In the 17th century, if someone came into the room where you sat for supper by candlelight and explained that the chair you sat on and the food you were about to consume, were actually not what they seemed, but rather events completely unexpected. They explained to you in philosophic terms that as the perceiver, you supplied the tastes, textures, colors and all sensual data; that even the chair isn’t solid but made of atoms and that in its structure there was so much space between atomic clusters as to be comparable to the space between solar systems, a cosmic area so vast that even when galaxies collided solar systems seldom clashed. You would be incredulous. How could the good green earth and all its components be a bleak grey affair? How could such a solid “thing” be a fluid event? By then, you’d have heard of Christopher Columbus and other explorers circumnavigating the earth. You would have accepted earth as a globe which rotates around the sun, but this?
Five to seven million years ago, ape-men (Australopithecus), with the expert vision of their ape genealogies – they were the size of chimpanzees – walked upright and became excellent hunters and tool-makers. For three million years or so they lived on the unmeasured grassy plains of middle earth, (that warm lush spot bordered by North Africa, the Mediterranean, East Asia and Lower Europe), but incrementally one line of them started to change, perhaps one to two million years ago (or more). They (homo Erectus), acquired an arch in their feet and their hip joint moved to the center of the pelvis. They developed spinal curvature. Their skull changed. A domed forehead grew as the brain doubled its size. Their height increased and they became Homo Erectus, our precursor.
At some point, with our hands free to gesture, point and signal, we started talking and developed language: we eventually began writing, drawing and using symbols. Our first engravings are some 30,000 years old, perhaps older. About twelve thousand years ago, we began collecting and planting seeds and we founded the first villages. Sometime around this era appeared the first written tablets of food recipes and inventories of foodstuff. After this, came the first primitive alphabets. The stories and knowledge which had been passed on through vocal traditions about shared experience began to be recorded. They were collected eventually into crude libraries which became communal brains, or if you prefer, 'Mental DNA'. So what was only a single generational genetic inheritance, came as a manner of speaking, available to many and put all of us potentially at par.
A confluence of events occurred. In a time of cooler temperatures around the world about 20,000 to 35,000 years ago (or more), Homo Sapiens migrated (over many centuries): water locked up in ice allowed the emergence of land bridges across the Bering Strait and down the Indonesian Islands as far as Australia. Their brains were now the same size as ours - even larger; their spoken language skills as good. Over the centuries, the temperature of the world meliorated. Glaciers retreated and land bridges disappeared. Many societies were cut off from middle earth.
Homo Erectus – “Upright” man (or Homo Sapiens – “Wise” man) populates almost every part of the earth today, not always upright, not always wise. However, the point is, the baby daughter of an African hunter-gatherer (i.e, San people) – given the right circumstances – could be raised in a city by loving adoptive parents, educated at college and become a virtuoso at some study, much of her success would depend on her genetic inheritence and her new surrounding culture. Our pigmentation, body stature and other superficial physical features are directly related to the environment whenever one group of us stayed long enough in one part of the world – i.e., for thousands of years – to be fixed by natural selection. Now the features remain apparent for generations no matter where we live, but we started as one single line, likely destroying the other slower less intelligent ape-men for food and as competitors.
That said, however, my idea of Mental DNA isn’t to be confused with memes, a unit of cultural ideas transmitted to one another through speech, gesture or other phenomena of imitation which self-replicate and respond to environmental pressures supposedly in the same way that genes do. But alas, memetics is just yet another form of scientism from leftist academics; still to this day, more than 15 percent of social scientists are Marxists and their thinking is affected by this violent fundalmentalist religion masking as political ideology; however, no memetic code exists, none ever could. By proposing ideas follow fixed laws as they do with genetics, there’s an underlying assumption that humans can’t create new ideas and actually influence the cultural transmission with new information, i.e., it presupposes human freedom is an illusion. When it comes to social/ethical philosophy, scientists, mathematicians and logicians in studying the brain think they are studying the mind. Ideas can’t be put under a microscope, except allegorically.
Mental DNA is offered as an idea that’s a genetic or IQ equalizer. Many brilliant thinker’s legacies are today available for free to nearly every mind on the planet. Reading a book is like talking to the author. Mental DNA is: “His pain, your gain.” Some work is still required to retrieve it, however, nothing like the dear price paid the first time around. This has created an accumulated multiplier: the exploding of multi-media has resulted in the rational individual’s rise to defend themselves against their enemies, almost always religionists, Marxists, social-planners, political-scientists, collectivists and statists.
If Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins use memetic theory as a metaphor – and this is always dangerous to do with people – then enough said. If they truly believe that human beings are reduced – ultimately – to being preprogrammed by irrational memetic replication then their atheism is shallow indeed and their assault on religion laughable. There is no delusion for people holding a belief in free will. Are religions just the results of earlier memes? We are subjective but by running interference (and trying desperately to find some objectivity through explanations based on both science and reason), we can in small measure control our reality. The application of reason in our life and the commitment to a rational point of view with proof as the arbitrator gives us some freedom over our own small world, especially our own morality. The idea of human behavior as a deterministic event where ideas – using us as host – piggyback on us to some end, sounds familiar because in the broad sweep, it’s Hegelian, recasting the old seesaw of thesis antithesis to some platonic teleological end. Academic philosophers just can’t get past Plato. Dennett, and many others, loved to practice proto-science, and don’t memes sound so scientifically juicy? [Do memes exist? Yes, because words exist, and words are memes that can be pronounced (2006, pg 79)]. Like sociology itself, memetic theory suffers similarly from scientism and to become useful beyond cult popularity, seems impossible. The internet has allowed regular people (read: non academic thinkers) to express their ideas as they seem fit – and they are nicely drowning out the elitists – and believe me when I say that these Platonists (Marxists, Catholics, Theologians, Liberationists, Tenured Professors, etcetera) don’t like it. They believe people are stupid, and left to their own devices, will fall down. Dennett can probably reduce anyone's ideas to memes, except of course his own. Here is likely another example of a philosopher’s dialectic process where ideas are unwittingly spread by us luckless victims of a process. Fortunately for us we have the super scientist-philosophers who can rise above mankind's mundane analysis in their neo-Marxist brilliance and explain to us dweebs why our freedom is an illusion.
I admire Dennett’s Theory of Mind – I think of it as an onion theory – and see that it accounts for much of its nonlinear operations without any explanations to (Chomsky-like) innate faculties or any spatial possibilities (of where the illusive “mind” resides). The self is a strong existential fact for human (and mammalian) creatures. The personality, which I often collapse to (mind, soul, I, ego, self, etc.,) is a metaphor for the person at the wheel of the car. Why this is important for memes and human freedom is obvious. We’re strong personalities: from that start, we can develop character, moral codes and commitment to reason. As adults, even if we are caught out in “A Heart of Darkness” the onion stripped back is not necessarily the end of our character, (see endnote). It may well all be human convention, but it is nowhere near hopeless. We aren’t completely free as the religionists maintain, but we’re a long way from slaves to a memetic theory or any such thing. We have limited freedom: we can claim control over our selves and work at our strength of character. Evolution has produced through the millions of years of our maturity this beautiful female human creature that the selfish mindless gene, renders allure, and says to the male, “Smash her borders (or do whatever it takes) to get me (that mindless selfish gene) into the next generation”. Nonetheless evolution has also produced a human male with the potential to develop a high degree of male parental investment (unlike so many other mammals) which we call love (instinct, intuition and feelings). Both love and the robotic genetic replicators are potent forces never to be trivialized and they often have the final say no matter what reason or science might caution. Nevertheless, this is not the last word: some of us humans have found a way to show true agency, and this agent (the self or main manager of the neocortex) with some design, using reason and science to assist it, can fortify genuine free will and have a lasting impact on moral outcomes for many people of the world. Dennett has been quoted as saying, “On Giving Libertarians What They Say They Want,” that in respect to free will, that it is two staged and . . . “considerations that are selected by the agent as having a more than negligible bearing on the decision then figure in a reasoning process, and if the agent is in the main reasonable, those considerations ultimately serve as predictors and explicators of the agent’s final decision.”
Yes, that's what we want, freedom, and I hope this is true. We don't want free will attached to the fact that Heisenberg demonstrated that location and impetus of atomic particles were intrinsically tentative when they were being humanly observed, a seeming and counterintuitive impossibility, yet undeniable in science, or that quantum phsyics seems to allow the indeterminate at the micro level. We seek actually freedom attached to our mammalian self which morally can exhibit control in some inportant areas of our lifes. At any rate, the most deliberate and well-thought-out life is still a blind journey to a great extent. We are dependant almost completely on chance, but the ‘metaphysical illusion’ of human freedom is contravened by our ability to create ideas, and thus invented, they change (the interior, and to a lesser extent, the exterior) world we live in. In turn, they help produce the larger civilization in which our ‘blind journey’ takes place. What neuroplasticity shows us (see, Doidge, Amen, Mischel, Ariely & Sacks), is that the mind and brain work in ways that can make cognitive and emotional self-regulation the central cast on the stage of anyone’s life. Any scientist or philosopher who dismisses this distinctly human peculiarity like Skinner, Harris, Dawkins or Hawking is selling an utopian optimism to what they preconceive as the malleable human mind shaped in its environment and set rigid by its genetic heritage. The rich context of the interplay of the nature-nurture debate make any simple explanation void of art. This may explain why such thinkers as Plato or Marx (and most of the other Platonists) relegate art to secondary importance. We can make informed choices with limited agency. Dreadful constraints of blind chance in an unpredictable life gnaw at any definition of freedom. But. To be sure, there is some real agency, and you must develop it. If you think there is none, then your dreams are surely built on nothing more solid than bad or good luck. (See also: Free Will.)
