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Could I play by your rules here (for once!)and point out a possible "language game", here paraphrasing Dawkins' disclaimer on language in at least one of his books? Namely that causal language used by proponents of evolution may be a shorthand for "confers a selection advantage towards..." or even "could confer a selection advantage towards..."? I accept that the former doesn't entirely salvage the situation, though I think the latter does. Of course, as the house skeptic, I should also point out that the latter fits my own particular biases, which may be why I prefer it.

You have numerous errors. I will address only a few.

--- "Does the evolutionary doctrine clash with religious faith? It does not."

Of course it does. About 60% of Americans believe every word of the Bible is literally true. The Bible conflicts with evolution. Accordingly, evolutionary doctrine conflicts with religious faith for at least 60% of Americans. Please don't whitewash this or try to play word games or commit the logical fallacy of using a small, non-representative part (Americans who don't believe the Bible is literally true are a small, non-representative part) as a representation of the whole.

The rest of your errors derive largely from a failure to understand evolution. The theory of evolution has never suggested that any particular feature of any particular species can be linked to one specific environmental advantage or disadvantage. Teleology says that animals and plants were *designed* to fit their roles. Evolution suggests that when random changes occur to species, if those changes help the species survive they are more likely to be passed on.

You are thus misdescribing both teleology and evolution. If you describe them correctly, your supposed concordance between them disappears.

There are many evolutionary situations where we can, in fact, say authoritatively that a particular mutation has helped an organism prosper. If we place some normal bacteria and some high-temperature mutated bacteria versions of the same bacteria in a dish, and raise the temperature and wait a week, we will find that the normal bacteria have died out and the high-temperature bacteria have exclusively survived. The experiment is completely repeatable. It's testable, and provable.

"You have numerous errors. I will address only a few."

Why point out that he has numerous errors if you're only going to point out a few, Anon? Surely he (and the rest of us) would rather know all the errors, in the hope of refutation or correction. Now you're just teasing :D

"The experiment is completely repeatable. It's testable, and provable." ... and misses the point of this post ... sorry, not enough time to explain it to you ;-)


I agree that careless use of language is an issue. I have no problem with "could confer a selective advantage", only with people rushing directly to a teleological conclusion without showing the workings! :)


I don't think I've misunderstood evolution, nor the philosophical implications of religion, but thanks for letting me know that you do!

Tying this back to game design (someone has to) this reminds me of Juul's distinction between progressive and emergent games, where in the prior case play is structured by a sequence of goals (a teleology) and in the latter its structure is produced by the intereaction of base rules (an ontology). Metaphysics tries to be an ontology but ends up getting overtaken by teleology, Mayan shamanism, Christianity, Islam, even some forms of Judaism hold a teleology for the world in the form of some final goal. Eastern religions hold such teleologies in more personal form, in achieving enlightenment or nirvana. I don't know about you, but my hunch is the only person to achieve Nirvana was Kurt Cobain, and he had to overdose to get there.

Likewise, game designers fall into the trap of prescribing teleological motives to players who might not nessecarily want those motives. Ontology should come first.

Now, I'm going to talk a bit about memes (because I have to). Memes are interesting becaues they operate along the same principles of self-replication that biological systems depend on in evolutionary theory, but memes are designed more often than they randomly mutate. Intuitive ideas are straddling the line here, because the design could be said to be subconscious but the process is quite emergent. Either way, many memes at large in the world are so prevalent because of design. Advertising is a key example, but also the most popular specimens of culture across media. For instance, saying "The Sims grossed 1.2 billion as a franchise because it appeals to market X in manner Y, and Market A in manner B..." and so on is perfectly acceptable, because these sub-hypotheses can be tested through market research.

Patrick: "Ontology should come first."

I'm not sure if you no HOW RIGHT you are on this one!

yet wrt "meme": I guess somebody explained somewhere what would happen to "memes" if there weren't any humans to talk about them ...?
Take the idea/meme of the "meme as electromagnetic pattern". Is there an experiment that shows how sees "electromagnetic patterns" are transmitted between (human) brains? Does the "meme" entail or enable "telepathy"? I'm just curious, honestly ;-)

If a tree falls in the forest, and there's nobody there, does anybody care?
If there were no humans to transmit the memes, does it matter what happens to them?
And the idea of the meme as electromagnetic pattern is, I hold, an incomplete description because the science it is based on is incomplete - namely the working of the brain and the nature of mind.

Must run - Guitar Hero just acquired!
"Are you ready for the commitment, to get up at the crack of noon, and do 7 or 8 rock squats, at a a row!" - J.B.

Chris - sorry for the divergent posts :D


Chris made a good point that since the science of the brain is incomplete then memetics is still metaphyiscs.


