Tuesday, October 02, 2007

What??? No more memes???

7 comments:

Jason Pratt said...

Looks to me like he's still advocating memes. He's just decided to be more careful about treating the social phenomena as being "just another aspect of" the genetic phenomena.

Of course, the funny thing is that if someone "wasn't careful" about conflating these two, he has only himself to blame, since he routinely did this himself. So, "if they _are_ different aspects of the same phenomena, then let's hear a good case for regarding them as such." As if you weren't trying that the whole time, Mr. D.

The problem wasn't even so much a conflation of the social and the genetic behaviors, though; which he still hasn't seemed to realize and admit. The problem was that he was trying to find a way to get 'rational behavior' to develop out of and still be fundamentally constituted by-and-only-by non-rational behavior; and he couldn't do that without admitting that the resulting behaviors would have to be considered only irrational at best. Which of course he was always glad to harp about when dissing religious behavior on those grounds. But the sauce cooks his own goose, too. (But he has to try something of that sort anyway, in order to keep to a strictly atheistic accounting of human mental behavior.)

Ye God, how many times have I heard people since the early 80s telling me smugly that the religious 'meme' is a 'virus' and similar other negative/antagonistic descriptions of it? One respondent had the gall, when I complained about how his theory ended up undercutting the relevance of all thinking, to patronizingly reassure me that he wasn't threatening Chrisitanity. (Yeah, because calling an idea a virus that does sneaky and damaging things taking over our brains to enslave us in an irrational fashion, is of course a value-neutral description of it. snorf. But that hadn't been my point anyway.)

I wonder what Shermer thought of this?

JRP

mattghg said...

The problem was that he was trying to find a way to get 'rational behavior' to develop out of and still be fundamentally constituted by-and-only-by non-rational behavior

Presumably, because Darwinism has been seen as so successful at dispelling one example of apparent teleology (in Biology), it's just too darn tempting for atheists not to try to make the same model account for everything?

I agree that it seems Dawkins is being mighty disingenuous in pretending he's not largely to blame for the ludicrous claims made on behalf of 'memetics'. Going the way of Freud and Marx sooner rather than later, I predict.

Jason Pratt said...

{{Presumably, because Darwinism has been seen as so successful at dispelling one example of apparent teleology (in Biology), it's just too darn tempting for atheists not to try to make the same model account for everything?}}

I think the problem goes deeper than that. An atheist has to try to render intentionality as coming from-and-only-from non-intentional behaviors. We're biological creatures (at least); our capabilities and behaviors _are_ at least partially granted by genetic reactions; those reactions are certainly far more effectively complex than the more fundamental chemical and physical reactions the bio-reactions are admittedly constituted by. Where else is an atheist going to go right now but to our genetics?

But the point is that they have to apply to something of and only of that sort for their explanations of capability, whether it's genetics or what-have-you. In principle though, it doesn't matter what they apply to: they're carrying the same crippling handicap of their explanations along with them wherever they go.

In that regard, it may be said that the AfR is the ultimate teleological argument--because it concerns the atheist's own teleology and the logical corollaries of accepting the reality of it. (Which is why some non-theists want to eliminate even human teleology if possible. Except when they themselves need it, of course... {wry s})


{{Going the way of Freud and Marx sooner rather than later, I predict.}}

While I would like to think so, I doubt it unless they think they've got something they can fall back on somewhere.

More likely, Mr. D may now be discovering the charms of non-reductive materialism. He'll either start committing more specifically to that (and specifically disavowing other materialist theories of human thought); or else he'll just be more blatantly overt in flippy-flopping between that and having to affirm the principle of property transfer as in the case of beavers (i.e. what he was doing already.

I kind of bet on the latter (as it seems more in line with his previously established style, which has certainly proved profitable for him); but the former isn't impossible. He could even make some promotional hay out of it if he did it right. (e.g., 'See? I do in fact accept correction eventually. Unlike those stupid ignorant hateful willingly blinded and blinding fundies over there who staunchly refuse to ever grow in their understanding.' He's made some comments along that line in regard to mea culpas accepted by other people before, too, comparing them favorably over against religionists.)

JRP

B H said...

Dancing on the grave of materialism may be a little presumptuous at this point. Just because Dawkins has disowned memes (which had/have moderate success academically, I suppose), it doesn't mean that fields like evolutionary anthropology or social psychology are in danger. I'm sure you could find no shortage of folks studying cultural transmission who grimace and shudder at the very word meme.

Jason Pratt said...

{{Dancing on the grave of materialism may be a little presumptuous at this point.}}

Oh I hardly need grimaces about memes in order to dance on the grave of materialism. {g} Though a grimace about memes can help illustrate a more fundamental point regarding what's necessary, in principle, under atheism (materialistic or otherwise) in regard to human thinking.

And as it happens, I do know a folk anthropologist (not a Christian or even a solid theist last time I checked) who probably grimaces whenever she hears the word 'meme' (except in a new popular sense of 'a fun quiz passed around on the internet'): she doesn't have much patience for theories of human behavior that involve eliminating active contributions from humans themselves. (e.g. cultural theories attributing all historical development to mere reaction to environmental changes.)

Mostly though, I marvel at the disingenuousness (disingenuity??) of Mr. D trying to slip out from having key responsibility over the past 20 years in trying to convince people that social behavior and genetic behavior _are_ only different aspects of the _same_ phenomena.

JRP

mattghg said...

I marvel at the disingenuousness (disingenuity??) of Mr. D trying to slip out from having key responsibility over the past 20 years in trying to convince people that social behavior and genetic behavior _are_ only different aspects of the _same_ phenomena

So do I, and I'd say it's actually closer to 30 years, seeing as in The Selfish Gene he was already saying that 'Darwinism is too big a theory to be confined to the narrow context of the gene'. Dawkins doesn't seem to realise that you can't just say 'it weren't me, guv' when you're in print doing exactly that which you now deny.

Personally, I'd be surprised if D were now to go non-reductive, not only because of the volte face this would involve, but also because it would put him at odds with his neo-atheist buddies. Maybe he'll just start deferring to Dennett et al when asked about the mind, having realised he just ain't qualified to go sounding off about it. I wish.

Jason Pratt said...

Ah, yep, tis closer to 30 years (I was thinking of TSG, too). Good Lord I feel old. {s}

JRP