First endnote: From Willpower, Henry Morton Stanley: “For myself, I lay no claim to any exceptional fineness of nature; but I say, beginning life as a rough, ill-educated, impatient man, I have found my schooling in these very African experiences [in darkest Africa circa 1887] which are now said by some to be in themselves detrimental to European character.” AND, “When I contrast what I have achieved in my measurably brief life with what Stanley has achieved in his possibly briefer one,” [Mark] Twain observed, “the effect is to sweep utterly away the ten-storey edifice of my own self-appreciation and to leave nothing behind but the cellar.” AND, Anton Chekhov declared that one Stanley was worth a dozen schools and a hundred good books. The Russian writer saw Stanley’s “stubborn invincible striving towards a certain goal, no matter what the privations, dangers and temptations for personal happiness,” as “personifying the highest moral strength.”
Second endnote: “Now, after three billion years, the Darwinian interlude is over. It was an interlude between two periods of horizontal gene transfer. The epoch of Darwinian evolution based on competition between species – ['between species' should read, 'within species gene pool'] – ended about ten thousand years ago, when a single species, Homo sapiens, began to dominate and reorganize the biosphere. Since that time, cultural evolution has replaced biological evolution as the main driving force of change. Cultural evolution is not Darwinian. Cultures spread by horizontal transfer of ideas more than by genetic inheritance. – [Dawkins would have us believe it is all genes and memes and that they act the same as one another]. – Cultural evolution is running a thousand times faster than Darwinian evolution, taking us into a new era of cultural interdependence which we call globalization. And now, as Homo sapiens domesticates the new biotechnology, we are reviving the ancient pre-Darwinian practice of horizontal gene transfer, moving genes easily from microbes to plants and animals, blurring the boundaries between species. We are moving rapidly into the post-Darwinian era, when species other than our own will no longer exist, and the rules of Open Source sharing will be extended from the exchange of software to the exchange of genes. Then the evolution of life will once again be communal, as it was in the good old days before separate species and intellectual property were invented.” Quoted from, Our Biotech Future, Freeman Dyson.
Third endnote: "Every control system, whether it is an animal nervous system, a plant's system of growth and self-repair, or an engineered artifact such as an airplane-guidance system, is designed to protect something. And that something must include itself! (If it "dies" prematurely, it fails on its mission, whatever it is.) The 'self-interest' that thus defines the evaluation machinery of all control systems can splinter, however, when a control system gets reflective. Our human reflectiveness opens up a rich field of opportunities for us to revise our aims, including our largest purposes. When you can start to think about the pros and cons of joining an existing coalition versus breaking away and trying to start a new one, or about how to deal with the problems of loyalty among your kin, or the need to change the power structure of your social environment, you create avenues by which to escape the default presumptions of your initial design. Whenever an agent—an intentional system, in my terminology—makes a decision about the best course of action, all things considered, we can ask from whose perspective this optimality is being judged. A more or less standard default assumption, at least in the Western world, and especially among economists, is to treat each human agent as a sort of isolated and individualistic locus of wellbeing. What's in it for me? Rational self-interest. But although there has to be something in the role of the self—something that answers the cui bono? question for the decision-maker under examinationthere is no necessity in this default treatment, common as it is. A self-as-ultimate-beneficiary can in principle be indefinitely distributed in space and time. I can care for others, or for a larger social structure, for instance. There is nothing that restricts me to a me as contrasted to an us. I can still take my task to be looking out for Number One while including, under Number One, not just myself, and not just my family, but also Islam, or Oxfam, or the Chicago Bulls! The possibility, opened up by cultural evolution, of installing such novel perspectives in our brains is what gives our species, and only our species, the capacity for moral—and immoral—thinking." Quoted from Breaking the Spell, Dennett.
© 2023 - E. A. St. Amant