but I Wonder what he thinks these "memes" are "made" of. Since I find it hard to see whatever candidates for such basic unit for transfering "cultural information" should be I am sceptical however famous a biologist or big a genius he and others might be.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote wolfhnd Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 30 Aug 2015 at 08:49
It is my impression that nemes did not get a very good reception in the scientific community.  I would like to hear other peoples opinions on nemes and then explore the concept more.  At present I'm neutral on the concept despite the fact that cultural transmission has it's similarities with genetic transmission.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote franciscosan Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 31 Aug 2015 at 16:37
Memes, not Nemes.  Think of an ear worm (I think that is the right name), a song or saying you can't stop thinking about, especially something you want to get out of your head.  Now think of that as an idea,  I think Dawkins would have it that the appeal of the idea (its "hook") is not "logical," but emotional, striking an emotional cord in the individual, something they emotionally need, for whatever reason.
Although Dawkins would probably characterize adherence 'to a meme of religion' as a weakness, something that is delusional.  I have listened to Dawkins on youtube, but I am not very familiar with his theories about Memes.

Memes is not really a scientific idea, more philosophical/ psychological or sociological.

Laurie Anderson would 'sing' "Language is a virus.'  I think that it is similar, and maybe predates(?) Dawkins. 

The science fiction writer John Barnes uses the idea of memes in his writings, for example, his book "Candle."
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote fantasus Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 31 Aug 2015 at 22:13
While also my knowledge about the idea of "memes" is not that extensive I am pretty sure the very point is a close analogy with genes. One of dawkins early Books has the title "The selfish gene", where he stresses the importance of genetic selection. While it is up to people more competent in biology and genetics to discuss the purely evolutionary biologists side of the matter, I think for culture and history there is little prospect for any exact meaning of the term. But those who think otherwise are welcome to try!
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote wolfhnd Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 01 Sep 2015 at 03:57
Originally posted by franciscosan franciscosan wrote:

Memes, not Nemes.  Think of an ear worm (I think that is the right name), a song or saying you can't stop thinking about, especially something you want to get out of your head.  Now think of that as an idea,  I think Dawkins would have it that the appeal of the idea (its "hook") is not "logical," but emotional, striking an emotional cord in the individual, something they emotionally need, for whatever reason.
Although Dawkins would probably characterize adherence 'to a meme of religion' as a weakness, something that is delusional.  I have listened to Dawkins on youtube, but I am not very familiar with his theories about Memes.

Memes is not really a scientific idea, more philosophical/ psychological or sociological.

Laurie Anderson would 'sing' "Language is a virus.'  I think that it is similar, and maybe predates(?) Dawkins. 

The science fiction writer John Barnes uses the idea of memes in his writings, for example, his book "Candle."

Yes memes sorry
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote wolfhnd Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 01 Sep 2015 at 05:21
The Self Gene and Blank Slate were important books not because of scholarly excellence but because they shifted the tide of intellectual discourse back toward a more realistic view of the nature vs nurture.  Both works fail to some extent because they were not carefully edited.

Here is a talk by Daniel Dennett  Dangerous memes


And a critique

CULTURAL EVOLUTION, MEMES, AND THE TROUBLE WITH DAN DENNETT

 "Philosopher Dan Dennett’s conception of the active meme, moving about from brain to brain, is physically impossible and conceptually empty. It amounts to cultural preformationism. As the cultural analogue to genes, memes are best characterized as the culturally active properties of things, events, and processes in the external world. Memes are physically embodied in a substrate. The cultural analogue to the phenotype can be called an ideotype; ideotypes are mental entities existing in the minds of individual humans. Memes serve as targets for designing and fabricating artifacts, as couplers to synchronize and coordinate human interaction, and as designators (Saussaurian signifiers). Cultural change is driven by the movement of memes between populations with significantly different cultural practices understood through different populations of ideotypes."


I personally find Dennett more convincing as he avoids the problem with attributing specific mechanism to an obviously complex process.  It may not be very intellectual satisfying but it cuts to the chase.  What is more important is that the critique is little more than a refinement that simply opens up a host of other possible objections.   Genius is in making the complex simple.  Dennett of course is not perfect and I have often found myself questioning his conclusions.

