Susan Blackmore recants on theory of religion as virus - blog by Gurdur

 




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Susan Blackmore recants on theory of religion as virus
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Posted 16-Sep-2010 at 07:22 PM (19:22) by Gurdur

Susan Blackmore has recanted on her previously-held theory of religion being analogous to some kind of viral infection, a mind-virus. In a piece on the Guardian, she explains why; but it is all a very odd article by her. In that article, Susan Blackmore makes a dichotomy between "viral" and "adaptive"; that is simply erroneous. Blackmore doesn't think a viral infection can be helpful; as a hard and fast principle, she's wrong on that. She juxtaposes bacteria against viruses; that doesn't hold in this context (where she says more or less that bacteria can be good but not viruses). The irony is Sue Blackmore could still uphold her original theory despite the evidence she cites against it in that article, and her only difficulty is in thinking "viral = bad". This just is not evolutionary science.

But on the whole, who cares? Memetics is dead, down and dusted. Long ago, at that. As for Sue Blackmore's overall hardline psychological determinism, it simply cannot answer hard questions well, it cannot make any useful predictions that would not have been made without it, and it is singularly unproductive as a theory and as a stance -- and there is nothing science abhors so much as unproductivity.

Long live evolved free-will!


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  1. Old Comment
    Tim's Avatar
    I was very interested to hear you say that memetics is dead, Gurdur. Does Richard Dawkins know about this?
    Posted 16-Sep-2010 at 08:16 PM (20:16) by Tim Tim is offline
  2. Old Comment
    Gurdur's Avatar
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Tim View Comment
    I was very interested to hear you say that memetics is dead, Gurdur. Does Richard Dawkins know about this?
    A fair while back, maybe eight years back or more, I was very excited by the intellectual idea of memetics. I got really into it for a while, and a lot of scientific researchers tried it out. It foundered. It foundered on some very basic matters, such as crucial definitions; and turned out in the end to be naught more than a metaphor of no real utility at all.

    The closest thing to memetics today is "evolutionary psychology", which is the descendent of sociobiology (which was a bastard offspring of behaviourism in a way, but really, goes right back to Plato).

    Does Dawkins know? He was never really into the hard development of the theory; although memetics was his own brainchild, he left it to others to raise the child. I don't think he cares much.

    I've come more and more to the opinion Dawkins is a not-very-deep rhetorician and somewhat dilettantish; he throws out ideas, but doesn't sit down and do much work deep in them. Interestingly, there is exactly that criticism of him being made right at this time by some evolutionary biologists on the issue of "kin selection" and the mathematics thereof. I will blog on this soon, even though the mathematics of kin selection in evolutionary biology is probably far too esoteric a subject to excite most readers here. But I'll do it, just because I'm bloodyminded, and it does interest at least me.
    Posted 16-Sep-2010 at 08:45 PM (20:45) by Gurdur Gurdur is offline
  3. Old Comment

    Esoteric

    "the mathematics of kin selection in evolutionary biology is probably far too esoteric a subject"

    Wright you are! This is cool stuff for people like me, but, then, I'm pretty esoteric myself.

    I will NOT link the article to my own blog, though. My insanity streak is only mediocre and I would hate to impose it too strongly on my readership. You are made of sterner stuff.

    muddleglum
    Posted 16-Sep-2010 at 09:58 PM (21:58) by Unregistered
  4. Old Comment
    Tim's Avatar
    That's very interesting, Gurdur. I was under the (obviously mistaken) impression that atheists were all on board with Dawkins on this one. Obviously I've got some more reading to do.

