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Dennett’s Parable of the Sower

 
John Brand
 
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15 August 2009 11:08
 
teuchter - 15 August 2009 12:08 AM
John Brand - 14 August 2009 08:22 PM

For example, I have been thinking about the comments made in this thread about Marx and the field of study that Marx was trying to survey and summarize.  The success and/or failure of the revolution experiments of the mid-nineteenth century could be seen as examples of instant gratification when they are compared with the difficult path chosen by, for instance, the Anabaptists.

So, comparing and contrasting Marx and the Anabaptists, we learn that the Anabaptists adhere to a literal interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount the Believer’s baptism, and Marx was an atheist.  Anabaptists believe that “[c]ivil government (i.e., “Caesar”) belongs to the world. The believer, who belongs to God’s kingdom, must not fill any office, nor hold any rank under government, which is to be passively obeyed.”  And Marx was an atheist. And not a pacifist.

Engels interest in branches of the Anabaptist movement focused on their experiments in community of goods.  In particular the rebellion at Muenster,For example, The Communist Manifesto states the following:

“The most famous experiment was that of the Anabaptist in Munster, but the most long lasting were those of the Hutterites in Moravia.  In the period in which they were free from persecution, 1553-91, the total number of Hutterites may have reached 40,000.” (Note 31, page 32)

Engel discusses his interest in the rebellion at Munster in his The Peasant War in Germany and highlights the aspects of Thomas Muenzer’s (b. 1498) doctrine:

His theologic-philosophic doctrine attacked all the main points not only of Catholicism but of Christianity as such. Under the cloak of Christian forms, he preached a kind of pantheism, which curiously resembles the modern speculative mode of contemplation, and at times even taught open atheism. He repudiated the assertion that the Bible was the only infallible revelation. The only living revelation, he said, was reason, a revelation which existed among all peoples at all times. To contrast the Bible with reason, he maintained, was to kill the spirit by the latter, for the Holy Spirit of which the Bible spoke was not a thing outside of us; the Holy Spirit was our reason. Faith, he said, was nothing else but reason become alive in man, therefore, he said, pagans could also have faith. Through this faith, through reason come to life, man became godlike and blessed, he said. Heaven was to be sought in this life, not beyond, and it was, according to Muenzer, the task of the believers to establish Heaven, the kingdom of God, here on earth. As there is no Heaven in the beyond, he so there is no Hell in the beyond, and no damnation, and there are no devils but the evil desires and cravings of man. Christ, he said, was a man, as we are, a prophet and a teacher, and his “Lord’s Supper” is nothing but a plain meal of commemoration wherein bread and wine are being consumed with mystic additions.

Muenser was beheaded in 1525 but his ideas were adopted by key figures leading the Anabaptist Rebellion at Munster.

I notice that your quote from Socialism: Utopian and Scientific includes a reference to Muenzer:

And although, upon the whole, the bourgeoisie, in their struggle with the nobility, could claim to represent at the same time the interests of the different working-classes of that period, yet in every great bourgeois movement there were independent outbursts of that class which was the forerunner, more or less developed, of the modern proletariat. For example, at the time of the German Reformation and the Peasants’ War, the Anabaptists and Thomas Münzer; in the great English Revolution, the Levellers; in the great French Revolution, Babeuf.

teuchter - 15 August 2009 12:08 AM

Of course, the failure of Anabaptism in the final analysis to do anything more than create a tourist industry in Indiana, which would otherwise beckon nobody, is based in its idealistic effort to abolish class distinctions.

There are 472 colonies of Hutterites around the world (2004 stat).  105 of these are located in my area of Southern Manitoba.  In fact, I live about one mile south of a colony.  These grow to a number of about 200 or so and then split off.  They are powerful and have succeeded in abolishing class distinctions through their doctrine of ‘the priesthood of all believers.’  They have a significant wealth.  In some cases, there is abuse by those who are in charge of the finances that has led to dissolution of the colony.  But for the most part this social group has proven to have enduring qualities that have not changed since the 15th Century.

teuchter - 15 August 2009 12:08 AM

Which brings us to:

John Brand - 14 August 2009 08:22 PM

The reciprocating impact of this organization on the success of this group as a social organism is obvious. […]  The kindness of Jacques is an adaptive trait that the Mennonites still possess as evidenced by the MCC. Is this approach what you would call social Darwinism?

Political or social structures are not organisms.  They do not have dna subject to random mutation.  Political or economic structures do not evolve, thereby increasing their chances of survival;  they survive or fail according to how the people living under those structures thrive.  They transform according to the development of the material conditions upon which they are built, but this transformation is in no way “evolution.”