One of the objections to memes I find interesting is when people say but do they really exist.  People have the same problem with physics when they ask if electrons really exist.  Of course neither electrons or memes "really" exist they are just conceptualizations.  The fundamental lesson of the 20th century in advancing human understand is in fact the realization that everything we may wish to talk about is just a conceptualization.  
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote fantasus Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 01 Sep 2015 at 17:01
Originally posted by wolfhnd wolfhnd wrote:

One of the objections to memes I find interesting is when people say but do they really exist.  People have the same problem with physics when they ask if electrons really exist.  Of course neither electrons or memes "really" exist they are just conceptualizations.  The fundamental lesson of the 20th century in advancing human understand is in fact the realization that everything we may wish to talk about is just a conceptualization.  
There´s a great difference between the concepts. Electrons, I am sure, can be used in very acturate predictions of what the outcome of specific experiments will be, and their attributes and properties can be calculated mathematically. I think "mems" will perform miserable compared to that.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote wolfhnd Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 01 Sep 2015 at 18:03
Originally posted by fantasus fantasus wrote:

Originally posted by wolfhnd wolfhnd wrote:

One of the objections to memes I find interesting is when people say but do they really exist.  People have the same problem with physics when they ask if electrons really exist.  Of course neither electrons or memes "really" exist they are just conceptualizations.  The fundamental lesson of the 20th century in advancing human understand is in fact the realization that everything we may wish to talk about is just a conceptualization.  
There´s a great difference between the concepts. Electrons, I am sure, can be used in very acturate predictions of what the outcome of specific experiments will be, and their attributes and properties can be calculated mathematically. I think "mems" will perform miserable compared to that.

Memes are not stand in for genes or electrons in the analogy.  Memes are thinking tools used in the very inexact language of history and sociology.  Math is the exact language thinking tool used to model the wave function we call electrons with very accurate approximations .  Memes are like numbers they are abstractions that model reality not reality itself and the models they produce approximate reality less accurately than math. 

It's unfortunate that people think genes and memes are of the same nature of things.  We can predict with some accuracy the consequences of a change in a gene.  We cannot with the same accuracy predict the replication and transmission of genes because they are fundamentally random events.  Some parts of the genome have high fidelity of replication and other do not.  This is where the thinking tool of memes becomes useful.  Some memes such as religious text will have high fidelity of replication and transmission while memes related to popular culture will have low fidelity of replication and transmission.  No exact model or even high fidelity model of culture is possible so we do the best we can.       
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote fantasus Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 01 Sep 2015 at 21:22
Originally posted by wolfhnd wolfhnd wrote:

Memes are thinking tools used in the very inexact language of history and sociology.  
 
Yes. Then we may ask if they are useful tools, and what is their purpose - and if we may do better with or without them. Perhaps the later for me.
Originally posted by wolfhnd wolfhnd wrote:

It's unfortunate that people think genes and memes are of the same nature of things.  
But no doubt the very term "memes" were intended to make associationsto genes or else some other word was chosen. So if this association is erroneous the one(Dawkins) who "coined" the term are responsible.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote franciscosan Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 02 Sep 2015 at 13:16
Sometimes someone comes up with a good idea, but because of who they are and their intellectual limitations, the idea is framed in a particular way, that cripples it.  Dawkins is a evolutionary biologist, I would suggest that his idea of memes, bound by too close of an analogy of genetics, is fairly "conservative" in the sense that it is tied down to the science of biology.  But the connection with genetics is an analogy, which can either be tight or loose.  I think the idea of memes works with a loose analogy, and it can be useful, not as something in science, but in something in philosophy, (or psychology or sociology, which in the European continental model are part of philosophy).

I am not directly familiar with Dawkins concept of memes, but I would assume that it would take someone else not so tied down in science and dogmatic anti-religion to push the concept further.  Ween it from its mother, and allow it to properly grow up.
I find notions from other places bordering on it, like Anderson's "language is a virus," and Marshall McLuhan's "medium is the message" (both message, as in message in a bottle, but also in a sense, massage, as in back massage, or 'to massage the data.')  Anderson's "language is a virus" might also come out of William S. Burroughs, with whom she performs.

Don't think of memes as something sacrosanct, think of them as something that calls for being played with, manipulated, transformed.  So play with them, and play with them rough.  See where the idea breaks down, what its limitations are.  I kind of imagine that Dawkins came up with them to take a swipe at religion, which is fine for him, but how could they really function in society?
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote wolfhnd Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 02 Sep 2015 at 15:20
Originally posted by franciscosan franciscosan wrote:

Sometimes someone comes up with a good idea, but because of who they are and their intellectual limitations, the idea is framed in a particular way, that cripples it.  Dawkins is a evolutionary biologist, I would suggest that his idea of memes, bound by too close of an analogy of genetics, is fairly "conservative" in the sense that it is tied down to the science of biology.  But the connection with genetics is an analogy, which can either be tight or loose.  I think the idea of memes works with a loose analogy, and it can be useful, not as something in science, but in something in philosophy, (or psychology or sociology, which in the European continental model are part of philosophy).

