Return to Blogging

I'm in the middle of statement of purpose hell right now, but I'm pausing just to say this: I need to start this blog back up.

In the time between last spring break and now, I have posted very rarely, from almost daily in February to only once in July. I know I was on "hiatus", and "didn't have time" to post, so I just neglected this thing.

But as I was looking at grad schools and the professors there, I realized that those days of blogging daily was one of my more creative and innovative days. I forced myself to write, to think, and this blog became a record of that. I had to merge ideas to write longer posts on computer science or religion. I had to find material for jokes, and do research to see if my ideas have been attempted before.

Compared to that, now I barely write. My personal journal has fallen into entries once or twice a week, and most of that is retelling of events in my daily and personal life. While that is illuminating and entertaining for my future self, I can literally feel my "mental muscles" going into decline. If I being on break from this blog allows me to make arguments against thinking, then it's time I'm back to blogging. I need that pressure to keep myself productive.

So keep an eye out. This blog will soon be back to daily postings (in the limit). I expect to start around 2008-12-15, but definitely before 2008-12-20.

Thank you all.
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Daniel Dennet and Memes

I just finished Daniel Dennett's book Breaking the Spell, and after hearing him talk on Thursday, I have a few comments to make.

First, Dennett is an excellent speaker. He is humorous and knowledgeable. My only critique of him is that sometimes you forget why the current topic is under discussion; it somehow makes you lose sight of the his overall point. This is much more obvious in his book, because there's space for his words and thoughts to wander.

Before I go on, let me give two examples of his humor:
  • It is obvious enough why [people use anthropomorphic language to describe God]: it permits them to carry over all the connocations required to make any sense of a personal love of God. One can feel, I suppose, a certain affection or gratitude for a law of nature - "Good ol' gravity, she ust never lets you down!" - but the proper object of adoration really has to be some sort of person.
  • Prolonged exposure to the fumes of incense and burning candles may have some detrimental health effect, concluded one recent study (Lung et al. [I'm not kidding] [sic], 2003), ...
The way he weaves jokes into his story telling is impressive, and it keeps his audience's attention.

A lot of ideas were presented in his speech, and even more in his book, but one in particular stands out. I've explained before Richard Dawkin's interpretation of evolution, and since Dennett makes use of memes in his explanation for religion, the same idea was expressed in his book. This was also mentioned in his speech, which was where this next idea came to me.

Dennett suggested that memes, like genes, evolve. They under go the same process of speciation and differentiation, in genes through enzymes making errors, and in memes by people making errors when doing a ritual (by that I mean any action which the meme consists of). Memes are what are generally called "culture"; lolcats are a feature of the internet community - more specificly, the geek crowd - and by simply mentioning it here I am ensuring the concept passes on.

In his book, Dennett suggests that memes provide another information highway between parent and child, that the child learns cultural behavior from its parent not through genes but through memes. Religion is one of them, and Dennett suggests that as a meme it has adapted by taking advantage of certain human traits, like our tendency to anthropomorphize and to find cause and effect relationships. What struck me was that memes are built on top of genes. Without these biological tendencies, certain memes wouldn't exist; and for animals, without the biological sophistication to support a "culture", memes don't exist at all*. By extension, then, there are probobably evolutionary objects, the existence of which depends on the complexity of certain memes. I wonder if anyone has made conjectures as to what these might be like?

For some reason this makes me think of Spore.
* I'm not sure if Dennett would agree with this point; there are probably behaviors in the animal kingdom, among social animals like great apes and dolphins, which are passed along by the socially. In fact, I can name one: the bubble blowing behavior in dolphins is group dependent, and only dolphins which live in proximity of others who know how to blow bubbles learn how to do it themselves. Since this behavior is not genetic, it is arguably memetic. Perhaps the lower limit for memes is one of communication, not of consciousness.
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No, not the verb, nor the shell, but the quote database. Not so great for the prude or conservative, but hilarious for crude people... like me.

But I came across these two today, and they're neither... at least, not when you read the whole thing.

Have fun wasting your life on!
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