PHIL: Memes & Free Will?

Reilly Jones (
Mon, 9 Mar 1998 19:24:13 -0500

Christopher Fedeli wrote 3/7/98: <I've noticed a strong tendency for all
memetically minded thinkers to keep clinging to some notion of the
metaphysical "I". How can one accept that all of our traits came to be the
way that they are by the evolution of genes and memes, and yet still think
that somewhere 'in there' is a "me" who is capable of exercising some
control over the process?

To take a famous example, Richard Dawkins argues that humans can "rebel
against the tyranny of the selfish replicators." He gives the example that

every time we use contraception, we are rebelling against the tyranny of
genes who want us to procreate. But who is really rebelling in this
example? To me, this seems like an case of the meme for contraception
winning a big victory in the battle for survival against certain genes.
But to hypothesize a magical "self" that lurks around in our brains,
deciding which memes and which genes will exercise influence over our
behaviors at which time is a joke that no reflective thinker could suffer.

Will anyone argue differently?>

And Frederick Mann replied 3/7/98: <I agree that there is no magical "self"
or "I" in reality. However, in the same way that I can load a program
"I" into a computer, some complex brain circuitry could evolve and call
itself "I." And at some point this circuitry could achieve sufficient
complexity to spontaneously produce the epiphenomenon of free will
or volition.>

I know this seems to be difficult for many individuals to grasp, but there
really is a subjective "I". Subjectivity is an unpleasant fact of nature
for scientists because there is no way to study it, measure it, experiment
on it, or theorize about it. So all too many of them take the
intellectually lazy or dippy way out of their conundrum by pretending it
away. It never works, of course. Subjectivity is just one of those things
in reality that is a given, there is an "I" that is just as real as
external objects that we can measure. Free will or volition is not an
epiphenomenon, it is real. The brain does not work the same way a computer
does in at least one very important respect. Information does not exist in
the absence of an "I", a knower who is distinct from the known. "I" can
exchange information with "my" environment, with external objects, with
other subjective selves, even with "my" own body, in that it is an external
object to "me." However, "I" cannot exchange information with myself, with
"I". "I" cannot be both subject and object, both knower and known. When
Socrates said "know thyself," he could only be talking about knowing your
body as it is an object to you and about your relations with other selves
and the external environment. He could not be talking about knowing your
own self, your "I". You don't know yourself, you don't exchange
information with yourself, you simply decide. Decisions are the atmosphere
of subjectivity. The protection of volitional freedom is of primary
importance because of this.

Perhaps a consideration that "selfish genes" and "memes" are a load of
hooey is in order if you are forced to pretend that subjectivity isn't
real, or that there is no real "I". Perhaps some deeper reflection is in

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