If Darwin suggested that a will to cooperate may have been a beneficial trait for the survival of men, this does not suggest that the forms of cooperation have taken on a biological characteristic with their own evolutionary agenda.  And if Darwin ever said otherwise, he wandered too far afield from his discipline.

Biology is not political economy.  Political economy is not biology.

Durkheim et al disagree.  You might find Wilson’s discussion interesting in his chapter “The View from Evolutionary Biology” in Darwin’s Cathedral

 
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15 August 2009 11:25
 
teuchter - 15 August 2009 12:32 PM

While I am not sure I agree with everything he says, I do agree with his conclusion:

If science can take on God, it should not fear the market. Both are, after all, creations of man.

I would argue that the free market is not the problem addressed in The Parable of the Sower.  Rather, the problem being addressed is toxic intentionality.  Marx was interested in the scientific theories of British free-market thinkers like Adam Smith and David Ricardo.  He preferred these theories to the French Socialist idea that the poverty resulted from the greed of the wealthy.

A narrow reading of Adam Smith would appear to conflict with the ancient social criticism of Isaiah and Solon which also pointed to the greed of the rich as the root of social uprisings.  But the narrow reading of Smith misses a crucial aspect of his thought as outlined in his Theory of Moral Sentiments.  He argued that sympathy for others is the essential characteristic of the human condition.  He rejected self-love as the basic motive of behaviour.  He defined virtue as consisting of three elements:  propriety, prudence and benevolence.  Propriety, he argued, was the appropriate control and directing of our affections.  Prudence is the judicious pursuit of our private interest.  And benevolence is the exercise of only those affections that encourage the happiness of others (from The Unconscious Civilization by John Ralston Saul (Concord Ontario:  Anansi Press Ltd., 1995).

I would argue that the common adaptive trait that has led to the hardiness of the Mennonites and the Hutterites, as examples of adaptive units, can be described very well by Smith’s ‘sympathy for others.’

 
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17 August 2009 14:52
 
teuchter - 15 August 2009 04:52 PM

I’m sure a lot of people disagree with anything I say, but are you arguing that the biological phenomenon of evolution applies to human institutions?

Yes, I am convinced that the because human institutions are created by human beings, there must be something about the biological phenomenon evolved within the human species that is being served.  Human institutions like marriage and family and human society help the species to survive.  And an important aspect of survival has to do with the mechanism within us that tell us our existence is threatened.  The limbic system is biological phenomenon but it is working with emotions that register in the brain through neurotransmitters or chemical reactions within the brain.  Emotions like fear cause an animal or a human being to either flight or flee even if the fear is only psychological.  But the fear can be managed through reinterpreting the stimulus.  This is psychological but very much wrapped up in the chemicals being created within the brain.

It is part of the adaptation of a human being to learn to trust (or not to fear) other human beings.  Part of this involves the idea of making agreements or contracts.  It helps people to feel safe and enables them to function better in a group. I am interested in the history of groups of people and how these groups succeed.  I find the evolutionary language of Durkheim and Wilson helpful in making some sense of what I have observed personally in my own history as well as what I have understood through my reading of history.

It is one of the aspects of Dennett’s Breaking the Spell that appeals to me.  Here is how Dennett begins the discussion where he weaves into his purpose the work of Durkheim and Wilson:

Every control system, whether it is an animal nervous system, a plant’s system of growth and self-repair, or an engineered artifact such as an airplane-guidance system, is designed to protect something.  And that something must include itself! …The “self-interest” that thus defines the evaluation machinery of all control systems can splinter, however, when a control system gets reflective.  Our human reflectiveness opens up a rich field of opportunities for us to revise our aims, including out largest purposes. (see page 175, Breaking the Spell

teuchter - 15 August 2009 04:52 PM

I looked at Wilson’s discussion to which you linked, and frankly find it far from compelling.

At page 7, Wilson says

It is important to think of heritability as a correlation between parents and offspring, caused by any mechanism.  This definition will enable us to go beyond genes in our analysis of human evolution.

Going “beyond genes in our analysis of human evolution” is to abandon an analysis of human evolution.

The genes are the biological source from which adaptive behavior emerges.  My quotation from Dennett above echoes Wilson when Wilson equates ‘the fitness of individuals’ with ‘their propensity to survive and reproduce in their environment.’  It is the group that enhances this fitness.  Thus, the group is a function of the biology of the individuals that make up the group.

teuchter - 15 August 2009 04:52 PM

There are many correlations between parents and offspring – children of parents living in China who speak only Chinese are probably more likely to learn Chinese by the age of 5 than children of parents living in Oaxaca who speak only Spanish.  The capacity to learn and speak a language is undoubtedly explicable at some point by a full understanding of the evolution of the human, but beyond that the cultural distinction between speaking Chinese and Spanish has no evolutionary significance.