Memes are "transmitted" via imitation, in other words, pattern recognition. This pattern recognition can occur across a variety of media, letters to gestures to film to simply doing something in a specific way. In all these cases there is a langauge, a model, of the percieved pattern, which can then promulgate and integrate with other patterns in the brain, or be destroyed. In this broad sense, the evolution of language and the evolution of thought are concurrent if not congruent.

Language's evolved in fuzzy forms first: sensory perceptions, gestures, the logographic, pictographic and alphabetical written langauges - all depend on fuzzy constraints. More rigorous languages, mathematics and from that science, evolved later, to dramatic effect. Its hard to build a rigorous definition and resulting science of memes because memes predate the evolution of science.

An interesting feature of memes is how they self-organize into complex structures, and whats more interesting than that is how some of these structures, when well integrated with other structures, frame discrete intuitive cognition just as they often form restrictive super-structures, fueling the mind of an ardent national socialist or devout Catholic priest. One application of intuitive process is to model other people's minds using social data and memories in near real-time, and when this happens a sense of telepathy can be felt. So to answer you question, yes memes can allow for a sort of "telepathy", but as with science the fuzzy imitative storm of mutations came before the pristine moments of clarity.

"since the science of the brain is incomplete then memetics is still metaphyiscs"

To take a slight, but I consider only slight, parody of this position: "Since the science of medicine is incomplete then drug research is metaphysics."

Insofar as either activity leads to predictions and falsifiable hypotheses, each one is (in my view) science. Insofar as either leads to untestable hypotheses, each one is metaphysics. It may be that memetics is part-science, part-metaphysics. Ditto for drug research.

Patrick, i guess i start to get a grasp on your usage of the "meme" metaphor.

One more thing: Does a "meme" in your view always take the form of a *statement* (or even some form of "ultimate premise" meant to support *ontological* claims) or can a *question* be a model (or pattern) for a "meme", too?

Peter: do you have an example of a falsifiable hypothesis that includes the notion of a meme? (Rather than a falsifiable hypothesis that may have been inspired by memetics).

I don't think this parallel with drug research is a fair comparison. It is not the fact of the incompleteness of the science of consciousness that renders 'memes' as metaphysics, but that the incompleteness of this field's knowledge does not allow us to define a testable/falsifiable entity that we can call a 'meme'.

At least, that's how I see it.

Best wishes!


If you buy Feyerabend's anti-philosophy than you don't need falsifiable hypotheses in order for memetics to be useful, not only in game design but marketing, politics, economics, social psych, writing, even everyday interactions like heated religious debates.


I'd say if you can verse it, it is a meme, because it can be thus imitated. I'm not writing a book just yet, so don't quote me on that, but that fuzzy guideline is what I observe. Its like the Sapir-Worph hypothesis, but in a form beyond the strong and weak.

"Why is there something instead of nothing?" for instance, is one hell of a meme.

Patrick: I'm not saying metaphysics isn't useful - it can be tremendously valuable - it's just not testable. :D


You might find this post on the nature of evolution interesting:

And here is another post in the same vein:

In keeping with the roots of this post (teleology/evolution):

Life is fundamentally opportunistic.

That's my meme, and I'm sticking to it.

No ecological niche will remain empty as long as it has an available source of reduceable energy and will accept a reduced form of energy. No matter how apparently hostile a niche may appear, it is not a matter of whether or not it will be occupied, but how long it will take to become occupied. Once occupied, said niche will remain occupied by the same organism, until the environmental conditions of the niche change, or another organism displaces the first by occupying that niche more efficiently.

The polar bear either was white and that turned out to be an advantage, or came in a profusion of colors of which white turned out to be the most successful. In either case, there was a niche, and the polar bear filled it. Ipso facto, 'life is fundamentally opportunistic' is a teleologically satisfactory observation that precedes a theory of evolution.

It is also my considered opinion that if polar bears were black, they would absorb so much solar heat during the continuous arctic summer daylight that they would cook where they sat.

Paul: of course, there is almost no limit to the number of teleological formulas that one can concoct - the bigger question is whether such teleology belongs in science. Evolution was supposed to banish it from the pages of the science textbooks: it failed. Instead, we just have a whole new bunch of them to choose from!

I agree with you that life is fundamentally opportunistic, although I wouldn't elevate it to the status of a teleological principle personally. But the idea that the key story of the evolution of life is direct competition is misleading; as you intimate here, many species have found that the dominant strategy is to find a niche no-one else is using and make it their own.

Not to mention this would be a far better principle to teach in respect of the marketplace than the dogma of competition as it is usually presented! :)

Thanks for sharing your views!

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