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Robert Campbell

Selection Pressures Are Mounting: A Review of Blackmore

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To follow up on my review of Dennett, here's a review I published in 2000. The book in question, The Meme Machine by a British neuropsychology researcher named Susan Blackmore, is not nearly as interesting or important as Dennett's opus. Blackmore has, in fact, done much better work at other times.

http://hubcap.clemson.edu/~campber/mounting.pdf

I hope the Dennett review and the Blackmore review will help to explain why I wish Richard Dawkins had kept his "meme" notion to himself. Memetics has been a disaster.

Robert Campbell

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I hope the Dennett review and the Blackmore review will help to explain why I wish Richard Dawkins had kept his "meme" notion to himself. Memetics has been a disaster.

Robert Campbell

How so? I do not see "smoke and wreckage" (so to speak). What is the nature of the disaster. There is no doubt that ideas and branial habits are passed from person to person. That is how we acquire our first language, the one we got at the hearth.

And there -are- nasty ideas that lead to nasty actions and nasty consequences. For example -Jihad- and -Martrydom-. The wreckage at the WTC site attests to that.

Ba'al Chatzaf

Edited by BaalChatzaf

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I think that the meme idea is an interesting notion, it is not nonsense. But the possibilities for creating a science of memetics analogous to the science of genetics are very limited. Blackmore certainly has been too enthusiastic in her endeavors to make it into a science and my impression is that Dawkins and Dennett are a bit embarrassed by what she has done.

Blackmore is an interesting person. I can recommend her autobiography In search of the Light. She started as a researcher of paranormal phenomena and did also Tarot readings. But in contrast to most of her colleagues, she never got any significant results. Now something interesting happened: thinking she did something wrong with her experiments, she went to other researchers to see what they did to get interesting results. But every time she did that, it turned out that there were serious flaws in the experimental setup, and in some cases there was even evidence for fraud. So finally, in spite of the fact that she obviously wanted those phenomena to be real, she was honest enough to conclude that there was no evidence at all, and in the course of the years she turned from a true believer into a skeptic. It's also instructive to read how she finally had to admit that her Tarot readings, the value of which she had been convinced for a long time, were completely meaningless. It did remind me of Monica Pignotti, who did something similar with regard tot TFT, namely not ignoring the experimental evidence and drawing her conclusions. These are beautiful examples of scientific integrity.

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In the essay "Philosophy: Who Needs It" from the book of the same name, Rand wrote (p. 4):

You might claim—as most people do—that you have never been influenced by philosophy. I will ask you to check that claim. Have you ever thought or said the following? "Don't be so sure—nobody can be certain of anything." You got that notion from David Hume (and many, many others), even though you might never have heard of him. Or: "This may be good in theory, but it doesn't work in practice." You got that from Plato. Or: "That was a rotten thing to do, but it's only human, nobody is perfect in this world." You got it from Augustine. Or: "It may be true for you, but it's not true for me." You got it from William James. Or: "I couldn't help it! Nobody can help anything he does." You got it from Hegel. Or: "I can't prove it, but I feel that it's true." You got it from Kant. Or: "It's logical, but logic has nothing to do with reality." You got it from Kant. Or: "It's evil, because it's selfish." You got it from Kant. Have you heard the modern activists say: "Act first, think afterward"? They got it from John Dewey.

There are strong parallels between this and what I have read about memes.

Michael

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