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sudopod Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Apr-04-11 12:21 PM
Original message
Religions as memes.
Edited on Mon Apr-04-11 12:28 PM by sudopod
The idea of memetics as an explanation for the...tenacity of modern religions appeals to me. WTF is a meme, you ask? Richard Dawkins popularized the concept of memes as a sort of cultural analog to genes, a meme originally being defined as a fundamental unit of cultural information*. The scope of the meme has grown since to be roughly analogous to any idea that can be well-defined and transmitted from one person to another. A successful meme (in this case, a religion) does one or more of the following:

1) It spurs its adherents to spread itself continually
2) It demands a high degree of accuracy in this replication, that is, orthodoxy.
3) It commandeers several powerful biological drivers of behavior, including the deep-seated need to belong to a larger group, survival instinct, and sexual drives.
4) It commands its adherents to attack and remove roadblocks to further transmission, including unbelievers and heretics.

It only makes sense that the longer human civilization and mass communication exist, the more powerful such ideas will become due to selection pressure, which is ironic considering many of those religions are hostile to the idea (lolz). This list is not maximally inclusive, there are other, lesser drivers of behavior that they can take advantage of as well. Less dangerous memes include rickroll and lolcats, which spread because they are amusing rather than all-consuming, and the science of physics, which spreads because it reflects the state of the material world and provides useful tools.

Look at the top ten religions in the world. Most of them carry grave consequences for unbelievers, including some form of severe punishment for unbelief in the afterlife. The remainder are closely tied to national or local identities, which seem to be a weaker sort of meme. Once your nation is kaput, the national religion tends to go, too, if it doesn't have a strong evangelistic element. There aren't so many Azadis and Zoroastrians around anymore. Likewise, The UU and Episcopal churches, which seem immanently reasonable compared to their fundamentalist brethren, are having a hard time with recruitment and retention, possibly for those very reasons. Being reasonable seems to hurt the "fitness" of a religion in some way.

Even here, among like-minded souls with regards to virtually anything else, you can come under severe attack for questioning the beliefs of another, even gently. Again, in the view of memetics, unbelievers should be willing to have patience, since these strong emotional responses are a sort of self-defense mechanism. A meme that could be overwritten by a quiet conversation among strangers wouldn't last very long in the volatile churn of human imagination. When people say "Dude, why can't we just believe X and get along." well, that's why.

In this view, fundamentalists aren't just obnoxious busybodies actively choosing to ruin your day, they are the unwitting victims of a bad idea made potent by millennia of evolutionary success. Brushing it off is probably easier for me, though, since I grew up with them, am a white man, and can pass as "normal."

Does this seem reasonable to you all?

*(the exact definition is of "meme" is a point of debate since there is no clear way to define a cultural information analogue to the gene as a fundamental unit of genetic information. This is the primary reason that mimetics has never developed into more than a protoscience. However, the notion that ideas can be shaped by selection pressures as they are transmitted through a society can stand on its own, IMO.)
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napoleon_in_rags Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Apr-04-11 12:38 PM
Response to Original message
1. This is the inconvenient truth for Richard Dawkins.
Edited on Mon Apr-04-11 12:39 PM by napoleon_in_rags
He brings up the very idea in Chapter 11 of The Selfish Gene. However that's where it gets strange. He explains how genetic evolution comes up with things like eyes, which clearly help the individual organisms (though the focus in on the genes themselves, not the individuals thus altruism etc) but as soon as religion is viewed as a meme, its bad. To me this is like condemning the gene for having eyes... Because that gene helps organisms survive, it gets passed on. It wouldn't be here if it didn't help organisms. That's simply how natural selection works: The genes that get selected help organisms survive to reproduce. Also, the memes that get selected help civilizations survive.

So like it or not, religions help civilizations survive.
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Jim__ Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Apr-04-11 12:43 PM
Response to Reply #1
2. I agree with what you say. Dawkins, of course, denies this.
Edited on Mon Apr-04-11 12:44 PM by Jim__
Dawkins claims that religion is just a rider on another trait that aids in survival. But he has no evidence to support this claim.
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sudopod Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Apr-04-11 12:46 PM
Response to Reply #1
3. The thing is that memes aren't selected based on whether or not
they help us, but whether or not they help themselves, just like genes. That's why the book is titled "The Selfish Gene." It isn't because there's a gene that makes us selfish, it's named that because genes evolve in such a way as to enhance their own survival, not their host organism.

Take an example from genetics: sexual selection pressured male peacocks into having colorful and have huge tail feathers. These help it reproduce, thereby ensuring the survival of the ostentatious tail genes. However, they aren't necessarily a boon for the individual, because they make it much harder for the peacock to fly and evade predators. Likewise, believing that being faithful unto death while being fed to lions is bad for the individual holding that belief, but it is good for the meme, because it encourages further spread and replication.
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napoleon_in_rags Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Apr-04-11 01:11 PM
Response to Reply #3
7. But you can't ignore the obvious correlation between individual and gene.
Genes are good for individuals, at least in youth up until the age of mating...Because if they were not good for individuals, they would die and not pass on genes. You can make comments about the gene and individual correlation, but there is a 100% undeniable correlation between the gene and the well being of the total population of individuals with the gene.

