thinktoomuch.net

Pondering the South African Memesphere – Looking for the Good in Everything

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In Reponse to Tinus de Bruyn

February 2nd, 2008 · Posted by Hugo · 6 Comments

UPDATE: Blackmore, not Blackwell… I’m sure Tinus means Blackmore when he writes about “Blackwell”.

On 18 December a Tinus de Bruyn left a lengthy comment on my about page. (That’s the page titled You New?) It ended up in the moderation queue due to it containing more than one link. It isn’t the kind of material that seems on-topic on the about page anyway. I thought I’d respond to the first third of the comment today. The rest of the comment criticised George Claassen, I may tackle that later.

Cynics, skeptics and meme-tics

Why is it that cynics always think themselves to be more enlightened? In reality, it is quite the opposite: Cynicism is nothing but a cover-up for naivety. Cynics live by the dictum that “I don’t believe it so I don’t have to know it.” What is so informed about that?

Skepticism is in itself a good thing, but when invaded by cynicism, it becomes warped and discriminative, losing its scientific value. Without the capacity to question, the sciences would not be possible, but mingled with cynicism it is reduced to mud-slinging. Cynicism is all too often confused with skepticism, robbing the “skeptic” of the chance to learn.

In this context, cynic: “A person whose outlook is scornfully and often habitually negative.” It appears Tinus considers me a cynic.

For instance, take a look at the website thinktoomuch.net, which opens with the slogan: “An emerging memetic engineer…” The web host wants us to respect his intellect, but right upfront, he associates himself with Blackwell and Dawkins’ fantastical meme theory. It does not seem to bother him that meme theory exists only on paper; as a crack-filler for the already-precarious house of evolution. Theory built on theory is hardly the basis for establishing truth, but this website host goes one step further – he claims to be a meme engineer; engineering that which probably doesn’t even exist. That’s pushing it a bit, don’t you think?

Huh? OK, Tinus, please suggest to me another word instead of “meme”. I’m looking for a word to refer to the aspects of culture that evolve. Consider for example the evolution of music, or art, or cooking methods, or language… or the evolution of bird songs for example. The usefulness of the word is completely unrelated to who came up with it. (It was Richard Dawkins, in “The Selfish Gene”.) I’m associating my blog with the idea of memes, not with specific people. If you, in your mind, want to associate the idea of memes with a particular pair of people, that’s your prerogative. I still suggest you re-evaluate your approach though.

Yes, taglines generally suck, being an attempt to communicate as much information about a blog’s stance in just a couple of words. If you have any better suggestions than “An Emerging Memetic Engineer”, I’d love to hear it. However, those words were chosen with a particular audience and effect in mind. (It used to be “An Apprentice”, but “An Emerging” communicates another aspect of my identity quite well, to those that I’m trying to communicate it to.)

With respect to intellect, I’d like you to respect my potential intellect just as much as I respect your potential intellect. If you see a flaw in some of my statements, let’s discuss it. Please refrain from hit-and-run mud-slinging.

At best, meme theory is a clever “scientific fairy tale.” Read Blackwell and see for yourself what a crafty author she proves to be, ascribing intelligent characteristics to her memes (after she told us not to see them as such). “Memes” (the name designed to rhyme with genes – so that it would sound more scientific) become the “fairies (of evolution) that fixes the “shoes” (theoretical shortcomings) in the “night” (netherworld between the mind and the DNA).

Tinus, please tell me you understand figurative language? It is very sad that so many people in the world seem unable to recognise hyperbole, metaphor, personification and other figures of speech. (What is more lacking, our science education, or our language education?) The tradition of personifying things seems rather ingrained in the human psyche, and is a useful way of relating to otherwise abstract ideas. I’m sure Susan Blackmore also took some inspiration from Dawkins’ personification of genes.

Perhaps thinktoomuch should spend less time thinking (as he suggests himself) and more reading, verifying and learning. A teachable spirit opens the doors to learning.

On what do you base your suggestion that I read too little? On what front do you reckon my knowledge/education is particularly lacking? What books do you recommend I read? Possibly some Dawkins and Blackmore? Blackmore’s book is actually waiting on my shelf… I have indeed done less reading than I would have liked to do. Until recently, my reason was the need to get my thesis finished. Hopefully I will be doing significantly more reading from now on. I will also make some posts about the books on my bookshelf, in case anyone is looking for some book recommendations.

And then you seem to imply I’m not teachable. I resent that. Based on what do you make that claim?

