Thursday, April 09, 2009

Sue Blackmore in Bath - Memetics & Universal Darwinism

source: my notes from Susan Blackmore's lecture "Darwin’s Memes—Evolution in the Cosmos" at Bath BRLSI

On Tuesday night 7 April 2009 I attended, along with 100+, a lecture by Professor Susan Blackmore (Distinguished BHA Supporter) at Bath Literary & Scientific Institution as part of the Darwin 200 celebrations. This lecture was included in the HASSNERS meetups.

Charles Darwin had the best idea anybody has ever had - Evolution by Natural Selection.

Sue Blackmore explained the concept of Universal Darwinism by using the example of a chocolate bar. If humans and parrots were asked to choose between mass produced chocolate the minute variations in production would be favoured say 10%. If new production was only from this favoured 10% then more popular chocolate would evolve over time.

As Daniel Dennett explained in 1995 in 'Darwins Dangerous Idea', this process requires Variation, Selection and Heredity which was described as Universal Darwinism or an Evolutionary Algorithm. Out of the processes of Variation, Selection and Heredity you MUST (repeat MUST) get Evolution. Evolution is Design out of Chaos Without the Aid of Mind.

The term meme was coined by Richard Dawkins in The Selfish Gene in 1976. Originally conceived as the term mimema (Greek word mimema for "something imitated") it was shortened to meme by Dawkins. A meme is something that is imiatated or something that is replicated. A meme is replicated with variation and selection. Memes are selfish replicators - they get copied, whenever possible, without caring. Memes can succeed whether or not they are good or true. Memes use tricks to succeed and replicate. The tricks include altruism, pyramid selling (a meme virus). Memes succeed if they are copied.

Other examples of memes are toilet rolls in hotels folded with ends folded into triangles.

Memes can use up the earths resources. At TED a 3 minute talk was given by someone when Sue Blackmore gave her TED talk in 2008. Apparently sending a 1MB email uses up the same energy as a lump of coal the size of your fist.

Religious memes take up time and resources - eg Hindus bathing in Calcutta River Hooghly get ill from the floating exrement. Religion comprises as set of memes or memplexes eg singing, incense, beautiful churches etc. Religious memeplexes use threats (believe or burn in hell) and promises (believe and you will be saved). The exception to this is Buddhism. Sue Blackmore asked any muslim in the room to avert their eyes from the screen: Danish cartoon - muslims going to heaven - God says you can't come in - stop - we ran out of virgins!

2005 study by Gregory S. Paul looking at 18 democracies found that the more atheist societies tended to have relatively low murder and suicide rates and relatively low incidence of abortion and teen pregnancy.

Humans can imitate (no other animal can do so, so well). Dogs, Cetaceans (whales, dolphins, and porpoises.) can imitate but not as adept as humans who can eg copy lighting a fire or copy face painting or sticking a feather in your hair (and other useless copying).

Sue Blackmore introduced the term "Memetic drive" (only 300x in Google).

'Universal Acid' was a term coined by Daniel Dennett in his book "Darwins Dangerous Idea".

Sue advised us to go back to original sources to understand any concept better eg read The Selfish Gene to understand why meme was first described by Dawkins as another replicator cf. gene.

Language / Religion / Culture / Music is a selfish meme - it started out as a parasite / symbiosis / leads to a Big Brain.

After the gene, meme a 3rd Replicator is the Teme (can we think of a better term?) ie technological inventions of man eg writing, printing, transport, cars, roads (like veins in a human body), Google, World Wide Web. Are Personal Computers subordinate or sybiotic or parasitic? Memes can be dangerous and so too are Temes which can use up resources (Sue Blackmore has given up taking many long plane journeys each year and is worried by news today of ice bridges breaking up in the Artic).

She would like to have a conversation with William James and Charles Darwin.

Genes were originally dangerous - organisms gave out Oxygen which was poisonous to early anerobes. Memes, the 2nd replicator, give us big brains (as any women in childbirth will testify) which uses 20% of our energy utilised for an organ which is 2% of our body weight.

Temes are symbiotic (typing & texting at 4 years old) and suck resources out of the planet. Facebook / Second Life are temes. You don't need concepts of a mind or a soul or spirit - it is just an output of your brain. Temes are technologies that use tricks to get attention. Are temes just memes?

Susan Blackmore at TED, 2008.

Books by Susan Blackmore at Recommended by crabsallover

Sue Blackmore discussion with Joan Bakewell on 'Belief' (BBC Radio 3)

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