Same thing with memes. So you make arguments about religion not being good for the individual, and you can point to celibate monks and whatnot who live as hermits, but when it comes the total population who believe in the meme, there is no denying that the meme benefits them or it wouldn't exist. And looking at it, its obvious why: You have the moral codes and commandments to be generous and help your neighbor and whatnot, things beneficial to the group as a whole.
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sudopod Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Apr-04-11 01:25 PM
Response to Reply #7
11. I don't know about that.
It certainly didn't help the Easter Islanders! There are always evolutionary dead ends.

I guess the deeper point I was making, which I should have stated straight out, is that if all the world's major religions evolved, for good or evil, that would seem to indicate that each religion that does not acknowledge this in its dogma is probably not a candidate for the Ultimate Truth.
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napoleon_in_rags Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Apr-04-11 01:43 PM
Response to Reply #11
15. Ah, but there is the deepest most interesting part, sudopod!!!!
"each religion that does not acknowledge this in its dogma is probably not a candidate for the Ultimate Truth"

That's the thing, what if the truth is NOT the thing that lets you survive? What if instead its all about an optimal illusion? That's the question all this makes me ask and that's why its so interesting.

You can think of it in terms of a game played by many robots. The robots have an internal representation of the game board in memory, but they don't have enough memory to represent the whole board, only a part of it. That little part of the board they have can be accurate and true, or it can be an artificial construct based partially on truth. Now you bring in memetics: Robots doing best at the game pass on their views of the game, and even if they are illusions, they are illusions which lead so some behavior, some collective algorithm vastly beyond the robots understanding they partake in that lets them win...pure genetic programming leads a religion amonst robots that results in victory.

So once you can see that, its a small jump to humans. Ultimate truth is that which we can't understand, our brains are too small. So instead its those who believe in optimal illusions who succeed.

Don't believe me? Read this:
http://paul.kedrosky.com/archives/2007/04/24/if_youre_s...
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sudopod Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Apr-04-11 01:50 PM
Response to Reply #15
16. I think your link went awry, it goes to a discussion of income vs. intelligence
Edited on Mon Apr-04-11 01:53 PM by sudopod
I think what you say could be possible, but in that case the Ultimate Truth lies outside of organized religion entirely, doesn't it? I should have titled the thread "Organized Religion as Memes" because these sorts of conversations always draw in those folk who have a religion of one and to whom the wider points generally do not apply. ;)

On a purely personal level, though, I never did like the idea that "everything has a purpose but we can't understand it." It seems to cheapen the experience, struggle, and triumph of life while being impossible to prove or disprove in a "Russel's Teapot" sort of way.
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napoleon_in_rags Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Apr-04-11 02:12 PM
Response to Reply #16
18. Yes, the truth lies outside organized religion, and all other human endeavor.
Edited on Mon Apr-04-11 02:13 PM by napoleon_in_rags
Nobody can get it, so all we have is illusions and approximations and some of those illusions are better for success, e.g. religion.

n a purely personal level, though, I never did like the idea that "everything has a purpose but we can't understand it." It seems to cheapen the experience, struggle, and triumph of life while being impossible to prove or disprove in a "Russel's Teapot" sort of way.

Don't get me wrong, I hate that idea too...But that doesn't keep me from acknowledging that it might be true, and it might be those farthest from having the truth who are the most successful in evolution. I gave you the right link, my point is if the people with high IQ's have the best idea of what's going on, why is there no correlation between IQ and income? I'm sure I could correlate income and survival tightly.

I have to go out now. Thanks for the conversation and great OP!
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sudopod Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Apr-04-11 02:17 PM
Response to Reply #18
19. Fair enough! and Likewise! :) nt
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darkstar3 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Apr-04-11 03:26 PM
Response to Reply #7
26. Tell that to sufferers of sickle-cell anemia.
Single genes are neither good nor bad for the individual. Mutations that do not lead to death are spread downward through the population tree. This is why we consistently see increases in genetic diseases like SCA, Diabetes, myopia, and various later-onset problems like heart disease and prostate problems. The gene responsible for each of these issues replicates itself ONLY because it doesn't cause death.

Now apply that to the concept of a meme, and you see how easily it fits. What's even more interesting about the comparison between the genetic source of sickle-cell anemia and the idea of a meme is this: Sickle-cell anemia is a BAD side effect that actually grows out of a genetic mild immunity to malaria. Similarly, a meme can be a bad side effect that grows out of an unrelated societally beneficial behavior, like respecting your elders.
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napoleon_in_rags Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Apr-05-11 11:02 PM
Response to Reply #26
46. Ah, now there's a smart post.
And I concur, you're basically right. There are successful, bad genes.

We all live our lives with the genes we have, not the genes we wish we had. Could tinkering make them better? possibly. Could tinkering with them make them worse? CERTAINLY.

