virus: Levels, memes, metaphors, and concepts
Tue, 16 Feb 1999 21:29:10 EST

In a message dated 2/16/99 1:55:04 PM Central Standard Time, writes:

<< >I personally don't think it is sanely possible, or even desireable
>to hold and operate on inconsistent world views.

I don't think you're alone in your view. There is already a widely used term in the field of cognitive science for what R.B. desribes as "level 3." That term is "psychosis". From Tabers Medical Dictionary...>>

Prof. Tim has suggested to me that what I am saying is actually not incompatible with what he and Brodie share as their Level 3 theory. I don't really know.

Brodie says its about being able to hold multiple self consistent world views simulataneously. Taking a strict interpretation of what he said, I can't say that this is impossible and I alluded to a limited way that it could be possible, though Brodie has said nothing more about that allusion. If multiple self-consistent world views are consistent with each other, then it really amounts to one larger self-consistent world view if you hold them simultaneously.

What is the difference between this and just saying that you have one selfconsistent world view? I guess it is just a matter of how you articulate it. That isn't necessarily a small matter, so perhaps I should drop the "just" out of the previous sentence. The act of articulating something, tends to be a linear process. Articulating a series of world views that are consistent with each other, may be the simplest way to put it for now. However, there is no reason why we shouldn't be able construct better concepts to compress these understandings in one more simply stated world view - leaving it to our minds to "explode" these concepts into their full implications and understandings.

However, if Brodie means that "level 3" folk should be able to hold INCONSISTENT world views, then I can only conclude that this is an endorsement of irrationality. And as such I think that it is more than just a faith statement. Faith means only that you are not going to subject certain representations (or beliefs) to rational criticism. Faith does not mean that you should embrace inconsistent ideas, in fact I contend that faith operates to protect people from irrationality, because by not rationally criticizing the articles of faith, people are spared from discovering inconsistencies and irrationalities. The faithful are led to be content with platitudes like "God works in mysterious ways", and "God's ways are not our ways." and so on, without digging deeper.

Holding inconsistent world views is destructive of meaning, which is the purpose of having world views to begin with - meaning. Now we are all aware of the fact that each of us may hold certain irrational positions, or may hold inconsistent ideas. Indeed it's almost unreasonable to assume that you don't. But for most of us, this remains possible because we remain largely unaware of these inconsistencies. But to endorse the idea that inconsistencies are okay, or that we shouldn't try to resolve them rationally, is to endorse the destruction of meaning, and perhaps even to open the door to full blown insanity. I mean how are you going to say how much inconsistency is tolerable, and how can you rationally defend these tolerances if you have already de-legitimized rational criticism in the first place?

Though I am not a big fan of faith, I would choose it over outright endorsement of irrationality any day. It's the saner of the two.

>>Also, my intention is not to make any judgement about level 3 theory, but just
to make an observation. I'm a new student to memetics and may not have enough immersion at this point to make any valid criticism. I just purchased "Virus Of The Mind" this weekend and am working through that. (When I can get it away
from brother--who says he loves it!)<<

I have been wrestling with the "meme" for about two years. I haven't read Richard Brodie's book yet, but I will try to give a read soon. I have read the "Lucifer Principle", "Darwin's Dangerous Idea", "Thought Contagion", and consumed as much material as I can find involving ideas about cultural selection and cultural evolution, whether or not it mentions the "meme" or not.

This is my evaluation of the situation. Currently the "meme" is still just a metaphor. It is a biological metaphor about cultural evolution. It has yet to be made into a working cultural concept. I do not doubt that memes really exist. But we will never be able to understand them conceptually until we shift away from the metaphor into real concepts. One of the biggest culprits IMO of this situation is the very thing that made "memes" popular to begin with - "Viruses of the Mind" - specifically Richard Dawkin's essay, not Brodie's book - though it may be full of this "virus" thinking too for all I know. And though I loved Aaron Lynch's book as well, "Thought Contagion", I have to give it about the same assessment.

Too much biological poetry and computer analogy, mucking up any real understanding and the creation of real cultural concepts. Too much willingness to leap forward to clever "applications" that *sound* like they make sense, but are not ammenable to rational criticism, because there are not really substantial concepts underlying the fancy "applications" of what is really a metaphor at this stage. As far as I am concerned "memetics" is not a real application of anything. Right now it is really just a new literature style. A style of science fiction with heavy dose of realism that mimicks non-fiction work. Usually lacking the typical plots and character development of other science fiction and tantalizingly seductive to people who like popularized science non-fiction. I was an instant sucker for it, and I am glad that fell for it, but I am also glad that I can now recognize it for the literature that it is.

I do not doubt that "meme" is here to stay. For several months I selected books solely on the basis of whether or not they contained the word "meme" in their index. Now my strategy is almost the opposite - I look for books and articles now based on whether they are genuinely attempting to apply evolutionary thinking to culture and they DON'T use the word "meme". I now get more mileage out of this latter approach.

Since Brodie is here, and he is somewhat responsive to posts, I wouldn't pass up the chance to read his book - I have heard lots of good stuff said about it. But if it is anything like Richard Dawkin's essay, and Aaron Lynch's book, I don't know how much more I feel that I personally would get out of it, because while I enjoyed reading those things, to me they are just dwelling in the metphorical. Never the less, since Brodie is somewhat willing to talk about stuff on here to me, I will give his book a shot.

Once you have enjoyed his book, I can suggest to you several other resources that I think give a good *cultural* treatment of memes or a very good evolutionary treatment of culture. Both of which I think are very valuable to moving beyond metaphor and into real working concepts.

Cultural Evolution </A> Benzon and Hayes.
After you have read lots of metaphorical "virus thinking" stuff, you will notice that their definition and use of "meme" is different. And I think much more refined and useful.

<A HREF=" ">Cultural Selection; Why Some Achievements Survive the Test of Time and Other's Don't</A> Amazon page on a book by Gary Taylor.
If you are familiar with a book called "Reinventing Shakespeare", he wrote that as well. He is a Shakespeare scholar. He also has a very good grasp of evolutionary thinking. As someone who has to deal with "culture wars" issues on a daily basis, his perspective on culture is distinctly different from those who rely mostly on biological metaphors and computer analogies.

Never once did he use the word "meme" in his book, and I think it was better for the omission. BTW, I had an EM exchange with Gary a few months ago, and he is and was familiar with "meme" through Richard Dawkin's books, which along with Gould is where I assume he has obtained some of his understanding of evolution. He and I agree on the status of "meme" - that it is here to stay, but that it is still stuck in metaphor.

and of course the one that no one should miss:

<A HREF=" 1/002-0781859-7064401">Darwin's Dangerous Idea : Evolution and the Meanings of Life</A>
By Daniel Dennet. Though I think even he is a little stuck in metaphor mode, as a philosopher he manages to stick more closely to evolutionary concepts without going. I have read his book twice now, and I can attest that it has genuinely altered the way I think about many important things.

If you check the links to Dennet and Taylor, you will find reader reviews written by me.