Presumably not to be confused with a V-Meme, or what is often  
shortened to just "meme".

On Jul 8, 2006, at 6:03 PM, new.morning wrote:

> Excerpts
> The idea of memes falls short
> Here is what I consider to be the strongest of these models in detail
> — the "meme," which is a hypothetical cultural or intellectual
> replicator. In this model, religions might be memes that infect our
> brains. They are not necessarily parasitic but could be symbiotic,
> conferring advantages on those who are infected.
> Is belief in God a meme? It's an idea that Dawkins floated back in
> 1976, and it lingers to this day.
> -----
> The most interesting aspect of this book is its appeal to science. I
> would place Dennett in the broad tradition of naturalist explanation
> of religion that includes Ludwig Feuerbach, Karl Marx and Sigmund
> Freud. Whatever the benefits of religions, Dennett and these writers
> believe that they arise entirely inside human minds. No spiritual
> realities exist outside us. Natural explanations may be given
> regarding the origins of belief in God. Now I hesitate to mention
> this, but this is clearly a rather circular argument, which
> presupposes its conclusions.
> ----
> Alister McGrath says Dennett's Breaking the Spell doesn't understand
> religion — never mind explain it
> By Alister McGrath
> (June 2, 2006)
> The first point that got me nodding in agreement comes very early in
> Breaking the Spell, the new book by Daniel C. Dennett: People
> sometimes get defensive about religion.
> Religious people often get the most defensive when challenged about
> the basis of their beliefs, which hinders any serious debate about the
> nature of their faith, Dennett says. I know what he means. The issue,
> I suspect, is that a challenge to faith often threatens to pull the
> rug from under the values and beliefs that have sustained someone's
> life. But this is a general problem with any significant worldview,
> not just religion.
> I gave a lecture last year on the religious views of Richard Dawkins,
> England's best-known atheist. It was pretty standard stuff. I simply
> demonstrated how Dawkins' atheism was not adequately grounded in
> argument or evidence and represented a highly skewed reading of the
> natural sciences. Afterward, I was confronted by an angry man who told
> me that I had destroyed his faith. His atheism rested on the authority
> of Dawkins. Now, part of me felt that this was just too bad and he
> ought to be more critical about evaluating evidence. But another part
> of me noted that some beliefs — not all, but some — matter so much to
> us that we base our lives upon them. We all need to examine our
> beliefs, especially if we are naive enough to think that we don't have
> any.
> `Vertebrate without a backbone'
> So how, I wondered, would Dennett clarify the distinction between a
> worldview and a religion? The dividing line is notoriously imprecise,
> and many would say it is constructed by those with vested interests to
> defend. Here I must confess to some puzzlement. Dennett tells us that
> "a religion without God or gods is like a vertebrate without a
> backbone." If I were leading a discussion about how to define
> religion, this would be the first definition to be considered — and
> the first to be rejected because it is so inadequate. What about
> nontheistic religions? Vertebrates by definition have backbones. The
> concept of religion does not entail God.
> So why this unworkable definition? I initially thought that it was
> because Dennett has American Protestant fundamentalism in his gun  
> sights.
> After I had finished the book, I could see why he took this line.
> Dennett wants to explain religion in terms of evolutionary theory. He
> asserts that the existence of God is a fantasy that once carried some
> kind of survival advantages. So religions that don't believe in God
> don't really fit the bill.
> I have to say that I was simply not persuaded by his account of what
> religion is, which most religious people will regard as
> unrecognizable. Perhaps it tells us a lot about what leading figures
> in America's political and intellectual left think about religion.
> Breaking the spell's spell
> The most interesting aspect of this book is its appeal to science. I
> would place Dennett in the broad tradition of naturalist explanation
> of religion that includes Ludwig Feuerbach, Karl Marx and Sigmund
> Freud. Whatever the benefits of religions, Dennett and these writers
> believe that they arise entirely inside human minds. No spiritual
> realities exist outside us. Natural explanations may be given
> regarding the origins of belief in God. Now I hesitate to mention
> this, but this is clearly a rather circular argument, which
> presupposes its conclusions.
> So what models does Dennett propose for the origins of faith in God?