Consider this fact: The last major attempt to tinker with the genes of the general population was in Nazi Germany, the eugenics program. One conclusion they reached was that Jews, a fairly successful ubiquitous people, were actually bad, intellectually inferior and needed extermination. Einstein (jew) luckily escaped in time to make a mockery of this assertion with his work, and we can all see in retrospect how dumb their thinking was, through his life and so many more. Yet to the Germans it seemed perfectly evident that eugenics needed to be done. So today, we have learned our lesson: We are hesitant to label certain genes bad and start making GMO humans because there is such a massive historical precedent for this being an ignorant idea executed by people who have no idea what is really going on. We understand the limitations of our individual awareness by not tinkering with human genes, having seen the terrible example of eugenics.

So what I'm saying is really an extension of that line of reason: Just as it was foolish to attempt to eradicate a successful and ubiquitous group of people, isn't it also foolish to attempt to exterminate a group of ideas as successful and ubiquitous as religion?
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sudopod Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Apr-05-11 11:09 PM
Response to Reply #46
47. Hmm...I don't know about that...
"We understand the limitations of our individual awareness by not tinkering with human genes, having seen the terrible example of eugenics. "

I'd be all-up-ons some gene therapy that had a good chance of turning off Alzheimer's genes.
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napoleon_in_rags Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Apr-05-11 11:34 PM
Response to Reply #47
50. But would you? Can't you see we can't predict the effects of our actions?
Edited on Tue Apr-05-11 11:35 PM by napoleon_in_rags
100 years ago, science was reveling in its success: They had designed the gasoline engine and coal power plants, and they were bringing us into a new age of wonders. 100 years later, those technologies have created global warming, and scientists are screaming warnings to deaf ears about the effects of their own technology. Its even clearer in the realm of gene modification that effects seeming to help the individual could have catastrophic effects on the collective. Your Alzheimer's could be an individual side effect of a gene that helps everybody collectively, as Dawkins said could happen in his work. Would you still want to get rid of it if you knew it was? Could you ever really know that it wasn't something that hurt you but helped the world?
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darkstar3 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Apr-05-11 11:36 PM
Response to Reply #50
51. What you're talking about is the law of unintended consequences,
and I for one refuse to be paralyzed by it.
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sudopod Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Apr-05-11 11:52 PM
Response to Reply #50
52. We can't halt all progress due to fear, can we?
Edited on Tue Apr-05-11 11:59 PM by sudopod
One should always exercise caution before great and risky undertakings, but I would also contend that science and technology have been a net good for humanity. It is certainly not fair to lay the dark side of human nature -- and it's spawn, hard-headed greedy captains of industry -- at the feet of science. A tool is not evil in itself.

And it is my genome, especially if I'm an adult, and even moreso if I'm done having children. If get a few extra years without losing my mind before the resultant supercancer gets me, I'd consider it a win!

As far as relates to "religion as meme", I can't say that I see the justice in allowing people to have their lives ruled by an idea if it can be proven false. If we materialistic atheist types are right, then our time is very limited. In fact, time is our most valuable asset. Religions by and large consume vast quantities of time and energy as well as restrict avenues of thought and experience. Gay and lesbian folks who put off living their lives for decades due to religion can never get that lost time back, nor can lost time with families be regained if a person is ostracized from their loved ones for the same. Poor people who send 10% of their meager earnings to the church lose not only their time in church, but the time they spent earning that money. People who could be getting a good nights sleep lose that time when they are filled with fear of eternal damnation, constantly worrying "Am I really saved?" Young people pressured into having families too early due to religious pressure can lose their entire young adulthoods if they are not ready for that vast responsibility.

TL;DR, I am simply not a fan of inaction based on fear, even if it is well-intentioned.
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napoleon_in_rags Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Apr-06-11 12:16 AM
Response to Reply #52
59. All I question in your statement is this:
"I can't say that I see the justice in allowing people to have their lives ruled by an idea if it can be proven false."

My deepest questions here sir, involve the value in terms of human experience in that which is "true" vs. that which is "false". As I brought up in previous posts, what if it is the false idea that creates the best life? Its a difficult question that needs to be asked.

I can give a quick example: A person living in the USSR under Stalin chooses to believe he has their best interests at heart. He speaks this idea, and is not harassed by the KGB, and does okay. Another person does a careful analysis, which reveals Stalin does not have his best interest at heart, tells some people and ends up in a Gulag.

Can you say the latter is better off than the former? I certainly cannot.

This leads us to the next question, the horrifying question that we as scientists have to ask whether we like it or not:

WHAT IF NATURE IS THE SAME WAY? What if existing in a state of delusion leads to the optimal life? If income is tied to happiness, we have already established there is no correlation between income and IQ, aka knowing what is going on.

It may be your right, certain in terms of LGBT folks it looks that way. But I am still asking you honestly, humbly: What if the truth does not set us free??? That's the monster we have to be willing to stare in the eyes.

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sudopod Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Apr-06-11 12:35 AM
Response to Reply #59
60. This is very Matrix-ish, heh.
We'll probably need to wheel in some heavy-weight philosophy to get much farther. Personally, I'd like to think that most people would prefer the red pill if given a choice. It should also be mentioned that if religion is replaced with philosophies that emphasize rationality AND compassion, it is a pretty good bet we'd see the end of most inter-cultural strife in the world. Mass social movements aiming toward a just society would be easier if everyone lost the blinders, wouldn't it?

