Monday, April 6, 2009

Compatible With Environment

I'm making it slowly through Dawkins' The Extended Phenotype, partially because it has a lot of technical topics and terms that need careful reading and glossary checking, and partially because there's no plot compelling me to pick up the book every night to see what happens next. Nevertheless it's a very interesting read. And again it inspired some thought in me that isn't necessarily presented in the book.

And this is another blog where I don't quite have the idea fully formed. Here it goes anyway. And what I say here isn't really what Dawkins was saying, and I can't fully explain out of context what he was saying, and I might have understood it wrong in the first place. Okay, shut up with the qualifiers already, praiseNull!

Anyway, the inspiring concept was that brain patterns in the form of songs and ideas and such might replicate, mutate and evolve analogous to how genes do in natural selection. So a popular song--for illustration's sake let's think before recordings were possible and this is a folk song passed about from tribe to tribe--may replicate itself to other brains, mutate and evolve as it is communicated from brain to brain.

The moment of inspiration was when he said both gene selection and meme (brain pattern) selection must be compatible within their environment. Where this lead me was to think of religion as a meme, and it fits with what I've been saying. The concept of God, Jesus--or Mohamed or Moses or whoever--and morality mutates as it is passed from person to person, and groups of faith form and split over various disagreements.

What really really really really hit home was that atheism is not compatible with religion. Not in one mutation, anyway. Most Christians may believe in God and Jesus but aren't out to stone blasphemers or inflict other harsh punishments even though that's what the religion started. God and Jesus are kind (well, sometimes...anyway kind from a Christian's point of view), so kindness where the bible says you should stone someone is not a particularly incompatible view (or mutation of a view) to adopt (replicate) for a Christian. Divorcing or aborting a pregnancy is not too strong a mutation because in many cases it prevents suffering and misery. But perhaps "look, seriously, there is no God and all of this is made up" is too much a mutation of a meme--it's incompatible with the ubiquitous monotheistic meme. Perhaps the path from Christianity to atheism is to evolve the meme bit by bit to emphasize the morality and good social behavior and de-emphasize God, Jesus and life before or after this mortal life. And come to think of it, that's sort of the pattern I followed myself. Not that I ever had a belief in a literal God or that Jesus was actively saving my soul, but it took a long while to make the apparent leap from agnostic to atheist, or at least to declare to myself that no, I don't really believe that there's a God out there somewhere.

One more qualifier: Although Dawkins is an atheist and some of that shows through in this book so far, where I have gone with this has really nothing to do with what the book is about.

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