I would agree but my reading of Wilson sees him building the case for ‘heritability as a correlation between parents and offspring, caused by any mechanism.’  You are emphasizing cultural transmission and arguing that Wilson is jumping to a generality.  I see him underlining the mechanism of cultural transmission and grounding it in the biology of the individuals who use culture as a means to the end of survival.

teuchter - 15 August 2009 04:52 PM

So after Wilson tries to redefine evolution to suit his analysis, he then really steps in it.

Wilson’s claims, at page 9, concerning this quote are extravagant.

Darwin was proposing that the three ingredients of natural selection—phenotypic variation, heritability and fitness consequences— can exist at the level of groups.

Darwin’s discussion of an attribute found in “many members” of tribe is catapulted into an assertion by Wilson that Darwin was proposing an attribute of the group.  This mirrors Wilson’s assertion that the attributes of certain birds in a flock can be called the attribute of the flock.

Both Wilson and Dennett are underlining the function of the group in fitness or adaptability:

“I can still take my task to be looking out for Number One while including, under Number One, not just myself, and not just my family, but also Islam, or Oxfam, or the Chicago Bulls!  The possibility, opened up by cultural evolution, of installing such novel perspectives I our brains is what gives our species, and only our species, the capacity for moral – and immoral – thinking” (Dennett, Breaking the Spell, 176)

teuchter - 15 August 2009 04:52 PM

People are forever trying to paste biology or other “hard sciences” onto the “social sciences” in order to lend the latter some gravitas.  The problem is that this just doesn’t work.  Here, Wilson reduces evolution to three core concepts –“ phenotypic variation, heritability and fitness consequences –“ but has to redefine two of those concepts to make his theory viable.  It is bad enough to include “fitness consequences” as an independent attribute of an organization.  But to define “heritability” as change “caused by any mechanism” is to entirely strip evolution of meaning.

The Peacock’s tail is an example of heritability evolved for purposes of access to reproductive resources (i.e. females).  One theory for the development of this tail is the choosiness of the females.  The tail is an obstacle to survival but can be explained as a function of attracting the female or the sexual function of the Peacock. 

Dennett and Dawkins are arguing that the meme is a ‘unit of cultural information’ that aids in the survival of the human species particularly as that is enhanced through participation in a group.  This has created some common ground with Durkheim, Wilson, etc. as is evidenced by the section in Breaking the Spell where Dennett incorporates the work of Wilson (pp 181-185) and Durkheim (pp 181-182).

teuchter - 15 August 2009 04:52 PM

Change caused by random genetic mutation leading to “phenotypic variation” with an adaptive advantage is a central way of understanding biology.  It is a meaningless way of trying to understand culture, although if you have something to sell, it makes a great slogan.  Like “Whiter than White!”  Meaningless, but oddly persuasive.

The view one takes may be financial motivated.  Or, it may be motivated by curiosity or the desire to explain a given phenomenon.  I am interested in what it is about religion that makes it so attractive to human beings and, in particular, why religion helps to a certain point in making a group function while at the same time working against cooperation with other groups.  Why is it that something developed to enhance survival suddenly works against the individual or the group?

teuchter - 15 August 2009 04:52 PM

For what it is worth, I am not a scientist defending turf, nor a social scientist rebelling against “mathematizing” my discipline.

I think you are taking a philosophical stand which I would call scientistic.

Scientism can work against the project I develop above in two ways:

(1)  By insisting that emotions, philosophy, culture, etc. are not phenomenon and, therefore, are irrelevant; or
(2)  By insisting that any interest in religion as a phenomenon is beyond the scope of science.

 
John Brand
 
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18 August 2009 15:47
 

A great part of the enjoyment of posting to this forum is fresh perspective on ancient thought.  My conversation with yourself, Tuechter, gave me an unexpected flash of insight into the old question:  “Why cultivate virtue?” which is at the center of the Parable of the Sower but addressed in numerous ways throughout the ancients.

teuchter - 12 August 2009 09:45 PM

So, do you include “the efficient market theory” as a possible parasitic ideologies, or just some undefined form of Marxism and what Hayek calls “scientism?”

I thought of one way that EMF and dialectical materialism acts like a parasite though it most often goes undetected because of the prevalence of thinking that delimits the intentional.

I have been building a fenced enclosure for our dogs over the last couple of days.  Last night I was trying out an idea that I had in order to give the structure extra support and I was thinking about our conversation and this comment of yours from Post #40 came to mind:

teuchter - 15 August 2009 04:52 PM

Change caused by random genetic mutation leading to “phenotypic variation” with an adaptive advantage is a central way of understanding biology.  It is a meaningless way of trying to understand culture, although if you have something to sell, it makes a great slogan.  Like “Whiter than White!”  Meaningless, but oddly persuasive.