Five dollars says some googling might turn up some sort of research on the red pill vs blue pill question. *google google google*
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napoleon_in_rags Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Apr-06-11 12:47 AM
Response to Reply #60
65. Yes, why are we ADDICTED to Truth?
Even when its bad for us????

Okay, last question. Really have to go now. Good night!!!!
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sudopod Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Apr-05-11 11:58 PM
Response to Reply #50
53. It should also be noted that similiar arguments were once put forward against self-governance.
It was argued that men had always been ruled by kings since time immemorial, and that such was ordained by Heaven, both in the East and in the West. King George III, IIRC, sincerely worried that chaos would befall the former North American colonies without the benevolent leadership of a king.
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napoleon_in_rags Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Apr-06-11 12:05 AM
Response to Reply #53
55. The difference there was that there was a positive alternative that achieved the same goals.
In Democracy. As soon as a scientific reason based movement starts advancing positive goals for a new way of thinking and being that truly satisfies the same moral and spiritual needs as religion, I'll be the first to sign up. But what you have now is rebels without a cause, rebels against the status quo that have no real blueprints to replace it. That's my complaint.
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sudopod Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Apr-06-11 12:06 AM
Response to Reply #55
56. We're working on it. ;)
Edited on Wed Apr-06-11 12:09 AM by sudopod
Just a couple of "for examples":

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Discordianism

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Subgenius

As philosophies, they are definitely covered in silly string and party hats, but beneath that is the lesson that it (hopefully) is possible to be a "good person" without metaphysical prodding.
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napoleon_in_rags Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Apr-06-11 12:42 AM
Response to Reply #56
62. Oh right on!
Sorry, I'm now at the bottom of this bottom of wine and I feel like nothing is true and EVERYTHING is permitted! Probably time to stop posting, brother.

But a few parting thoughts:

1) If truth is possibly sub-optimal to survival, why are we so addicted to it, like junkies?
2) Too few people are afraid to grab this world and shape it like putty, which every great person in history has done to some extent. Maybe party hats and silly string are what's necessary to do that.

PEace
-Me
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sudopod Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Apr-06-11 12:43 AM
Response to Reply #62
63. Have a good one! nt
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darkstar3 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Apr-06-11 12:07 AM
Response to Reply #55
57. You've never heard of secular humanism?
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napoleon_in_rags Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Apr-06-11 12:45 AM
Response to Reply #57
64. It doesn't compare to a religion at this point, it lacks fire.
Two questions:
1) Are you willing to knock on doors and make a fool of yourself for it like Jehovah's witnesses?
2) Are you willing to die for it like martyr ______? or would you rather have a few more years or your precious never-to-happen-again life?

Religious folks can answer yes to both questions, and that's a fire that's still totally unique to religion.
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darkstar3 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Apr-06-11 01:54 PM
Response to Reply #64
67. That "fire" as you define it is one of the MAJOR problems of organized religions.
1. There's no reason to go knocking on doors for an abstract belief.
2. "It's easy to find something worth dying for. Do you have anything worth living for?"
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darkstar3 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Apr-05-11 11:22 PM
Response to Reply #46
48. I think you don't understand the analogy.
Religion, or a group of ideas if you like, is not like a group of people. It's not even like a gene. In the analogy of the meme, religion is like a disease that people have a genetic predisposition for.

Go back to my post and read again about sickle-cell anemia. It is an unfortunate disease, but it comes as a side effect of a gene that gives the sufferer a resistance to malaria. We don't try to fight the disease genetically, but we still do what we can to combat and eradicate it through other medical methods. The same thing goes for other types of diseases for which people have a genetic predisposition. Heart disease, diabetes, and so on are fought everyday, and cures are sought worldwide.

A meme, or at least a negative and damaging meme, is just like one of these diseases. There are ways to combat it without resorting to whatever the social equivalent of eugenics would be, and those ways should be pursued.

BTW: The fact that you jump from an analogy that is merely an attempt to explain memetic theory to the idea of eugenics is...frightening.
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napoleon_in_rags Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Apr-06-11 12:01 AM
Response to Reply #48
54. humility.
religion is like a disease that people have a genetic predisposition for.

What I'm saying is, who are you to say religion is a disease, what makes you better than Nazis who said the Jewish people were a disease? Do "sufferers" of religion WANT to be freed? I think not. Its really time to look deeper.

Look, I'm sorry to go Godwin's law on you, and I know you are NOT a Nazi or anything like that, but this metaphor is valid. See my post just above and consider the fact that we, like the Nazis, really do not understand the long term effects of our actions. Nature is smarter than us in a lot of ways. For instance I can see that you're probably an educated and intelligent person, but guess what: educated and intelligent people aren't winning right now, there is no correlation between IQ and income as I linked to far above. You can mock the pro-life crowd all you want, but do the math on the correlation between kids politics and parents politics, how much more kids their having on average, (especially given the influx of catholic latinos) and calculate how long before the pro-life crowd becomes the democratic majority in the US. This is simple stuff, and what I'm saying is that maybe we should question some of our assumptions here.
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darkstar3 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Apr-06-11 12:14 AM
Response to Reply #54
58. The thing is, I didn't say it.
Edited on Wed Apr-06-11 12:47 AM by darkstar3
I didn't come up with the idea of memetics or the analogy of a meme to a genetically predisposed disease. I was just attempting to explain the analogy further for you.

