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Roger Scruton helps Richard Dawkins’ “meme” find its way to the wastebasket

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roger scruton 16 70dpi photographer by pete helme In the New Atlantis, writer and philosopher Roger Scruton resoundingly trashes scientism in the arts. Put it this way: If being on the right side of an argument mattered, we would never hear anything about scientism in the arts again.

But today’s materialists are well entrenched and well beyond embarrassment, so be sure we will.

At any rate, one of his topics is Richard Dawkins’s celebrated substitute for th idea of a thought, the “meme”:

A meme is a self-replicating cultural entity that, lodging in the brain of a
human being, uses that brain to reproduce itself — just in the way that a catchy tune reproduces itself in hums and whistles, spreading like an epidemic through a human community, like “La donna è mobile” the morning after the first performance of Verdi’s Rigoletto. Dawkins argues that ideas, beliefs, and attitudes are the conscious forms taken by these self-replicating entities, which propagate themselves as diseases propagate themselves, by using the energies of their hosts: “Just as genes propagate themselves in the gene pool by leaping from body to body via sperm or eggs, so memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to
brain via a process which, in the broad sense, can be called imitation.” …

Even if there are units of memetic information
propagated from brain to brain, it is not these units that come before the mind in conscious thinking. Memes stand to ideas as genes stand to organisms: if they exist at all (and no evidence has been given by Dawkins or anyone else that they do) then their ceaseless and purposeless reproduction is of no concern to culture. Ideas, by contrast, form part of the conscious network of critical thinking. We assess them for their truth, their validity, their moral propriety, their elegance, completeness, and charm. We take them up and discard them, sometimes in the course of our search for truth and explanation, sometimes in our search for meaning and value. And both activities are essential to us. Although culture isn’t science, it is just as much a conscious activity of the critical mind. Culture — both the high culture of art and music, and the wider culture embodied in a moral and religious tradition — sorts ideas by their intrinsic qualities, helps us to feel at home in the world and to resonate to its personal significance.

But memetics possesses the very fault for which it purports to be a remedy: it is a spell with which the scientistic mind seeks to conjure away the
things that pose a threat to it — which is also how we should view scientism in general. Scientism involves the use of scientific forms and categories in order to give the appearance of science to unscientific ways of thinking. It is a form of magic, a bid to reassemble the complex matter of human life, at the magician’s command, in a shape over which he can exert control. It is an attempt to subdue what it does not understand. More.

Not to worry. It appears that our brains just didn’t evolve so as to see that the evo psychs are right even when they can’t handle the concepts and aren’t making any sense.

See also: Does science have answers to absolutely everything?

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5 Replies to “Roger Scruton helps Richard Dawkins’ “meme” find its way to the wastebasket

  1. 1
    idnet.com.au says:

    Scruton is a very astute fellow.

    He recently wrote;

    “The God-hungry atheism of the mid-twentieth century has a slightly quaint air today. The life-cult of D.H. Lawrence, the socialist progressivism of H.G. Wells, the naïve optimism of John Dewey, the existentialist nihilism of Heidegger and Sartre – all such religion substitutes have lost their appeal, and we find ourselves, perhaps for the first time, with a gloves-off encounter between the evangelical atheists, who tell us that religious belief is both nonsensical and wicked, and the defenders of intelligent design, who look around for the scraps that the Almighty left behind from his long picnic among us. What do we make of this new controversy?”

  2. 2
    nightlight says:

    The link above to “More” was broken — the cited Roger Scruton’s Atlantis article is here.

  3. 3
    nightlight says:

    Meme is a nice and useful abstraction, capturing interesting, autonomous features of ideas/cultural elements and their propagation on the social substratum. Just as mass, force and acceleration are useful abstractions of some properties of objects, including humans. By saying that you weigh, say 170 pounds, one doesn’t mean that it’s all that you are — a 170 pound object.

    The abstraction is not identical to the entity from which it is abstracted, but it is less, deliberately so. Otherwise what’s the point of abstracting. The ‘go of it’ is to lighten the burden, strip the rest so that what is left exhibits an interesting pattern, such as that between mass, force and acceleration.

    Without abstraction, you would need a separate “math” for adding 1 apple to 3 apples apples, distinct from the “math” for adding 1 orange to 3 oranges, in order not to offend or diminish apples, as the author implies.

  4. 4
    nightlight says:

    Oops, the article is here.

