The Selfish Meme: A Critical Reassessment

The Selfish Meme: A Critical Reassessment - Kate Distin Memes are fascinating. I am not sure we are yet at the point of having a coherent theory about the idea, and I find the philosophical speculation in this book in particular to be quite hard work. Distin proposes an alternative to Dennett & Blackmores idea that 'we' (as in our conciousness) is a collection of meme complexes in favour of memes being separate to our innate ability to process memes and capacity of thought independent of the meme-complex - with the meme and the brain being different components in the replication of memes (like genes use the cell machinery to duplicate themselves). I think that is what she is saying anyway, just in a very long winded way. I suspect there is a certain bias on the part of Distin here to prove (if only to herself) that the 'innate' in a human is something special to humans alone - a 'soul' if you like, rather than the very atheistic Blackmore & Dennett view that meme reproduction is purely mechanical and the self illusionary.

There is an interesting discussion about the different types of representational systems, with language being the one that we are hard-wired to assimilate from birth and others (mathematics, music, etc) being dependant on the prior knowledge of the language which explains the alternative representative system. I am not sure I agree - I think maybe that we are hard-wired perhaps to assimilate some form of representational system, it just so happens that the most successful one at the moment is language (and thus is to one we use to describe other representational systems). I guess the point is you require some sort of representational system to describe other systems, concepts, ideas, and memes, and the human brain and its ability to process, question and 'decide' is why we are so good at replicating memes.

The idea that memes are hierarchically constructed, the same way you would build electronic (or any artificial) systems from smaller blocks and that this means the blocks most be mutually compatible also interesting, and probably explains why we design things in that way (e.g. because that is how we build up representations).

Suffice to say it memes are cutting edge on the understanding of who 'we' are and I think maybe this is on the cusp of a bigger more generalised 'natural' system that could describe all sorts of evolutionary processes, in a similar way that Complex Systems theory explains everything from road congestion and internet traffic to self organisation. I disagree with Distin about the whole 'humans are special' slant, but found her exploration of the mechanics of it to added to my understanding.

It'll be interesting to keep tabs of the field over the next few years.