Re: virus: memes, genes and empiricism

Joe E. Dees (
Tue, 29 Jun 1999 12:56:28 -0500

From:           	"Eric Boyd" <>
To:             	<>
Subject:        	Re: virus: memes, genes and empiricism
Date sent:      	Tue, 29 Jun 1999 11:19:02 -0400
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> Richard Brodie <> asks:
> <<
> Can anyone point out where Joe's error is in this post?
> >>
> Sure!
> Here is Joe's post:
> <<
> The root metaphors for memes are viruses and genes, both of which
> undergo evolution. In fact, without the theory of evolution from
> which Dawkins could have extrapolated, it is unlikely that memetics
> would have emerged. The theory of evolution, as well as its mechanism
> (natural selection) was formulated as a result of Darwin's empirical
> study of species diversity within nature. Memetics is employed by
> testing and modifying differing memes and memeplexes to ascertain
> which variants of them work best in one's life. Utility and truth,
> while not identical, are not unrelated. To categorize a scientist's
> developments of an empirically derived theory as anti- or
> non-empiricist is to misunderstand memetics itself.
> >>
> I would say that Joe's biggest error is that he assumes an
> inductionist view of the development of science (& scientific
> theories). Science is only 'empirical' when it tests theories --
> theory formation, on the other hand, can only be explained by harking
> back to some theory about our creativity (and freewill). I think the
> memetics is on the right track in explaining *that* via an
> evolutationary theory of knowledge creation.
> BTW, I'm currently reading _Objective Knowledge: an evolutationary
> approach_ (1972) by Karl Popper; and this type of issue is exactly
> what he addresses. Popper's section on the evolutation of knowledge
> in the third world (his term for a modified 'Platonic Realm') was
> strong, but lacked the precision that memetics inhereted from recent
> biological theories, especially a concept of a selfish replicator. On
> the other hand, he has very pleasing things to say about different
> forms of selection in the meme pool, and the results they can achieve.
> Of course, before Joe explodes and says "that was my point!", I have
> to say -- yes! I agree that our knowledge of memetics has been helped
> immensly by our knowledge of biology. I just disagree that Darwin's
> theory emerged *because* of an 'empirical' study, or via some kind of
> 'induction' from the natural world: science just doesn't work that
> way, and memetics is only the latest example.
> ERiC
"Formulated" was perhaps not the best choice of words (although "conceived" would have been a worse one). Perhaps a better choice would have been "provisionally confirmed and refined." It is true that one must think of x before one can test it.