But since you bring up the idea of "who are you to say," then who are you to say that any religion, or even all religions, are valid? You see? The sword cuts both ways. But the main problem with assuming that religion must be valid or beneficial because its basic concept is old and pervasive is fallacious. It's known as the Wisdom of the Ancients.

Finally, I think based on what I read from you and from what I read from others in similar threads that I must make this clear: There is a world of difference between the desire to have mankind leave religion behind (grow out of it, as it were), and the desire to actively stomp religion out.
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sudopod Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Apr-06-11 12:36 AM
Response to Reply #58
61. Ooooh, this too!
"There is a world of difference between the desire to have mankind leave religion behind (grow out of it, as it were), and the desire to actively stomp religion out."
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Jim__ Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Apr-04-11 01:16 PM
Response to Reply #3
10. "Universal features of a species demand a Darwinian solution." - Richard Dawkins.
Edited on Mon Apr-04-11 01:17 PM by Jim__
From page 166 of The God Delusion:

Though the details differ across the world, no known culture lacks some version of the time-consuming, wealth-consuming, hostility-provoking rituals, the anti-factual, counter-productive fantasies of religion. ... Universal features of a species demand a Darwinian solution.


Dawkins then goes on to claim that he believes that religion is a by-product of several other advantageous traits and is not itself advantageous. But, he has no evidence for this belief.
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sudopod Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Apr-04-11 01:36 PM
Response to Reply #10
13. I have my handy copy of "The God Delusion" right here.
Edited on Mon Apr-04-11 01:36 PM by sudopod
Yours must be a different edition, because in mine (First Edition - Mariner Books) on p. 166 he's talking about the "Goldilocks" phenomenon (the section is titled "The God of the Gaps") and is working up to a discussion of the Anthropic principle.

I'd also like to see what's in those ellipses, lol.

Have you ever read anything the guy has published? Everyone makes him sound like a monster, but whenever he speaks all I ever see is this little soft-spoken British man with a flare for funny ties and sweater vests.
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Jim__ Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Apr-04-11 02:32 PM
Response to Reply #13
22. Mine is the hard copy Houghton Miflin - 2006.
It's the end of the 1st section of chapter 5 - the second paragraph before The Direct Advantages of Religion section. The content between the ellipses does not change the meaning of what I've posted.

Have I ever read anything the guy has published? I've read a number of Dawkins' books. I'm not sure where I've made him sound like a monster - you sound a bit defensive.
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sudopod Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Apr-04-11 02:54 PM
Response to Reply #22
24.  He then directly discusses evidence for the next 15 pages.
Edited on Mon Apr-04-11 02:58 PM by sudopod
Hell, that's pretty much what the book's about.

And here is the quote and the following paragraph for context.

"Though the details differ across the world, no known culture lacks some version of the time-consuming, wealth-consuming, hostility-provoking rituals, the anti-factual, counter-productive fantasies of religion. Some educated individuals may have abandoned religion, but all were brought up in a religious culture from which they usually had to make a conscious decision to depart. The old Northern Ireland joke,'Yes, but are you a Protestant atheist or a Catholic atheist?', is spiked with bitter truth. Religious behaviour can be called a human universal in the same way as heterosexual behaviour can. Both generalizations allow individual exceptions, but all of those exceptions understand only too well the rule from which they have departed. Universal features of a species demand a Darwinian explanation.

Obviously, there is no difficulty in explaining the Darwinian advantage of sexual behaviour. It is about making babies, even on those occasions where contraception or homosexuality seems to belie it. But what about religious behaviour? Why do humans fast, kneel, genuflect, self-flagellate, nod maniacally towards a wall, crusade, or otherwise indulge in costly practices that can consume life and, in extreme cases, terminate it?"

You can choose not to like it, you can take issue with it, but you can't claim it doesn't exist. It's enough to make someone suspect a bit of quote mining on the interwebs, but no one here does that. ;)

Now STOP. Just for a second. Consider your emotional state right now. I imagine you are about to write a passionate response (and not because I poked fun at you). Ask yourself why this isn't just another internet discussion. We're just discussing how the universe is, no more, no less. No great thing hangs in the ballance except perceptions of who is right and who is wrong. Why should these discussions push our buttons so powerfully? Whenever I feel this way, the first question I ask myself is "Am I being manipulated?"

Use your feelings, Luke. You know it to be true.
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Jim__ Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Apr-04-11 03:38 PM
Response to Reply #24
27. Evidence? No he makes conjectures.
First, he makes a definite statement: Universal features of a species demand a Darwinian solution. Prior to that, in the first sentence of that paragraph he tells us that religious behavior is universal. So, he has made an a fortiori argument that religion demands a Darwinian solution. He does nothing to refute that argument in his subsequent discussion.

Take his arguments about moths flying into flames. Is that genetic? He seems to be arguing that it is. Of course, his claim is that the genetic component evolved because their attraction to light helped them, probably to fly in straight lines. But, an aspect of that behavior is that they are, effectively, attracted to fly into flame. It's still genetic behavior; it stilll has an over-all survival advantage, it's just that the behavior sometimes has a bad result.