It has occurred to me before while building this or that item around the farm, that the enjoyment that I get from doing a small project would immediately disappear if I were to move from doing the project because I enjoy it to doing the project because I hope to sell it. 

In order to sell the item, as Marx has observed, there must be a demand for the product.  It may even be necessary to create a demand for my product by emphasizing its unique attributes as in the slogan ‘Whiter than White!’  If I cannot persuade a substantial number of people about the attributes of my product, I will not be able to make the time that I spend making the product worthwhile.  This is especially a problem if I must derive an income from making a product in order to pay the bills, etc. that mount as I live in a market-driven society. 

The need to make a living or to attain a degree of wealth, becomes a parasite when it erodes the enjoyment that I initially had when I first began my project.

Plato taught that virtue must be pursued for its own sake.  As soon as it is pursued in order to obtain political power (as the Sophists taught) or because of the income it will bring, a corruption in virtue follows. 

Adam Smith Theory of Moral Sentiment brings into his economic theory the one element that will keep the pursuit of wealth from becoming a parasite:  The human dimension or remembering that wealth obtained should benefit all rather than the few.

There is a great freedom in realizing that what drives the market does not have to drive our interests and pursuits:  We don’t need to sell our interests.  We can pursue them for their own sake and the enjoyment that that pursuit brings to us.

 
eudemonia
 
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18 August 2009 15:55
 

‘There is a great freedom in realizing that what drives the market does not have to drive our interests and pursuits:  We don’t need to sell our interests.  We can pursue them for their own sake and the enjoyment that that pursuit brings to us.’

Boy I sure hope so. The day that our interests must be market driven or must be ‘sold’ is the day I do not want to live anymore.

This has been a fascinating discussion by the way.

Cultural evolution, memes, sexual selection, Marxism…

This one has some good shit!

 
 
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18 August 2009 22:24
 
eudemonia - 18 August 2009 07:55 PM

‘There is a great freedom in realizing that what drives the market does not have to drive our interests and pursuits:  We don’t need to sell our interests.  We can pursue them for their own sake and the enjoyment that that pursuit brings to us.’

Boy I sure hope so. The day that our interests must be market driven or must be ‘sold’ is the day I do not want to live anymore.

This has been a fascinating discussion by the way.

Cultural evolution, memes, sexual selection, Marxism…

This one has some good shit!

Yes, a very interesting thread and this is a nice statement.  In Adam Smith’s time there was little understanding of how the market actually worked other than realizing that it existed.  So as with all things that seem huge and mysterious and powerful, some people worshiped it and others sought to demonize it and replace it with a top down central control.  As we begin developing some real understanding of how the “market” works, what its dynamics are, and so on, perhaps we can detach from thinking of it as some unseen power and look to ways of effectively using it as an instrument of human betterment.  I think it’s wrong in saying that biology and evolutionary theory have nothing to contribute here, but it is correct (and important) to point to the way that these tools of thought can be misused when they are constricted within some narrow ideological belief system and used, knowingly or not, to support that system rather than discover what’s actually the case.  Of course, doing this means viewing the market in the larger context of human society, including human biology and psychology.

[ Edited: 18 August 2009 22:26 by burt]
 
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19 August 2009 05:46
 

Shermers latest book, ‘The Mind Of The Market’ may address some of these issues. I, as of yet have not read it, but have read much about it. The connection of evolutionary biology/psychology and economics.

I’ll have to get to that one some day.

 
 
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19 August 2009 10:37
 
burt - 19 August 2009 02:24 AM

I think it’s wrong in saying that biology and evolutionary theory have nothing to contribute here, but it is correct (and important) to point to the way that these tools of thought can be misused when they are constricted within some narrow ideological belief system and used, knowingly or not, to support that system rather than discover what’s actually the case.  Of course, doing this means viewing the market in the larger context of human society, including human biology and psychology.

I like the way that you put this, Burt.  I thought about somtehing along this line in relation to Teuchter’s helpful objections to the Durkheim/Wilson approach. In order to make sense of anything, we need symbols that represent what it is that we are trying to understand.  We can overcome some of the awe of the market by reducing it to symbols that represent variables, in much the same way that symbolic logic is used to reduce complex arguments to equations.  Once we have symbols agreed upon, we can develop a language that helps us communicate with one another, etc..  This is what Wilson is doing.  I find it helpful.

I was thinking about an illustration of someone who may wish to pursue an interest in Wildflowers.  Immediately the symbol flower is being amended to wildflower.  This might be further subdivided into Prairie Wildflowers and, then, into the Tall Grass Prairie.  This provides a symbolic system which brings together all people who like to grow perrenials in their gardens such as Liatris, Black-Eyed Susans, Purple Coneflowers, Gaillardias, Goldenrods, etc. which derive their origin from the Tall Grass Prarie as a result of European flower collecting, etc., etc..