> The "sweet tooth" theory — or the hypothesis that just as we have
> evolved a receptor system for sweet things, we might also have a "god
> center" in our brains. Such a center might depend on a "mystical gene"
> that was favored by natural selection because people with it tend to
> survive better.
> Just a moment, where's the science? What's the evidence for this?
> Instead of the rigorous evidence-driven and evidence-based arguments,
> I found mights and maybes, speculation and supposition. These theories
> are evidence-free and wi speculative. It reminds me of those TV ads
> that say "This could help you lose weight as part of a
> calorie-controlled diet." Could. The TV ad writers would love to be
> able to say their product was "clinically proven" to do these things,
> but they can't. There's no evidence.
> The idea of memes falls short
> Here is what I consider to be the strongest of these models in detail
> — the "meme," which is a hypothetical cultural or intellectual
> replicator. In this model, religions might be memes that infect our
> brains. They are not necessarily parasitic but could be symbiotic,
> conferring advantages on those who are infected.
> Is belief in God a meme? It's an idea that Dawkins floated back in
> 1976, and it lingers to this day.
> First, the meme is just a hypothesis, and one that we don't need
> because there are better models available in, for example, economics
> and anthropology. If genes could not be seen, we would have to invent
> them — the evidence demands a biologically transmitted genetic
> replicator. Memes can't be observed, but the evidence can be explained
> perfectly well without them.
> Darwinizing Culture by Robert Aunger contains a quote from Maurice
> Bloch, a professor of anthropology at London School of Economics, that
> sums it up best: the "exasperated reaction of many anthropologists to
> the general idea of memes" reflects the apparent ignorance of the
> proponents of the meme hypothesis about the discipline of anthropology
> and its major successes in explaining cultural development without
> feeling the need to develop anything like the idea of a meme at all.
> At this stage, the issue is simply whether memes exist, irrespective
> of their implications for religion.
> I say, and most active scientists say with me, that there is no
> evidence for these things. As Simon Conway Morris writes in his book
> Life's Solution, memes seem to have no place in serious scientific
> reflection. "Memes are trivial, to be banished by simple mental
> exercises. In any wider context, they are hopelessly, if not
> hilariously, simplistic," said Morris, a professor of evolutionary
> paleobiology at the University of Cambridge.
> I was slightly puzzled that the arguments of such leading critics of
> memetics were not identified and confronted point by point in Breaking
> the Spell. This book makes a critique of religion dependent on a
> hypothetical, unobserved entity, which can be dispensed with when
> making sense of what we observe. Isn't that actually a core atheist
> critique of God — an unobserved hypothesis that can be dispensed with
> easily?
> If I were an atheist, I would want to drop this memetic approach,
> which merely weakens my case, and head back to the safer territory of
> a Marxist dialectical reading of history, which is much more
> intellectually rigorous and evidence-driven. But far be it from me, as
> a lapsed atheist, to tell those of you who still believe how to do
> your job.
> If memes exist, atheism is a meme
> What do memes do? Dennett tells us that they spread beliefs, such as
> beliefs in God. So are all beliefs spread by memes? Or just the ones
> that anti-religious critics don't like? Is there a meme for atheism?
> In Dennett's book, his explanation of "Simple Taxonomy" certainly
> suggests so. And because there is no compelling scientific evidence
> for these things, is there a meme for believing in memes?
> This is certainly a problem for Dawkins — the originator of this
> notion. As many of you will know, Dawkins makes an unsuccessful
> attempt to evade the trap of self-referentiality by saying that his
> own ideas are different. God is caused by memes; atheism is not.
> Anyone familiar with intellectual history will spot the pattern
> immediately: My ideas are exempt from the general patterns I identify
> for other ideas, which allows me to explain them away. My fear is that
> Dennett has fallen victim to this same weakness. So is it just belief
> in God that is a meme? Surely atheism is as well.
> Susan Blackmore, England's most able defender of the meme hypothesis,
> recently stated that atheism is a meme. If so, all viewpoints are
> affected in the same way, whether religious or anti-religious.
> Therefore, which is memetic orthodoxy and which is heresy?
> How would Blackmore and Dennett be able to settle that point
> scientifically? If they are not able to do so, then we have a
> nonscientific debate about imaginary entities, hypothesized by analogy
> with the gene. And we all know how unreliable arguments based on
> analogy can be — witness the fruitless search for the luminiferous
> ether in the late 19th century based on the supposed analogy between
> light and sound. It was analogically plausible but nonexistent. The
> analogy was invalid.
