Monday, 26 May 2014

Is failure to understand memetics due to stupidity?

Memetics (and cultural evolution in general) is a poorly-understood area of science. However, memetics doesn't seem especially difficult to understand (unlike, say, quantum theory). Plenty of people have understood memetics. So: why don't most people understand it?

One theory that has been proposed is that understanding of memetics threatens a wide range of memes - since an understanding of memetics tends to result in a better cultural immune system. The threatened memes thus tend to "conspire" to ensure that their hosts don't understand memetics. Not literally "conspire", of course (that would be silly) - I just mean to say that multiple memes would have been exposed to selection pressure to influence host behaviour in the same direction.

I've previously covered this hypothesis in my memetics resistance article.

Another hypothesis is needed to explain resistance to memetics among social scientists. Cultural evolution and memetics have faced over a century of organized resistance from social scientists. Apparently, they think it is, wrong, bad and a threat. The first two seem like delusions - but they are correct in identifying cultural evolution and memetics as a threat. Many social scientists are busy fighting a turf war with biological approached to human behaviour. At stake are jobs, prestige and traditions. Every piece of confusion they can tar their opponents with is one more day of salaries for them and their colleagues.

I've also previously noted that memetics is part of a larger-scale resistance to to Darwinism being applied to human behaviour:

Part of the explanation for this involves resistance to Darwinism being applied to human behaviour. Memetics resistance is part of a larger resistance to Darwinism being applied to humans. Early approaches to human cultural evolution were characterised as being "social Darwinism" - which soon became a term of derision. Soon, preaching "Social Darwinism" conjoured up images of racial cleansing, forced sterilization, Nazia, Hitler - and so on.

Darwinism threatens the human ego's desire to be a special angelic form. Out genes have programmed us to believe we are wonderful, special and irreplaceable. Darwinism seems to say that we are descended from worms. Some people can't stomach that.

What about failure of the memeticists to educate others? This seems likely to also be a factor. Richard Dawkins has not pushed memetics very much. Academic students of the topic neglected to popularise it. Memetics experienced neglect and slow development. Not enough people have put a concerted effort behind research and education in the field.

In summary, stupidity looks like an unlikely hypothesis for the widespread failure to understand memetics. Manipulation, vested interests and cognitive bias seem likely to be involved instead.


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