My wife enjoys taking pictures of tiny little wildflowers and finding out what they are called and what their unique characteristics are, etc..  As a result, I notice these flowers on my way to work.  For example, the Manitoba Crocus grows along the ditches.  The enjoyment of the flowers is enhanced when their is a language that can facilate discussion.

Economics is a huge part of our lives.  We spend about half of our life making a living.  It is helpful to understand what it is that we are trying to accomplish and how this may be rooted in things like our cerebral cortex and what has been called the cortical lottery by psychologist Jonathan Haidt. What I enjoy, especially, about the studies of Haidt and others is that they incorporate ancient thinking into modern psychological studies in order to point people toward happier lives.  One of the findings of Haidt is that making more money does not increase happiness.  By investing in what does make us happier, we can decrease the pressure on the market.

But in order to reach the goal of a more healthy market we do need to understand ourselves and what it is that we need in terms of physical and emotional demands built into our systems.

 
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19 August 2009 10:38
 
eudemonia - 18 August 2009 07:55 PM

‘There is a great freedom in realizing that what drives the market does not have to drive our interests and pursuits:  We don’t need to sell our interests.  We can pursue them for their own sake and the enjoyment that that pursuit brings to us.’

Boy I sure hope so. The day that our interests must be market driven or must be ‘sold’ is the day I do not want to live anymore.

This has been a fascinating discussion by the way.

Cultural evolution, memes, sexual selection, Marxism…

This one has some good shit!

Hey, thanks for this!

 
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19 August 2009 12:01
 
teuchter - 19 August 2009 12:06 PM

Now before everyone insists that “round earthism” is a “scientific fact” and not a “unit of cultural information,”  you should know that Teuchter is no scientist,  and to this day has no idea how you would prove the earth is a globe.

Aristarchus

Don’t foist off on other people your problems thinking in three dimensions.

The “meme” is an analogy with a “gene”. The gene serves to build phenotypes that aid in the propagation of the gene. The meme serves to build behavior that propagates the meme, in an argument by analogy. There is no reason to suggest that memes have anything to do with biology, other than by the susceptibility of a particular neurology to memes in general, and not any one in particular. Very particular.

[ Edited: 19 August 2009 12:11 by Traces Elk]
 
 
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19 August 2009 14:55
 
teuchter - 19 August 2009 12:06 PM

If I understand you correctly, we can establish a point of agreement.  I am fully confident that emotions, philosophy and culture are not only relevant, but central to any understanding of the condition of man.  Perhaps we can avoid the question of “phenomenon,” since I don’t want to have to brush up on Heidegger.

Yes, we do have a point of agreement.  You have been emphasizing the abstract quality of culture while I am emphasizing the source of culture in the biological drives.  Even if we don’t agree on that aspect, we do agree that emotions, philosophy and culture are important for understanding what makes us tick, why we fight, etc..  If we agree at your end of the continuum and call these abstractions, we may still be able to agree that we have a ‘field of study’ which is what I mean when I use the word phenomenon

An important influence on Heidegger’s thought, Edmund Husserl, attempted to bring the abstract into the field of science through the analogy of the concept of number.  Husserl wanted to separate the cardinal number from the abstraction that it represents.  He argued that number has an existence apart from what is being numbered.  As I understand him, this means that number is an abstract symbol that is given a reality and can be used to solve problems that are not abstract.  If this is true of number, it can also be true of philosophy, emotions, culture, etc..

I used the analogy of the field of study of wildflowers in an earlier post today.  The categories that we give to the flowers, even the name flower itself, is an abstraction separate from the flower itself.  But it helps us to talk about them and, above all, to enjoy them.

Similarly, if we can develop abstract symbols that help us to understand the condition of man, we can put our heads together and make some progress in overcoming some of the patterns that result in unpleasant emotions.  The abstract concept happiness or eudaimonia (Greek) is the general category where ancient thought has been applied in order to translate older concepts into a language that can be understood in our own culture.  I referred to Jonathon Haidt as a current example.

teuchter - 19 August 2009 12:06 PM

However, I also fully accept the notion that god is real, and the resurrection is real, TO THE EXTENT THAT they are identified as phenomenological objects residing in the consciousness of various humans.

 

The words point to something that is happening in human consciousness.  A great mistake that is made by the religious community when it identifies salvation with belief in the resurrection.  Daniel Dennett has a helpful discussion about first, second and third order beliefs in Breaking the Spell that I agree with to a great extent.  It doesn’t help the human condition to believe that Jesus was raised from the dead, if there is no corresponding resurrection experience in the believer.  Conversely, an individual may reject the resurrection and, yet, experience the concept through Buddhist meditation, for example.

