Friday, December 01, 2006

The Meme meme

"Pride, the never failing vice of fools" Pope

There is so much involved with Dawkins' claim: one, what really is a meme? For a scientific materialist, ultimately a meme is neurological (and I wager there ay even be lurkers about here who could ID the cognitive residence, so to speak). In regards to human consciousness (tho' memetics has been supposedly observed among other mammals), memetics has its shortcomings: Dawkins and his followers hardly
provide a worked-out account of perception, or of conceptualization--the Thought-formation (nor does anyone , really as of yet, though cognitive scientists have been attempting to do so for decades). Memetics, like naive Darwinism (tho' Dawkins and Dennett are not so naive) , thus tends to affirm rather reductive accounts of consciousness (tho' I am not asserting memetics is not true: simply that it takes much for granted--like cognition for one). And, putting aside questions regarding the cognitive assumptions of memetics (there may be some snooty cognitivist-behaviorists working on that issue somewhere) couldn't "machiavellian" memes (say, kill or be killed, or "by any means necessary") often be as functional as non-machiavellian (altruism, cooperation, etc.)? Indeed they are.

But what does the memeticist say? Like the pragmatist, the evo. psych's code of functionality--or, of adaptation-- is purely descriptive: this idea-strategy seems to work--this one doesn't. So in some (many) circumstances, machiavellianism will do as well as altruism--rather unpleasant news to all those dupes who thought Truth, Justice, benevolence were sort of universals, or at least, worthy ideals. Which is to say, lacking anything but evolutionary explanations, "social darwinism", will remain an issue, even for the most sophisticated of evo. psych types (or their remora-like followers in the humanities). I am not a worshipper of Chomsky's somewhat Cartesian rationalism--or all of his politics (9-11 changed much)-- but there may be worse programmes than Chomsky's anti-reductionist view of language and thought--whether in terms of opposing behaviorism, or his few comments contra-evo. psych. And there are also grounds to object to lumping together all ideas or concepts in the meme class, as well: a certain musical sound--say, Debussyan harmony--might have worked memetically for some time (from concerts, to film scores, advertisements, etc), but an integral or even Modus Ponens are not really similar to musical or architectural "pattern" memes--integrals and Modus Ponens are true (at least if calculated correctly), regardless of functionality (though they may function as well). Are aesthetics and knowledge both memetic? That seems a bit strange to say--tho' perhaps at some point, mathematics itself might be read as some type of evolutionary behavior--and those who uphold Quine's "Two Dogmas" view of all knowledge--including logic/math--as synthetic a posteriori might agree (reluctantly). Dennett makes some suggestions along those lines in Darwins' D.I.--which I am slowly reading--he's OK, but not the most eloquent of writers.

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