> Dawkins tells us that memes are merely awaiting their Crick and
> Watson. I think they are merely waiting for their Michelson and  
> Morley.
> Alister McGrath is a professor of historical theology at Oxford
> University.
> This article is adapted from remarks delivered at the Royal Society
> for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce in London in
> response to Daniel C. Dennett's book Breaking the Spell. Used with
> permission.
> ======
> from amazon
> on another book by same author
> Consciousness is notoriously difficult to explain. On one hand, there
> are facts about conscious experience--the way clarinets sound, the way
> lemonade tastes--that we know subjectively, from the inside. On the
> other hand, such facts are not readily accommodated in the objective
> world described by science. How, after all, could the reediness of
> clarinets or the tartness of lemonade be predicted in advance? Central
> to Daniel C. Dennett's attempt to resolve this dilemma is the
> "heterophenomenological" method, which treats reports of introspection
> nontraditionally--not as evidence to be used in explaining
> consciousness, but as data to be explained. Using this method, Dennett
> argues against the myth of the Cartesian theater--the idea that
> consciousness can be precisely located in space or in time. To replace
> the Cartesian theater, he introduces his own multiple drafts model of
> consciousness, in which the mind is a bubbling congeries of
> unsupervised parallel processing. Finally, Dennett tackles the
> conventional philosophical questions about consciousness, taking issue
> not only with the traditional answers but also with the traditional
> methodology by which they were reached.
> Dennett's writing, while always serious, is never solemn; who would
> have thought that combining philosophy, psychology, and neuroscience
> could be such fun? Not every reader will be convinced that Dennett has
> succeeded in explaining consciousness; many will feel that his account
> fails to capture essential features of conscious experience. But none
> will want to deny that the attempt was well worth making. --Glenn  
> Branch
> From Publishers Weekly
> Tufts University cognitive scientist Dennett claims to have developed
> a major new theory of consciousness, yet his view of the brain as a
> massive parallel processor is a familiar one. What is different in his
> counter-intuitive theory is the claim that human consciousness, rather
> than being "hard-wired" into the brain's innate machinery, is more
> like software "running on the brain's parallel hardware" and is
> largely a product of cultural evolution. Author of Brainstorms ,
> Dennett leads the adventurous gently through thought experiments,
> metaphors and diagrams in a treatise keyed to the serious, diligent
> reader. He presents a plausible evolutionary scenario of how
> consciousness could have emerged from the hominid brain. Dennett's
> audacious, tantalizing foray into the mind's inner workings ties up
> loose ends at the interface of cognitive psychology, artificial
> intelligence, neuroscience and biology.
> Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to
> an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
> 94 of 120 people found the following review helpful:
> Lots of Words to Explain Very Few Ideas, August 18, 2002
> Reviewer:     Tom Gray (Fort-Coulonge, Quebec Canada) - See all my reviews
> This book contains a great many words. Unfortunately, it contains only
> a very few ideas. This book could very well be contained in a 15 page
> white paper. Indeed it has. The same ideas have been published in the
> paper 'Time and the Observer - The Where and When of Consciousness in
> the Brain' by the author (Dennett) and Kinsbourne. Even in that case
> the 15 page paper is contained in a 33 page text. To use the clich,
> Dennett will not use a paragraph when several chapters will suffice
> I would advise anyone who wishes to understand the ideas contained in
> this book to read the paper. You will not have to waste your time in
> plowing through hundreds of pages of superfluous explanation. The
> paper is anthologized in 'The Nature of Consciousness: Philosophical
> Debates' that was edited by Block, Flanagan and Gazeldere, which is
> also available from Amazon. You will get the same ideas as contained
> in this book plus many many more.
> Another strategy would be to read one of Gerald Edelman's books which
> contains many fewer words in much better expositions of a great many
> more ideas that are much more trenchant and insightful.
> Was this review helpful to you?  YesNo (Report this)
> 41 of 60 people found the following review helpful:
> Grossly Overrated, April 22, 2002
> Reviewer:     T. Gwinn (USA) - See all my reviews
> Since this book has received such a proportionally large amount of
> attention, I assumed it would be well-argued and solidly constructed.