If we think about the origin of law, for example, as the means to harmony in society and add to this the failure of individuals to keep the law as the reason for the disruption of harmony in society, then we can understand that the biggest obstacle set before us is the inability to do what it takes to foster harmony in our relationships.  This is tied to improper ideas as to what it takes for us to be happy.  For example, we may agree that fidelity in marriage is a good thing and will produce healthy, happy offspring.  But the statistics for divorce as a function of infidelity indicate that many people think that happiness comes from having sex with someone even if they are in a committed relationship.  The problem is that people do not understand the value of delayed gratification and that sex is often used as a flight from suffering which is the essence of neurosis.

Both the concept of resurrection and the Buddhist notion of nirvana apply to detachment from the feelings of suffering or the neuro-transmitters that are not being released because of a perception in the human being.  Buddha and, I would argue, the early Christians found a way to release neuro-transmitters through their belief in the resurrection.

teuchter - 19 August 2009 12:06 PM

So perhaps we can identify what appears to be a mutual view of culture as an important aspect to understanding what it means to be a human.

John Brand - 17 August 2009 06:52 PM

The genes are the biological source from which adaptive behavior emerges.  My quotation from Dennett above echoes Wilson when Wilson equates ‘the fitness of individuals’ with ‘their propensity to survive and reproduce in their environment.’  It is the group that enhances this fitness.  Thus, the group is a function of the biology of the individuals that make up the group.

I agree with this statement, taking it literally.  The most important part of the statement, in my mind, is, “Thus, the group is a function of the biology of the individuals that make up the group.”

The group, however, has no independent biology.  We may use metaphors, and talk about the “head” of an organization, or wonder whither the “body politic?”  These metaphors do not transform a human institution into a biological organism with its own independent imperatives.

Yes. I agree with what you are emphasizing.  I said earlier in this post that I think you are emphasizing the abstract quality of emotions, culture, etc. while I am emphasizing the origin of these in our biological makeup. 

teuchter - 19 August 2009 12:06 PM

For that reason, I find the “meme” theory wholly unconvincing and unsatisfactory.  I understand that a good number of really smart people who I respect find it useful, but I simply don’t.  If the meme theory was useful, then we would have to say ““Thus, the group is a function of the biology of the […] group.”

John Brand - 17 August 2009 06:52 PM

Dennett and Dawkins are arguing that the meme is a ‘unit of cultural information’ that aids in the survival of the human species particularly as that is enhanced through participation in a group.

Maybe I have misunderstood the “meme” arguments.  After all, I doubt there is a settled definition of ‘meme.”  If it just means “a ‘unit of cultural information’ that aids in the survival of the human species particularly as that is enhanced through participation in a group,” then I don’t see how it helps us understand culture, how it is generated, or how it affects human behavior.  In the first instance, it assumes that this “unit of cultural information” is helpful, whereas of course random mutations in dna are very far from being automatically helpful.  Secondly, the desire to discuss culture as if it was an independent organism, seeking to propagate itself, strips away the material conditions which in fact generate culture, and lead us on a wild goose chase.

To try to put it a different way, it seems reasonable to assume that humans, with our pathetically clawless paws and vulnerable abdomen, lumbering about the forests and plains, would find an adaptive advantage in the capacity to cooperate.  It does not seem reasonable to assume that those forms of cooperation would then seek to propagate themselves.

I see what you are saying.  Dennett emphasizes the plasticity of human consciousness.  It is like a putty that can be manipulated to a certain extent.  You and I probably are on the same wavelength here.  I do find Dennett’s emphasis on the Lancet Fluke (i.e. the meme) as the problem.  You do not like his giving the meme a life of its own.  In either case, it is the human being that has the biological drives that are directing his behavior (rather than the meme or the Lancet Fluke).  Your next illustration is helpful:

teuchter - 19 August 2009 12:06 PM

Here’s an experiment which, unless this discussion degenerates into a flame war, should probably be kept to the level of a thought experiment.  Suppose we could isolate every organism that was host to the H1N1 virus, take them to a remote location, kill them and bury them in a deep pit.  Voila!  No more H1N1 virus.

Now imagine that we could isolate every human being that was host to the “unit of cultural information” that the earth is more or less a sphere, rather than a circle or rectangle.  We haul all them out to a remote location, kill them and bury them in a deep pit.  No more round earthers?  On the contrary, it would just be a matter of time before that “unit of cultural information” reemerged.