Take the human child's proclivity to listen to its parents. Can that have a bad result? Of course it can. The mother can leave it for a minute and tell it to stay put. The child sees a tiger and continues to obey the mother's command. Statistically, human children are better off obeying their parents; that would make it a genetic advantage.

Dawkins offers nothing that refutes his original statement: Universal features of a species demand a Darwinian solution. Dawkins doesn't want religion to have an evolutionary advantage, and it may not. But, based on his own arguments, it probably does.
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sudopod Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Apr-04-11 04:16 PM
Response to Reply #27
28. Whether religious behavior is advantageous isn't really the point, though...
Edited on Mon Apr-04-11 04:23 PM by sudopod
If you accept that religious behavior is derived from responses to selection pressures, then you're agreeing with RD's central thesis. Religion may do lots of good, it definitely does some evil, but if it's natural and not from God(s) (and can't admit that to itself) then it is not true.
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darkstar3 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Apr-04-11 05:48 PM
Response to Reply #27
32. Read #26.
The moth example is another way to explain the same phenomenon. Detrimental behavior can be a side effect of advantageous developments, but that development and its detrimental side effect will persist if it doesn't interfere with the ability to reproduce. You have absolutely no reason to reach the conclusion that religion "probably does" have an evolutionary advantage. You also make the mistake of believing that it is universal, when it is not.

I feel like we've been over this.
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Jim__ Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Apr-05-11 06:50 PM
Response to Reply #32
41. The assertion about the universality of religion is based on Dawkins statement.
Edited on Tue Apr-05-11 07:04 PM by Jim__
Of course, he is not alone in making this claim :

Though the details differ across the world, no known culture lacks some version of the time-consuming, wealth-consuming, hostility-provoking rituals, the anti-factual, counter-productive fantasies of religion. Some educated individuals may have abandoned religion, but all were brought up in a religious culture from which they usually had to make a conscious decision to depart. The old Northern Ireland joke,'Yes, but are you a Protestant atheist or a Catholic atheist?', is spiked with bitter truth. Religious behaviour can be called a human universal in the same way as heterosexual behaviour can. Both generalizations allow individual exceptions, but all of those exceptions understand only too well the rule from which they have departed. Universal features of a species demand a Darwinian explanation.


As to your claim in post #26: Mutations that do not lead to death are spread downward through the population tree. ... The gene responsible for each of these issues replicates itself ONLY because it doesn't cause death.

That's just flat-out wrong. For instance, consider a mutation that causes infertility, but doesn't cause death - for simplicity, take the case of a dominant gene. In the more general case, any mutation that causes a reproductive disadvantage will likely be bred out of the species. With respect to reproductive disadvantage, consider Dawkins note on the high cost of religion and then ask why it is a cultural universal.



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darkstar3 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Apr-05-11 07:04 PM
Response to Reply #41
42. I was simplifying for the audience.
I am well aware of what you're saying here, but you're also wrong with your vague reference to "reproductive disadvantage." The only thing that qualifies as a "reproductive disadvantage" is something that significantly reduces the chances of procreation. Generally speaking, the most effective way to do that is death before sexual maturity. There are other ways, such as inherent sterility, but they are much rarer and less effective.

There are many genetic traits, as I said above, which are disadvantageous to the species. Many of them lead to a lower quality of life and a shorter life span. But none of them qualify as "reproductive disadvantages" because they do not actually prevent the carrier of the gene from reproducing. Comparing that genetic fact to the idea of "cost" in your argument, it seems your claim to an evolutionary advantage for religion is full of holes.

I disagree, BTW, with your pulled quote. I do not think religion is universal, nor do I think that about heterosexuality. I am unforgiving on the meaning of the word universal, and since there have ALWAYS been non-believers, and homosexuals, I don't think religion or heterosexuality qualify. I will say that they are pervasive, but that is not the same thing.
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sudopod Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Apr-04-11 02:54 PM
Response to Reply #22
25. doppelganger. nt
Edited on Mon Apr-04-11 02:54 PM by sudopod
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sudopod Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Apr-04-11 02:53 PM
Response to Reply #10
23. whoops, wrong post! nt
Edited on Mon Apr-04-11 02:55 PM by sudopod
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trotsky Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Apr-04-11 12:53 PM
Response to Reply #1
4. Same could be said about racism and other quite harmful memes.
They wouldn't be here if they didn't help organisms, right?
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sudopod Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Apr-04-11 12:58 PM
Response to Reply #4
5. No, they don't help the organisms, they help themselves.
Edited on Mon Apr-04-11 01:09 PM by sudopod
Believing in Allah and paradise strongly enough to blow one's self to pieces doesn't help suicide bombers at all.