> The argumentation is weak and sloppy, and the book is ultimately
> trying to explain away - rather than explain - consciousness.
> We are never really told how, in fact, the 'Joycean machine' that is
> "the stream-of-consciousness virtual machine"(p. 276) (which is the
> main reason most of us bought this book) works!
> Halfway through the book, he says (p. 275) "...if my theory of the
> Joycean machine is going to shed light on consciousness at all, there
> had better be something remarkable about some if not all of the
> activities of this machine, for there is no denying that consciousness
> is, intuitively, something special."
> In the remaining 200+ pages of the book, he mentions (not explains)
> the phrase 'Joycean machine' on only 7 additional pages.
> Read John Searle's book "Mystery of Consciousness" instead. There
> Searle reviews many authors including Dennett. As do I, Searle also
> consider's Dennett "imprecise and evasive" (p.115), and as he says "I
> regard Dennett's denial of the existence of consciousness not as a new
> discovery or even a serious possibility but rather a form of
> intellectual pathology."(p.112)
> Was this review helpful to you?  YesNo (Report this)
> Customer Reviews
> Average Customer Review:
> Write an online review and share your thoughts with other customers.  
> 3 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
> Great book, but doesn't "Explain" Consciousness, June 4, 2006
> Reviewer:     Brian Steidinger (Illinois) - See all my reviews
> Says comic book guy: Consciousness Explained...most pretentious title
> ever! Few will finish reading Dennett's 528-page book and say to
> themselves "Well that explains it." In fact, Dennett does not claim to
> explain consciousness, saying instead that he paints, in broad
> strokes, the outline a scientific, non-question-begging theory of
> human consciousness would take. Addressing the theoretical merits of
> such a theory are difficult, and Dennett provides two appendices, one
> for scientists and one for philosophers, aimed at tying his claims to
> specific experimental predictions. That's a start.
> Dennett has been accused of being long-winded, taking readers on long
> asides or cascading mind games until his main thesis has been
> obfuscated to oblivion. That's harsh. I don't value Dennett in spite
> of his asides, but because of them. His thought experiments and
> analogies are brimming with insight, even if, in the end, their
> additive effect fails to sum up to a complete explanation of
> consciousness. In fact, this is a ubiquitous feature of books about
> human consciousness, from Dennett to Hofstadter to Pinker--the
> epistemological journey is always more fascinating than its final
> destination, which seems forever tentative or illusory.
> Dennett starts with thought experiments aimed at setting the mood for
> the rest of the book, including a perspective on hallucinations, from
> phantom-limbs to full blown phantom-people, that whets the appetite
> for the meal to come. He moves on to the first opponent of his
> theory--Descartes' "ghost in the machine" dualism, exposing it as
> scientifically defunct from a physical point of view. He spends much
> of the rest of the book battling what he calls Cartesian
> Materialism--a vestige of Descartes' idea of a central theatre of
> human consciousness within the brain. His alternative, dubbed the
> "Joycean Machine" or "Pandemonium Architecture" of human consciousness
> does not crop up in a well-defined form. Actually, a more important
> title would have been What Consciousness Isn't.
> Consider the following that form Dennett's foundation. Human beings
> and chimpanzees diverged from a common ancestor about six million
> years ago. Since that splitting off, the human brain has evolved to
> four-times its original size, mostly through the enlargement of the
> cerebral cortex. The evolution of human brains was not correlated with
> an evolution of bipedalism or human culture. No major changes in human
> neuroanatomy have taken place in the last ten thousand years, meaning
> that physiologically we are just as cognitively capable as our
> illiterate, language and culturally bereft ancestors. With no
> hardware-level changes, Dennett relies on the concept of a meme--or a
> unit of cultural replication--for a software level understanding of
> his Joycean Machine. The meme was first coined by Richard Dawkins in
> 1976 and is not an uncontroversial idea. Consider this--the wiring of
> a Chinese speaking brain and an English speaking brain must be
> different due to different lingual memes, but no one with any
> certainty can tell a Chinese brain from an English brain. Without a
> proper model of its physical manifestation, it's difficult to make the
> case that memes have high fidelity replication or fall under similar
> modes of selection as genes, which Dawkins proposed as their
> biological analogues. In The Extended Phenotype Dawkins backpedals in
> the face of criticism for his meme concept, claiming its primary
> purpose was to highlight important differences between cultural and
> biological evolution, and not to frame an entirely new science of
> memetics. Dennett partially agrees that such a science is untenable in
> Darwin's Dangerous Idea. Still, he relies heavily on it in
> Consciousness Explained in order to frame a software-level
> understanding of human consciousness.
