This is unquestionably one of the best books I've ever read. It deserves the label of a "classic" although it does not have the fame it deserves.
It isThis is unquestionably one of the best books I've ever read. It deserves the label of a "classic" although it does not have the fame it deserves.
It is an extremely well-written, absorbing, and enjoyable book. It manages to be a fast read while making an important contribution to philosophy.
At its heart, the book is about rationality--about how we can learn. Thus the book makes philosophical claims. But it does so seamlessly in the course of a discussion of history--the modern history of Protestant thought and twentieth-century philosophy in general.
This book is totally a "must-read" if you are interested in any of the following topics: epistemology, intellectual history, the theory of education, social psychology,evolutionary models of the growth of knowledge....more
OK, Here's the good, the bad, and the ugly about this book.
1. She does a good job of summarizing the body of literature on evolutionary modelOK, Here's the good, the bad, and the ugly about this book.
1. She does a good job of summarizing the body of literature on evolutionary models of the spread of information (i.e. other people's work). The relevant chapters, therefore, are a good introduction to the subject.
2. The chapter on alien abduction is sensitive, fair, and careful about its subject (those with the illusion that they were abducted by aliens).
Every thing else, i.e. her own theories. Example. Her theory of why the human brain evolved to be so large: to make imitation possible--sexual selection of good imitators was involved. "Scientific" corroboration: people tend to fall for entertainers, who are good imitators. This is (to put it concisely) so bad!
The chapter on religion. Rigor is thrown out of the window, replaced with astounding naivety. She seems completely oblivious of the scholarly literature on religion (history of religion, philosophy of religion). Only if she had given religion the care she gives the phenomenon of belief in alien abductions!
Two criticisms of "Memetics" in four paragraphs:
(1) One problem with memetics is that it offers no valid *new* insights for historians. If memetics is about ideas evolving over time--documenting such evolution is bread and butter for historians. Ditto if memetics is about the fact that ideas (including ideologies/religions) survive and spread by adapting to social and historical circumstances. If the history of human culture and religion shows us anything, it is that each generation reimagines and reinterprets its ideological and cultural heritage, modifying that which, in some sense, no longer fits.
If anything, Blackmore underestimates the extent to which humans reimagine and reshape their religious/cultural heritages. Ideas do evolve, but cultural evolution is Lamarckian, which is to say, human creativity is involved in the adoption and spread of ideas. Blackmore, by contrast, imagines human societies as passive, uncreative, and zombie-like. Societies helplessly pick up ideas just as they pick up viruses that make them bleed. History tells us otherwise; but Blackmore wouldn't know about that, because her work is not grounded in history: look at her bibliography and endnotes; it's meager on the subject of religion but rich on every other subject.
(2) The memetic theory of religion can be tested against the data of history, just as Darwinism can be tested against fossils or genetics. While Darwinism passes the tests, memetics fails. Here is why. The memetic view is that some (harmful) religious practices and dogmas spread not because of any benefit they may have for the religious people, but only because they help with the spread of religion. For example, take celibacy for priests. It's hard on the priest, but benefits the religion, as it makes the priest divert all his energies to help the religion survive and spread. This is just like the fact that the genetic code of a virus is optimized to spread the virus, not benefit its hosts.
Well, here is the problem. For the argument to make sense, we have to assume that the spread of these harmful ideas follows a Darwinian pattern (If we assumed it to be Lamarckian, as I argued before, then her whole argument would collapse). But if Darwinian selection led to celibacy, what that means is that as a matter of historical fact, there were other religions, or Christianities, lacking the celibacy requirement, and that this lack doomed them to extinction. We may now ask the historical question: Did mutant religions go extinct because they lacked celibate priests? The history of Christianity is well-documented, and the answer to this question is no. A similar argument can be made for the other "harmful" elements of religion she identifies....more
Which is worse, having no book on a subject or having a flawed one? This is the dilemma Ahmed's book faces us with. The book suffers from factual erroWhich is worse, having no book on a subject or having a flawed one? This is the dilemma Ahmed's book faces us with. The book suffers from factual errors and methodological shortcomings. Nevertheless, it's the first book to attempt the ambitious task of offering a historical survey of the topic.
To mention but one mistake:
Ahmed asserts that the case of Khadîja (the Prophet's first wife) shows that before Islam women in Mecca inherited property. To back this statement about women in pre-Islamic Mecca inheriting property, she writes, "Other women besides Khadija are mentioned in the texts as trading in their own right, for example, 'Aisha bint Mukharib (Ibn Sa'd, 8:220. 255, no. 26)." The presumption is that inherited money can serve as capital for trade.
Consulting the source she cites, Ibn Sa'd 8:220, one notices a few things. (1) The woman's name was Asmâ, not Â'isha. (2) She was indeed Meccan; however, she is only reported to have engaged in trade in Medina during the reign of 'Umar, i.e. after the death of the Prophet. Clearly, the report has no bearing on the pre-Islamic era (nor on Mecca in that period). (3) Furthermore, she sold perfume that her son sent her from Yemen. So the report does not bear on the question of inheritance at all. That's three mistakes in one citation. ...more