Dawkins and Incurable Mind Viruses? Memes, Rationality and Evolution.

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Richard Dawkins tries to establish an analogy between computer viruses and theistic belief systems, analyzing the latter in terms of his concept of the meme. The underlying thrust of Dawkins' argument is to downplay the role of truth and logic in the survival of theories and to emphasize humankind's helpless liability to incurable infection by doctrines that Dawkins regards as absurd. Dawkins supplies a list of "symptoms” of mind-infection. However, on closer investigation these characteristics are found to be either rather weak protection against criticism or quite virtuous. Dawkins relies on a crude justificationism that could just as well be called a mind-virus. Applying Dawkins’ own selection of the general characteristics of a good meme protector and propagator leads to the conclusion that his particular theistic examples would actually impair copyability. Scientific theories are better examples of memes with high longevity, fecundity, and fidelity. A Darwinian analysis of wishful and fearful thinking as useful to hypotheses-testing and goal-seeking organisms undermines Dawkins' attribution of absolute irrational stubbornness to theists. To counterbalance Dawkins' emphasis on the propagation of the absurd, I rehabilitate the Socratic emphasis on the importance of truth and logic in rhetoric, interpreted broadly as the theory of the successful propagation of a message. I use Popper's notion of situational analysis, and an evolutionary perspective to argue that rational standards of a message enhance its copyability. I further apply Popper’s notions of World 3, 2, and 1 to memes; this helps us see the perpetuation of a doctrine as a logical task.
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