> The best part of this book is Dennett's use of thought experiments and
> his analysis of certain cases of brain damage, including the
> split-brain procedures used to treat severe epilepsy and a model for
> understanding scomota, a condition of partial blindness. His CADBLIND
> thought experiment, where he delineates a system of computer-aided
> design machinery for creating and manipulating a three dimensional
> image and answering questions about it, sheds light on our familiar
> misconceptions of the "mind's eye". Similarly, his attack on the
> philosophical concept of phenomenology, often interpreted as an attack
> on the existence of consciousness itself, offers keen insight into how
> his views differ from traditional materialist takes on human
> consciousness. In a review of one of his newer books on human
> consciousness, Susan Blackmore (author of The Meme Machine) regrets
> that Dennett has since changed his mind about some of the concepts of
> consciousness proposed in this book. I think even if he completely
> repudiated the beliefs stated in this book it will still be worth the
> read. Again, it may not explain consciousness, but it takes you on a
> journey that is epic in scope and interesting at every turn. I highly
> recommend this book.
> Was this review helpful to you?  YesNo (Report this)
> 4 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
> Not for the weak of mind, April 30, 2006
> Reviewer:     Joshua King "Seeker of TRUTH" (Nashville, TN) - See all my
> reviews
> This book is extremely hard to follow and the author assumes you have
> a huge vocabulary including Memes, Cartesian theater, etc. This is
> probably easier reading for some one with a masters in pychology.I
> agree with the 1 star reviewer that said the writing style did not
> carry the point across and that I felt like chapters were started in
> the middle of a thought with out establishing a context. I picked up a
> few key learnings, but what I learned could have been reduced to about
> 20 pages. This was VERY tedious reading and hard to finish. Pick
> another book on consciousness very little is explained.
> Was this review helpful to you?  YesNo (Report this)
> 8 of 8 people found the following review helpful:
> Random thoughts on consciousness, not an explanation, March 29, 2006
> Reviewer:     Orkblork (Boston) - See all my reviews
> I expected to find this book stimulating and informative, but came
> away feeling that Dennett is vastly overrated and quite ordinary in
> his thought process, logical skills, and writing. This book does not
> explain or offer a theory on -- as its title promises -- what
> consciousness is; it merely offers a lot of random observations on and
> stories about consciousness. Dennett seems to start everything he
> writes somewhere in the middle of a conversation he has been having
> with himself; he doesn't know how to properly introduce a topic to the
> reader. He begins the book not with an overview of his subject or a
> presentation of a thesis, but with a chapter on hallucinations -- a
> very specific area of consciousness. I indulged it with the
> expectation that it would provide an entry point into a broader
> argument he wished to advance; instead it was just the first in a
> random string of narratives.
> I suggest that in lieu of Dennett's writings on consciousness, one
> read John Searle or Robert Ornstein. Or if you want an engaging,
> conversational style of writing on the subject, look into Oliver  
> Sacks.
> Was this review helpful to you?  YesNo (Report this)
> 5 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
> Heavy going but worthwhile, February 25, 2006
> Reviewer:     Dale C. Cook "student of life" (Woodville, MA USA) - See all
> my reviews
> I have to wonder if the critics giving Dennett one star read the same
> book I did. I will grant that the book is very wordy and slow-moving
> in places. It is the kind of read where you need to put it down and
> think about what you've just read. The arguments are sometimes very
> tedious, but then the notion of a central observer and Cartesian
> Theater are hard to shake.
> As a former computer specialist now happily retired, I particularly
> resonated with his parallel processor with serial software idea. My
> own master's work was in AI and I was fascinated by neural networks
> and the (few) attempts at duplicating them (Thinking Machines comes to
> mind.)
> I'm eagerly looking forward to reading some of Mr. Dennett's other
> books and will gladly set aside the time needed!
> Was this review helpful to you?  YesNo (Report this)
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