So, dear readers, does anyone agree with Tinus that I’m relatively cynical, or do you think Tinus is misguided in his appraisal of my blog and merely busy with some mud-slinging himself? (Oh, and please do let me know when I come across as cynical. I consider myself to be quite teachable.)

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6 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Hugo // Feb 2, 2008 at 4:30 pm

    Actually, I’m not sure there’s much value in sharing the rest of his comment. I’m not sure there’s much value in sharing what I’ve already shared right here. Shall I let Tinus know of this post, that he may respond? (That was my original intention.)

  • 2 Tinus de Bruyn // Feb 3, 2008 at 10:50 pm

    Thanx for correcting me on the Blackmore…

    The comment was not so much about your page as that of George Claassen.

    Anyway, just think about the idea of culture as evolving for a moment. If culture “evolves,” it is because intelligent people are involved in the process, not so? People are decision makers. We make millions of quick-time decisions all day long. The “evolution” of culture is a result of this. But this is not evolution in the biologic-scientific sense, for if it was, it would be driven by chance developments, rather than cognition.

    We tend to think of computers “evolving” too, due to the same misconception of what the word means. Computers don’t breed, neither fight for survival, but are designed by highly intelligent people through lots of orchestrated work.

    Sure, we can use words any way we like, but then we are bound to create misconceptions.

    Blackmore basically imply that memes dictate our intellectual development. Memes are many things in many arguments, but basically represent a kind of pattern-thinking of reason and intellect, which drives the process of physical evolution towards bigger brains (amongst other things). But this creates a minefield of maybe’s, not the least of which is finding a trigger mechanism and intelligent gene-writing instrument for orchestrating the immense biological process.

    Blackmore herself warns against “intellectualising” memes, as though they are fairies, but in her writing often does just that. The personification words become the vehicle for making the theory plausible.

    Once again. you can use memes any way you like, but associating it with evolution is obund to create a specific perception.

    Never mind that… its all just semantic anyway…

    Yes, blogs like these are a form of cultural engineering, but engineering always take a lot of brain power, unlike (chance) evolution. Engineering imply intelligent design above all. Why not call it intelligent cultural engineering?

    Intellect is a great advantage. And no, you’re definitely not dumb. My experience is that people tend to read only what like-minded people have written, and seldom listen patiently to opposite opinions. It is one of the great (cultural-intelligent) advantages of the net that we are exposed to a wide range of opinions, instead of only the status quo lines.

    One last observation:

    How do you determine good, in the light of your definition of memes?

    Tinus

  • 3 Hugo // Feb 4, 2008 at 1:02 am

    Memes can indeed evolve, through selection and mutation. Just like genes. I see no problem with associating it with evolution. Music did evolve. Yes, the agents through which memes replicate and mutate are called “intelligent” by us, but that is not so significant on the evolution of memes. Selection still occurs on the grounds of popular appreciation, as opposed to “survival advantage” in the genetic natural selection sense.

    And yes, memes can be engineered. As can genes, think genetic engineering and the tomato you buy off the shelf. Mainstream science has not yet discovered any evidence of “engineered” genes though. Of course that kind of thing is possible, Arthur C Clarke played with such ideas in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

    Theistic evolutionists subscribe to the idea of God using evolution as a tool. These include the likes of CS Lewis, by the way. I’ve been pondering the classic idea of the “Turing test“: intelligence measured by the results it produces. (The criticism being the Chinese Room argument.) If one accepts the Turing test as a valid test for intelligence, I suggest one can even call the evolutionary process an “intelligent process”.

    Either way, I don’t want to get involved in an evolution debate yet, there will be enough time and place for such things later.

    How do I determine “good”? That is a rather broad question. A broad answer: through use of the golden rule, or through the values of compassion and love for your neighbour.

  • 4 gerhard // Feb 4, 2008 at 9:27 am

    tinus, why would you think evolution is ‘chance’? ‘ memes represent a kind of pattern-thinking of reason and intellect which drives the process of physical evolution towards bigger brains ‘. wtf?

  • 5 Hugo // Feb 4, 2008 at 11:11 am

    Gerhard, he is referring to theories of brain development suggested by Blackmore.

    And how about not have another evolution debate right now? Or wait, maybe that’d keep Gerhard occupied and away from the discussions elsewhere… hmmm… ;)

  • 6 gerhard // Feb 4, 2008 at 3:48 pm

    hahahaa

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