Now before everyone insists that “round earthism” is a “scientific fact” and not a “unit of cultural information,”  you should know that Teuchter is no scientist,  and to this day has no idea how you would prove the earth is a globe.  He obtained this idea as a very small child from adults showing him a globe, and saying, “This is what the earth looks like.”  (He was surprised when those guys sent back pictures from the moon landing, and every country wasn’t a distinct and solid color;  this makes him suspicious that the moon landing was staged.)  For most people who view the world as a globe, it is a matter of the transmission of culture than of purely scientific fact.

I get your point and it is well made!  Much of our thinking comes into our minds in the manner you describe as adults showing us [objects, feelings, etc.] and telling us what they are and how they can be satisfied.  However, the biological drives stay the same.

For example, satisfaction of the biological hunger drive may be poorly taught by an adult. I think of an example from Nanny 911 about a family that was climbing the walls. The Nanny that was called on directed attention to the over use of milk as a hunger satisfier.  When the parents limited the milk that they gave to their kids and gave them the right food, the kids calmed down considerably.

Much of the human condition can be traced back to culture as improper teaching about how needs should be met. I think that we are in basic agreement here.

 
John Brand
 
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20 August 2009 14:27
 
Traces Elk - 19 August 2009 04:01 PM

There is no reason to suggest that memes have anything to do with biology, other than by the susceptibility of a particular neurology to memes in general, and not any one in particular. Very particular.

Your statement obviates the assumption of Dawkins and Dennett that it is the biological driven intentional system that the meme uses to perpetuate itself.  The biological drives have the authority rather than the intentional system.  The direction they are working from is something like the rat that pushes the bar in order to get the food.  This is stimulus-response. The rat’s hunger (biological drive) has been rewarded with food for pushing the bar (the meme) and will continue to push the bar thinking that the reward will be forthcoming (biological driven rat under the authority of the meme).  There is a direct transfer being made from the observation of the rat (or, in Dennett’s case, the ant) to a cognitive understanding of human beings.

I would argue that biological drives can be understood through the meme but that these drives exercise constraint in the stimulus-response model with a delay in gratification (i.e. thinking) coming between stimulus and response.  A human being differs from an ant (or a rat) in that he can think about what he is doing and derive better ways in which to reach the goals of his biological drives.

The worldview of the original Parable of the Sower places the emphasis on the thinking human being rather than on the meme. In particular, it makes a difference between a human being who functions toward the end of a continuum represented by the rat (or ant) and the the human being who functions toward the end of the continuum represented by a fully conscious intentional system.  The variable that determines which end of the continuum at which a human being will find himself has to do with delayed gratification of the biological drives.

Plato used the analogy of a block of wax for the human mind. Hardened wax cannot receive impressions from a die nor can liquid wax but the golden mean of a wax at the right temperature, can receive the impression.  He illustrates the impenetrable nature of the mind that is a slave to the biological drives. The unconscious individual (the ant or rat) is like the hardened wax.  The conscious individual has learned to delay gratification of the biological drives so that he can determine how they might be satisfied in order to get him to where he wants to go rather than allowing the drives to determine his destination for him. 

The meme is a way of satisfying the drives transmitted to individuals through inculturation.  However, we are in full control of the our own intentionality.  We can recognize where an idea is going to take us (whereas the ant and the rat cannot) and we can set our own course.

[ Edited: 20 August 2009 15:01 by John Brand]
 
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20 August 2009 16:55
 
John Brand - 20 August 2009 06:27 PM
Traces Elk - 19 August 2009 04:01 PM

There is no reason to suggest that memes have anything to do with biology, other than by the susceptibility of a particular neurology to memes in general, and not any one in particular. Very particular.

Your statement obviates the assumption of Dawkins and Dennett that it is the biological driven intentional system that the meme uses to perpetuate itself.  The biological drives have the authority rather than the intentional system.  The direction they are working from is something like the rat that pushes the bar in order to get the food.  This is stimulus-response. The rat’s hunger (biological drive) has been rewarded with food for pushing the bar (the meme) and will continue to push the bar thinking that the reward will be forthcoming (biological driven rat under the authority of the meme).  There is a direct transfer being made from the observation of the rat (or, in Dennett’s case, the ant) to a cognitive understanding of human beings.

There is another factor here, too.  Human beings can get reinforcement for acting automatically in accord with a “meme” (although I have trouble with that general term, I’d prefer to say a particular belief, prejudice, or etc.) through things like being able to feel smug and self satisfied, righteous indignation, moral superiority, smart, correct, and so on.  In fact, some people will manipulate situations so that they are able to employ certain memes thereby gaining the associated emotional/cognitive reward. 