  5. 5
    bornagain77 says:

    While Scruton may lament the encroachment of science onto the humanities,,,

    Scientism in the Arts and Humanities – Roger Scruton
    Excerpt: Two sciences in particular seem to fit the bill: evolutionary psychology and neuroscience. Both are sciences of the mind, and since culture is a mental arena, both sciences ought to be capable of making sense of it. Evolutionary psychology treats mental states as adaptations, and explains them in terms of the reproductive advantages they conferred on our ancestors; neuroscience treats them as aspects of the nervous system, and explains them in terms of their cognitive function.
    Over the last several decades, therefore, we have witnessed a steady invasion of the humanities by scientific methodology. This invasion provides us with a useful illustration of the distinction between scientific and scientistic ways of thinking. The scientific thinker has a clear question, a body of data, and a theoretical answer to the question that can be tested against that data. The scientistic thinker borrows the apparatus of science, not in order to explain the phenomenon before him, but in order to create the appearance of a scientific question, the appearance of data, and the appearance of a method that will arrive at an answer.,,,
    http://www.thenewatlantis.com/.....humanities

    I lament the encroachment of the humanities onto science,,,

    EVOLUTIONARY JUST-SO STORIES
    Excerpt: “There are no detailed Darwinian accounts for the evolution of any fundamental biochemical or cellular system, only a variety of wishful speculations”
    (James Shapiro, molecular biologist, National Review, Sept. 16, 1996).
    ,,,The term “just-so story” was popularized by Rudyard Kipling’s 1902 book by that title which contained fictional stories for children. Kipling says the camel got his hump as a punishment for refusing to work, the leopard’s spots were painted on him by an Ethiopian, and the kangaroo got its powerful hind legs after being chased all day by a dingo.
    Kipling’s just-so stories are as scientific as the Darwinian accounts of how the amoeba became a man.
    Lacking real scientific evidence for their theory, evolutionists have used the just-so story to great effect. Backed by impressive scientific credentials, the Darwinian just-so story has the aura of respectability.
    Biologist Michael Behe observes:
    “Some evolutionary biologists–like Richard Dawkins–have fertile imaginations. Given a starting point, they almost always can spin a story to get to any biological structure you wish” (Darwin’s Black Box).,,,
    http://www.wayoflife.org/datab.....ories.html

    But Who Needs Reality-Based Thinking Anyway? Not the New Cosmologists – Denyse O’Leary January 2, 2014
    Excerpt: “These multiverse theories all share the same fundamental defect: They can be neither confirmed nor falsified. Hence, they don’t deserve to be called scientific, according to the well-known criterion proposed by the philosopher Karl Popper. Some defenders of multiverses and strings mock skeptics who raise the issue of falsification as “Popperazi” — which is cute but not a counterargument. Multiverse theories aren’t theories — they’re science fictions, theologies, works of the imagination unconstrained by evidence.”
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....80281.html

    Fallacies of Contemporary Neuroscience: “A Vast Collection of Answers, with No Memory of the Questions” – Michael Egnor – February 20, 2014
    Excerpt: [Scruton:] Neuroenvy… consist[s] of a vast collection of answers, with no memory of the questions. And the answers are encased in neurononsense of the following kind:
    ‘The brains of social animals are wired to feel pleasure in the exercise of social dispositions such as grooming and co-operation, and to feel pain when shunned, scolded, or excluded. Neurochemicals such as vasopressin and oxytocin mediate pair-bonding, parent-offspring bonding, and probably also bonding to kith and kin…’ (Patricia Churchland).
    As though we didn’t know already that people feel pleasure in grooming and co-operating, and as though it adds anything to say that their brains are ‘wired’ to this effect, or that ‘neurochemicals’ might possibly be involved in producing it. This is pseudoscience of the first order, and owes what scant plausibility it possesses to the fact that it simply repeats the matter that it fails to explain. It perfectly illustrates the prevailing academic disorder, which is the loss of questions.
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....82351.html

    i.e. Whereas the humanities thrive on such creative ‘story telling’, empirical science, as it is meant to be practiced, is SUPPOSE to constrain such creative story telling. Thus for me the worst encroachment, by far, is that of the encroachment of ‘story telling’ inherent in the humanities onto science not the encroachment of science onto the humanities.

    “Modern science was conceived, and born, and flourished in the matrix of Christian theism. Only liberal doses of self-deception and double-think, I believe, will permit it to flourish in the context of Darwinian naturalism.”
    ~ Alvin Plantinga

    The Artists – The Artists is a short film about two rival painters who fail to see the bigger picture.
    http://vimeo.com/33670490

    Verse and Music:

    2 Corinthians 10:5
    Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;

    Ian Mcintosh – Awakened ( I’ll always love you)
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NUBhyhLLwHQ

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