Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Dorian Sagan's venture into memetics

Dorion Sagan (son of Carl) wrote a piece on memetics earlier this year - titled: Dangerous Ideas: Memes and the New Orwellianism.

He seems to be mostly sympathetic. There were some criticisms, though. Dorian wrote:

I do think memes fall prey to a kind of pathology of Platonic abstraction, where the phenomenal world (with its many cycles, recurring themes and reproducing beings) takes a convenient backseat to imagined ideal forms. The real world is messier. Systems thinking teaches us that reproducing systems reproduce because of the integration of their parts, making it specious to identify a central agent of unique worth in the integrated cycle. Where is the point that “begins” the circle?
If you use an information-theroretic notion of what "meme" means in which memes are heritable cultural information (as advocated by Dennett and myself) this "problem" goes away. Then, memes are in books - as well as minds - and there is no urgent need to identify a "beginning of the circle" - since the memes go all the way around it.

Dorian is also concerned about misuse of memetics:

For me the most frightening aspect of the new “science” of memetics is the light it shines on the modern engines of Orwellian propaganda. It is rather obvious that rumors, errors, and paranoia, let loose in the nutrient broth of the Internet, can spread like wildfire. But what worries me about this is not so much the conspiracy theories, but the Machiavellian technique of purposefully attaching misinformation to critical thinking to deflect serious questions, curtailing our ability to keep tabs on the government.
That's a reasonable concern - but it is much the same concern that is raised about other types of scientific progress. Progress seems to be pretty positive, overall. The bad memes are outnumbered by the good ones. Those who would attack with memes must face those who defend with memes. While there's a "thermodynamic advantage" to destruction, somehow the world supports much constructive activity and its destruction is mostly deliberative and scheduled.

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