two examples to illustrate the usefulness of the memetic paradigm

I can think of two examples to illustrate the usefulness of the memetic paradigm. The first is a post on VilralOne , a blog on memetics. The blog entry describes the philosophical underpinnings and history of memetics. It is thorough. It goes into a great many criticisms of the memetic paradigm and how they might be countered. And, eventually, discourse of this kind might win memetics a grudging place in academia. From there, it could spread (a meta-meme) into the popular consciousness of young students who would then put it to (presumably) good use. Eventually, it could influence the development of good ideas in a similar fashion to how Darwins’ ideas helped influence the development of molecular genetics. This would validate the current memeticist’s perspective and efforts, but probably not in their lifetime.

In a sense, this is an example of the old method for memetic success. Problem: memetics is not an accepted science. Solution: write a careful, long description of why it is worth accepting, then wait 100 years.

There is another way for memetics to gain acceptance, and that is the direct and immediate application to current problems. Take the example of Godwin’s law. Godwin noticed that when discussion on the ‘net got heated, it was almost inevitable that someone would make a Nazi comparison. He wanted to design a meme to combat it, so he wrote Godwin’s law. The new form is that “once a discussion reaches a comparison to Nazis or Hitler, its usefulness is over,” but that is not how Godwin phrased it originally. He started a meme, and it evolved. And it was, arguably, successful. People seem to be more careful about making comparisons to Nazism, as they don’t want to be the person who takes the discussion over the line into uselessness (or at least they don’t want people to call them out by invoking Godwin’s law).

Godwin designed this idea specifically as a meme. And so it stands as a success story of the memetic perspective. Memetics, philosophically sound or not, is useful. It is an intellectual tool and need not be a philosophy of life. I’m neither a social scientist nor a committed materialist. Both of those people might have reason to be threatened by memetics if they refuse to adapt. Social scientist may well have to learn a new vocabulary as their field is eclipsed by a new one. Strict materialists may have to accept that a new perspective explains human behavior without specific reference to biology. Of course, genetics was a successful science long before the specifics of DNA replication were known, and it’s probable that neurobiology and memetics will be reconciled eventually.

But in the end, reconciling these disparate ideas (sociology, biology, memetics) by way of philosophical discourse is inefficient. It will happen eventually if all of them prove to be useful descriptors of the same thing. Look at the history of M-theory or Quantum Electrodynamics. The big upshot is in that key word: useful. And the marketing companies already know that memetics is the wave of the future.

-Peter

Advertisements