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14
Nov 01
Wed

Memes

I found this link trail from TW on a few people’s comments about memes (click that link, you’ll need to understand the dictionary definition before you continue reading this post) – 1, 2, 3. I do believe there is an underlying flaw with the point Simmons (1) makes: that cultural ideas spread through memes seems to imply that there is no truth in thought (that it is all “propaganda”). That assertion turns out to be somewhat true, but not for the reasons he is thinking of. Truth of thought is not necessarily necessary.

Firstly let’s deal with the issue of culturally-based practices. Truth is an irrelevant concept here because culture is neither “right” nor “wrong” – it is simply how a society has evolved. Evolution is a key part of the concept of memes. The stronger memes rise to the top and influence society’s practices. There are no absolute right and wrong practices when it comes to culture. (This point is slightly arguable on moral and ethical grounds, but even morals and ethics are culturally influenced.) For instance, if we take the idea of arranged marriages. For most in Western society, the idea would seem somewhat repressive, or unfair. The connotation is negative because freedom of choice is highly valued in our culture. If you judge arranged marriages from the perspective of our culture, then it becomes wrong. But you cannot do that – it’s called Cultural Relativism. (See this excerpt from Barad & Robertson – it’s a good book). So truth and memes do not come into play for this aspect.

What about cultural ideas, then? Or how about, just ideas in general? Surely there must be “truth” when it comes to solid ideas? There are many schools of thought on this issue, but when it comes to science and putting forth ideas, there is one school of thought that declares there is no truth. Positivism, specifically the theory of falsification, states that nothing can be absolutely proven. Theories are never completely true. They may be supported by evidence, yes, and they may be used to formulate other theories, but they can never be completely verified. On the other hand, theories can be conclusively rejected if there is evidence that they are wrong, or there is a better theory that explains the same thing. Many scientists, including Hawking, subscribe to this theoretical perspective.

So Locke’s (2) attempt to point out about western biologists being unable to agree on the truth is flawed because, working on a positivist view, there already is an agreement that there IS no truth! The real problem that exists is mainly political. Ok, let’s take evolution again. When research takes place that produces evidence to reject it, the theory is often not rejected. Why? Because, the supporters of that theory reject the research that produced the contradicting evidence. They are enabled to reject the rejection (so to speak) by saying that the research of those that disagree with them is invalid/flawed and thereby not capable of invalidating their theory. But who’s correctly rejecting what? That is hard to tell through the political smokescreens. (I’m not going to mention Locke’s point on relativism… which enters the realms of epistemology.)

“But I still hate memes. They’re used by people like Locke to take control of things we care about” (3) seems to be a misinterpretation for what a meme is, or maybe I’m a bit hazy on the definition myself – any ideas that are disseminated within society may be considered as a meme. They are not inherently evil. The idea of a meme is simply applying evolution of the physical (Darwinism) to evolution of thought (culture and ideas). You can’t say Darwinism is inherently evil – it just explains things the way they are. However, just as evolution has not been proven conclusively (but there is enough scientific evidence to support it!), neither has the idea of memes. It’s interesting to note that memetics may itself be a meme. So is this a post on meta-memetics?

In this case, I suppose that you could consider all thought propaganda. If so, then the thought that is accepted in society may be considered as propaganda that has been assessed by the community, and found acceptable. Propaganda has negative connotations, that’s why it’s hard to see it in that aspect. Memes shouldn’t have the same connotations.

(Uni is having a bad influence on me…)

Responses:

Well, I read your post about memes and it reminded me of something I learned in my classes and that I whole-heartedly believe in.

You were talking about cultural relativism and how there is no absolute truth because in different cultures, people believe in different things. The same is true about people. There is no “absolute truth” because each person views things thorugh their own filter of their experiences and ideas, so everyone can view the same thing differently, even from the same culture.

I once had a quote on my page that said “truth is relative; perception is everything. ” I believe in that. Our individual perception on things is our “truth” and everyone’s perception is different.

The scientific theory can help us to look at things objectively, but be that as it may, we all have different past experiences and differing amounts and kinds of knowledge, so our perception, our truth, is different.
Fallen Angel