It does help spread the fundamentalist memes, though.
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inademv Donating Member (738 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Apr-04-11 01:11 PM
Response to Reply #5
8. Example: the shakers
as a meme it sterilizes its carriers because shakers do not breed.
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sudopod Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Apr-04-11 01:57 PM
Response to Reply #8
17. Exactly!
Whenever I read your posts, I always hear the words in that sealab voice, lol.
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inademv Donating Member (738 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Apr-04-11 02:22 PM
Response to Reply #17
20. I already put my brain into an Adrian Barbeaubot
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napoleon_in_rags Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Apr-04-11 01:33 PM
Response to Reply #4
12. Descriptive scientific language and prescriptive political thinking diverse wildly..
Politics is about how the world should be, science is about how it is. For instance, Dawkins says something in his book like this:

Biology reveals that altruism is most like to occur between most similar genes. So in order of friendliness, people will favor 1) Their close families 2) people who have a lot of the same genes, such as same race/ethnicity or distant family 3) human beings over animals 4) mammals over birds & reptiles 5) birds reptiles over insects and so on.

Which is a scientific statement made from observing animals. Its totally politically incorrect, because it hints at a genetic bias towards racism which sounds like an "excuse" for it, but its not.

But the main point is that racism memes, like fascism, haven't stood the test of time. They collapse. Religions don't.
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sudopod Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Apr-04-11 01:38 PM
Response to Reply #12
14. If you're going to call him racist and a fascist, then [citation needed]
Edited on Mon Apr-04-11 01:39 PM by sudopod
And if you claim that religions never change or die, I must lol heartily. That's the stuff history is made of, my good doctor.
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trotsky Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Apr-05-11 06:10 AM
Response to Reply #12
35. Thank you for proving my point.
You've just described not only racism, but religion as a memetic concept and how they benefit the holder of the meme but not necessarily the species as a whole.

But the main point is that racism memes, like fascism, haven't stood the test of time. They collapse. Religions don't.

This is so laughable, I can't believe you actually typed it.

So there's no racism or fascism today? And by the way, where is Mithraism these days? Who's worshiping the Greek or Roman gods?

:rofl:
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napoleon_in_rags Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Apr-05-11 10:38 PM
Response to Reply #35
43. Who is observing the Roman pagan holidays?
YOU are. Every time you embrace the fertility symbols of Estore, the bunny and egg on "easter" for instance. It was a corporate merger from a along time ago, the celebration times stayed but they became Christ centered.

I saw an add for the Roman catholic church talking like a business: "we've been providing these services for over 2000 years" the same way some other business claims to have made great chocolates since 1933. NOTHING can match that. No business has "since 90 AD" on their label. No government celebrates its revolution in 76 AD instead of 1776 AD. Nothing outlasts a religion...And the idea that they die is false too. As Christianity converted members from other religions, they appropriated ideas from the other religions. Look at Santeria for a recent example, where you see the shape of African religion but focused on catholic saints.

What I'm saying is just common sense.
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sudopod Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Apr-05-11 10:52 PM
Response to Reply #43
44. I must admit that I'm not sure where your argument leads.
Edited on Tue Apr-05-11 10:54 PM by sudopod
If any religion can be classified as a meme that developed to its present state due to selection forces, and that religion's dogma denies this, then that religion can't be the capital-T Truth, can it? Longevity of an idea shouldn't be proportional to rightness, or else we should all be giving Shiva another look. :)

As an interesting aside, here is a list of some of the oldest companies in the world. There are quite a few that predate the Reformation! I lol'd that so many of them are breweries.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_oldest_companies#c...
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darkstar3 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Apr-05-11 10:57 PM
Response to Reply #43
45. That is hilarious.
If you had ever studied an inkling of World Civ., you'd know that THOUSANDS of religions have died, and you'd also know that many of them were flashes in the pan compared to the longevity of any G8 nation today.

What you are saying is just common sense..for those whose knowledge is tightly ethnocentric.
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trotsky Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Apr-06-11 06:28 AM
Response to Reply #43
66. That's a lovely answer, however it doesn't address my question.
Who is worshiping the Greek or Roman gods?

Observing holidays that have been repurposed by other religions/cultures and now have absolutely no meaningful connection to their "original" intent has NOTHING AT ALL to do with actually following the practices of a LONG-DEAD religion. Because you've based your argument on the "fact" that religions can never die, whereas racism and fascism somehow have, despite being still prevalent in our world today, you are left with these desperate straw-clinging pseudo-reasonings to try and save face.

Hint: It's not working. Thousands of religions HAVE died. Racism is STILL with us. These are painfully obvious facts to anyone who isn't wedded to a terribly faulty position.

But please keep trying if you want. You are doing a fantastic job of making your position look even more foolish.
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inademv Donating Member (738 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Apr-04-11 01:09 PM
Response to Reply #1
6. "It wouldn't be here if it didn't help organisms"
This is not true. The only thing that will explicitly cause a gene to disappear is if it is harmful to the organism's reproductive rate or capacity.
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sudopod Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Apr-04-11 01:16 PM
Response to Reply #6
9. And they can spread in populations even then.
There are many cases in nature of a gene that is distinctly bad for an individual organism spreading widely through a population because it manifests as a dominant trait on the genetic level while reducing the fitness of its owner. There is a study about mosquito control that looked into encouraging the spread of just such a mutation.