    Of Dawkins' books I've only read 'The God Delusion', and my sense (and I'm very much a stranger in the world of science) was that when Dawkins spoke about his area of specialisation (biology), he was on very firm ground and his arguments were quite formidable, but when he dabbled in philosophy and other stuff he very quickly became amateurish. Obviously, if you're right, he's not as brilliant a biologist as I thought he was, either.
    Posted 17-Sep-2010 at 12:56 AM (00:56) by Tim Tim is offline
  5. Old Comment
    Gurdur's Avatar

    Esoteric

    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Unregistered View Comment
    .... You are made of sterner stuff. ...
    Naaaw, I'm just good at bluffing.
    Posted 17-Sep-2010 at 01:22 AM (01:22) by Gurdur Gurdur is offline
  6. Old Comment
    Gurdur's Avatar
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Tim View Comment
    That's very interesting, Gurdur. I was under the (obviously mistaken) impression that atheists were all on board with Dawkins on this one. Obviously I've got some more reading to do.
    Nope. The history of memetics is a bit embarrassing, and is these days only heard in either a joking/metaphorical sense (I use the word "meme" myself on occasion), or in flames, where the flamer will denounce whatever the flamer wishes to denounce that day, and will appeal in seriousness to memetics, without of course usually knowing anything deep at all about the field of memetics.

    Plus you will find I am hardly the only atheist to so completely disagree with him. You might also like to ask Lifelinking his opinion. Lifelinking has some pretty good insights, and is an atheist as well. If Pyrogenesis ever turns up again here, make sure to ask him too, Pyrogenesis is rather brilliant too, like Lifelinking.

    Quote:
    Of Dawkins' books I've only read 'The God Delusion', and my sense (and I'm very much a stranger in the world of science) was that when Dawkins spoke about his area of specialisation (biology), he was on very firm ground and his arguments were quite formidable,
    For the most part, he was on firm ground, but even back at the very exciting beginning, when the books The Selfish Gene and The Blind Watchmaker had just come out, there were signs of the troubles to come; hidden signs, but looking back, they were there. One warning sign was the continual tightrope balancing act between metaphor and reality that he constantly trod (and treads today). "Selfish gene"? Mary Midgely went to town on that one, a little unfairly in a small part, but on the whole, when you look over the whole Dawkins corpus today, it turns out Midgely was prescient.

    Quite a few times I've seen him advance some idea or statement, only to hastily step back and say he didn't mean it that way when challenged hard. I think this is a bad failing of his; he simply goes way too far -- and that with metaphorical thinking and mootings -- and then claims he didn't mean it if it turns out to have been a bad idea.

    Quote:
    but when he dabbled in philosophy and other stuff he very quickly became amateurish. Obviously, if you're right, he's not as brilliant a biologist as I thought he was, either.
    Very bluntly: can you name one single very major advance in biology owing to Richard Dawkins? Any one single major advance in evolutionary biology? Any one single major advance in hard science overall owing to Richard Dawkins?

    No, I don't think so.

    Richard Dawkins' main strengths lie in rhetoric, and in explaining things. His ability as a very original thinker in hard science itself is, well, weak. Plus his morality was always that of his class; liberal, Enlightenment, etc., not bad stuff, but a prisoner of its own limitations and his lack of experience in other strata and cultures.

    Don't get me wrong, I like the Enlightenment, but, as Marx (if I remember rightly: edit: my mistake, it was George Santayana) said, those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it, and a deep knowledge of different social strata and other cultures is very necessary.
    Posted 17-Sep-2010 at 01:42 AM (01:42) by Gurdur Gurdur is offline
    Updated 17-Sep-2010 at 08:53 AM (08:53) by Gurdur
  7. Old Comment
    Gurdur's Avatar
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Tim View Comment
    That's very interesting, Gurdur. I was under the (obviously mistaken) impression that atheists were all on board with Dawkins on this one. Obviously I've got some more reading to do.
    Tim, I am going to make a long blog post on all this soonish, hopefully will be of help in understanding the whole spectrum of atheists.

    Mind you, everyone's desperate to be understood, so atheists get to stand in the queue, but hey, explaining ourselves keeps us off the streets.
    Posted 18-Sep-2010 at 08:30 AM (08:30) by Gurdur Gurdur is offline
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