I am not directly familiar with Dawkins concept of memes, but I would assume that it would take someone else not so tied down in science and dogmatic anti-religion to push the concept further.  Ween it from its mother, and allow it to properly grow up.
I find notions from other places bordering on it, like Anderson's "language is a virus," and Marshall McLuhan's "medium is the message" (both message, as in message in a bottle, but also in a sense, massage, as in back massage, or 'to massage the data.')  Anderson's "language is a virus" might also come out of William S. Burroughs, with whom she performs.

Don't think of memes as something sacrosanct, think of them as something that calls for being played with, manipulated, transformed.  So play with them, and play with them rough.  See where the idea breaks down, what its limitations are.  I kind of imagine that Dawkins came up with them to take a swipe at religion, which is fine for him, but how could they really function in society?

Despite your almost poetic propositions I like the general direction of your post. Clap

I started in this discussion on memes by stating that I was neutral as to there potential to clarify historical trends.  If you replace the word memes with ideas I would generally be just as happy.  Understanding that language is a cognitive tool however I have reservations about dismissing the term so nonchalantly.

Some memes such as philosophical and scientific terms will have high fidelity of replication and transmission while memes related to popular culture will have low fidelity of replication and transmission.  In the above statement you can see the general purpose of the concept of memes is to use a biological reference to clarify how different ideas get replicated and passed on.  

In philosophy analogy has a more specific meaning than in everyday conversation.

Philosophical definition of Analogy

An analogy is a similarity between things.
In an argument from analogy, one argues from
known similarities to further similarities. Such
arguments often occur in philosophy. In his Dialogues
Concerning Natural Religion, David Hume
considers an argument from analogy that purports
to show that the universe was created by an
intelligent being. The character Cleanthes claims
that the world as a whole is similar to things like
clocks. A clock has a variety of interrelated parts
that function together in ways that serve ends.
The world is also a complex of interrelated parts
that function in ways that serve ends, such as providing
food for human consumption. Clocks are
the result of intelligent design, so, Cleanthes concludes,
probably the world as a whole is also the
product of intelligent design. Hume’s character
Philo criticizes the argument. In “The Argument
from Analogy for Other Minds,” Bertrand Russell
uses an argument from analogy to try to justify
his belief that other conscious beings exist.
Arguments from analogy are seldom airtight.
It is possible for things to be very similar in some
respects, but quite different in others. A loaf of
bread might be about the same size and shape as a
rock. But it differs considerably in weight, texture,
taste, and nutritive value. A successful argument
from analogy needs to defend the relevance of the
known analogies to the argued for analogies.

Every philosopher is expected to know this rather complex chain of thought that the term analogy implies and is also expected to not use the term in ways other philosophers would not understand.  Dawkin's apparently took it upon himself create a new "philosophical" concept.  I would suggest it was fairly arrogant for a non philosopher to do such a thing but then philosophers are always meddling in science as well.  I think that as suggested he was at least in part working on demonstrating how the "irrational" elements of religion could be passed on for generations with such high fidelity.  As franciscosan pointed out his motivations need not be part of this discussion although I sympathise with his frustration in understanding why religion is so attractive. Wink

The discussion then becomes how important are precise terms to the precision of language as a cognitive tool.  I would argue not very important.  Precise definitions make communication on topics of complexity easier but does not necessarily improve the quality of what is being communicated.  Memes are a concept that has been widely enough adopted that their precise definition is well understood and therefor have utility in transmitting concepts with fidelity which doesn't mean they help us understand the topic being discussed necessarily.  If nothing else the rigorous language of philosophy and the subsequent failure of philosophers to agree on almost any topic calls into question not only the utility of precise language but also of logic to some degree.  The nebulous concept of imagination is as Einstein pointed out still a key element of genius.  

I think that adopting the philosophical definition of analogy is still worthwhile for us in this discussion because the utility of clear definitions is not in dispute.  I actually find scientific papers that have a philosopher on the team to be better written.  I suggest we move on from memes for now and discuss if analogies are "good" cognitive tools.           




Edited by wolfhnd - 02 Sep 2015 at 21:25
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