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inademv Donating Member (738 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Apr-04-11 02:25 PM
Response to Reply #9
21. sickle cell and malaria, I know
And another parallel can be drawn at with that in the way that carriers, but not sufferers of sickle cell are resistant to malaria. People who are educated about religion but not taken in by it are generally fitter than both individuals who are ignorant of it and fanatical about it.
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thereismore Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Apr-04-11 05:43 PM
Response to Reply #1
31. It is possible, but there are other possibilities, such as a parasitic relationship. nt
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Silent3 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Apr-04-11 09:22 PM
Response to Reply #1
34. Infectious diseases evolve but they seldom help their host organisms
Edited on Mon Apr-04-11 10:20 PM by Silent3
If an infectious disease becomes too potent that can be a self-defeating turn in the evolution of that disease, if that potency ends up killing off all suitable host organisms.

That doesn't mean, however, that an infectious disease can't be a serious detriment to the host species. A disease can still cause a great deal of suffering and death so long as the host species manages to survive just well enough to keep providing new generations of host organisms.

The analogy here with religion isn't an analogy with the genetic evolution of a host species, the kind of evolution that produces an eye, but the genetic evolution of a disease, the kind of evolution that produces a new strain of influenza.
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jberryhill Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Apr-04-11 05:24 PM
Response to Original message
29. Are these the things that come out of volcanoes and inhabit people?

Or is that something else.
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sudopod Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Apr-04-11 05:29 PM
Response to Reply #29
30. AFAIK, they usually involve putting things in volcanoes. :D nt
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bananas Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Apr-05-11 03:30 PM
Response to Reply #29
38. Memetics: The Modern Science of Dental Health by L. Ron Dawkins
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sudopod Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Apr-05-11 05:53 PM
Response to Reply #38
40. you seem...upset. :3
Edited on Tue Apr-05-11 05:54 PM by sudopod
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dimbear Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Apr-04-11 08:01 PM
Response to Original message
33. Element number 4 is the real key.
The survival value of religion is that when massacres of minority religions are going on, its a good idea to at least feign belonging to the majority religion. See the Spanish Inquisition. St. Bartholomew's Day massacre.

That said, I hazard that far more religions have been made extinct by this process than have survived.

It is a process too little studied, because the dominant religionists (winning side) usually erase the records. In the present day you see that apologetic process in the holocaust deniers.

I don't favor adapting Mao's old saying about politics coming out of the barrel of a gun, tho. Religion has more to do with swords and spears.

Most churches teach that they have spread their holy word by wave after wave of missionaries. In practice, religions are spread by conquests and political agreements. See the Christianization of Europe and the Americas.

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bananas Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Apr-05-11 10:52 AM
Response to Original message
36. Memetics is pseudoscience
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_topics_characteriz...

List of topics characterized as pseudoscience
...
Memetics approach to evolutionary models of cultural information transfer based on the concept that units of information, or "memes", have an independent existence, are self-replicating, and are subject to selective evolution through environmental forces.<67> Starting from a proposition put forward in the writings of Richard Dawkins, it has since turned into a new area of study, one that looks at the self-replicating units of culture. It has been proposed that just as memes are analogous to genes, memetics is analogous to genetics. Memetics has been deemed a pseudoscience on several fronts.<67> Its proponents' assertions have been labeled "untested, unsupported or incorrect."<67>
...


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sudopod Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Apr-05-11 11:54 AM
Response to Reply #36
37. I think someone had a chip on their shoulder when they added that to the wiki.
Edited on Tue Apr-05-11 12:22 PM by sudopod
There is only one reference listed that identifies mimetics as a pseudoscience.

<67> James W. Polichak, "Memes as Pseudoscience", in Michael Shermer, Skeptic Encyclopedia of Pseudoscience. P. 664f.

Sounds authoritative! There is a link to a Google Books preview of the book here:

http://books.google.com/books?id=Gr4snwg7iaEC&pg=PA664#...

The Skeptic Encyclopedia of Pseudoscience is a compendium of articles put together by Michael Shermer (of geekdom fame, and a personal favorite of mine). The chapter "Memes as Pseudoscience" discusses several authors who go out on a limb trying to extend the idea of mimetics in ways that are substantially out of the mainstream of psychology and neuroscience.

However, the Wiki writer failed to note the previous chapter, which is called "Memes as Good Science." It includes a section starting on page 655 titled "Religions as Meme-Complexes" (lol). Though I haven't read the whole book, it appears to cover a range of controversial subjects in the same way, focusing first on scientific applications of exotic ideas and fields of research, and then how and where they can go wrong, mixed in, of course, with plenty of good ol' fashioned shoot downs of things like hauntings, ufo abductions, and the like.

I think this discussion quite nicely illustrates the perils of using a wiki link as one's sole argument. :D
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darkstar3 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Apr-05-11 04:24 PM
Response to Reply #36
39. And Wikipedia is accurate.*
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napoleon_in_rags Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Apr-05-11 11:27 PM
Response to Reply #36
49. I know good science when I see it.
Because it makes sense, its usable. The beauty is in the simplicity: Genes are passed on by inheritance and give instructions for the shape of the body, memes are passed on by communication and give instructions for the shape of behavior. The existence of memes is confirmed for me every time somebody tells me what to do and I do it, its that simple. When their advice works, I tell my friends and loved about it so they can benefit too, and the idea "replicates". So this is an idea that's so everyday, so in your face, that no jackass sitting in crystal palace of his own secret language and labeling it 'pseudoscience' can convince me its not real. Its really 2+2=4 stuff.
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