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.)