Question: why do the more rabid right wing types seem to be somewhat overweight with necks constrained by tight collars?  Is that an unconsciously present meme that they aspire to emulate, or is it a result of their ideology?  grin

 
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21 August 2009 10:47
 
burt - 20 August 2009 08:55 PM

There is another factor here, too.  Human beings can get reinforcement for acting automatically in accord with a “meme” (although I have trouble with that general term, I’d prefer to say a particular belief, prejudice, or etc.)

The thing being pointed to by the word must always be borne in mind.  You quoted the wise caterpillar earlier:  “It’s a matter of who is in charge, you or the words.”  The words belief, prejudice (literally:  “to judge beforehand”) are good replacements.  I was thinking of paradigm, theory, etc. in terms of a pattern that is used to bring together things that appear to be the same.

Human beings are always looking for patterns to help them make sense of their world.  In an earlier thread, Bruce Burleson drew our attention to an article from Newsweek by Sharon Begley entitled The Ghosts We Think We See which discusses the studies of cognitive psychologists concerning our habit of creating patterns: “cognitive scientists now realize, belief in the supernatural arises from the same mental processes that underlie everyday reasoning and perception.

Chief among those normal processes is our neurons’ habit of filling in the blanks. The brain takes messy, incomplete input and turns it into a meaningful, complete picture.”

Problems arise when we overlook anamolies in favor of the pattern which is retained because of the feedback that we receive from using the pattern.  You have provided some excellent examples:

burt - 20 August 2009 08:55 PM

... through things like being able to feel smug and self satisfied, righteous indignation, moral superiority, smart, correct, and so on.  In fact, some people will manipulate situations so that they are able to employ certain memes thereby gaining the associated emotional/cognitive reward.

Since our topic is the religious meme or pattern, we can use this example.  Religion is an aspect of culture which is a means of binding a group of people together.  For example, it is conceivable that our earliest ancestors asked questions about what happens after someone dies.  The answers to the question involved questions about justice in the afterlife, etc..  All of these questions are answered by particularly forward thinking individuals in the society but they are answered for the particular group. 

When group meets group, the feelings of smugness and righteous indignation at the different patterns experienced comes into play.  For instance, one group might eat their dead (as in the case of the Callatians reported in the History of Herotodus) while another group may burn their dead. Still another group may think that since fire is a god, burning the dead would be to give the corpse to the god and deem this a scriledge as in the case of the Persians (see Herotodus, Book III).  One can imagine the conflicts!  But the problem is that differing meaningful patterns developed when the groups were not in contact with one another.  The only way out of the mess is for the groups to think about the interest of the larger group which will involve abandoning identification with the old group. 

I am reminded of the Madymaka and your citation of Dante’s Paradisio

As my sight by seeing learned to see
the transformations which in me took place
transformed the single changeless form for me. 

The pattern is the obstacle. I think the Madymaka said ‘the path is the obstacle’(?)  It must be abandoned and a new pattern sought to explain the thing

burt - 20 August 2009 08:55 PM

Question: why do the more rabid right wing types seem to be somewhat overweight with necks constrained by tight collars?  Is that an unconsciously present meme that they aspire to emulate, or is it a result of their ideology?  grin

LOL That does remind me of Thorstein Veblen’s Theory of the Leisure Class.  He pointed out that certain habits of clothing, shoes, etc. were designed to demonstrate that the person wearing them was able to enjoy some of the leisure that only those who inherited wealth enjoy.  For example, the high heel shoe (how could a person do any work in in shoes like this).  The fact that they are uncomfortable only enhances the esteem!

 
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21 August 2009 10:58
 
eudemonia - 18 August 2009 07:55 PM

‘There is a great freedom in realizing that what drives the market does not have to drive our interests and pursuits:  We don’t need to sell our interests.  We can pursue them for their own sake and the enjoyment that that pursuit brings to us.’

Boy I sure hope so. The day that our interests must be market driven or must be ‘sold’ is the day I do not want to live anymore.

Have you ever heard of the book The Peter Principle by Laurence J. Peter?  I was reminded of his principle as a result of your comment.  He noted how upward mobility often will tend to work against the enjoyment that individuals get out of their work.  His principle is that in a hierarchy individuals tend to rise to their lowest level of incompetence and then stay at that level for the rest of their career.  At each level below this, they are competent or able to perform the job required.  Because they are competent, they are promoted and they get more money.  Eventually, they rise to a level where they can no longer do the job properly.  For example, a good mechanic is promoted to a job as an administrator.

The Peter Prescription involves stepping back down one level in the hierarchy but this is often not done because it goes against what is ingrained into us through cultural memes.  And when we go against culture, we experience sanctions such as being snubbed by those higher up in the hierarchy. 

Thus, we are free to enjoy what we do apart from economic constraints but taking the freedom involves go against what we also enjoy:  Esteem, prestige, etc..

 
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