Re: electric meme bombs

From: Grant Callaghan (
Date: Sat 19 Oct 2002 - 14:38:38 GMT

  • Next message: "Re: electric meme bombs"

    >To: <>
    >Subject: Re: electric meme bombs
    >Date: Fri, 18 Oct 2002 17:13:00 -0700
    > > On Wednesday, October 16, 2002, at 03:58 , Grant Callaghan wrote:
    > >
    > > > The question here is not whether a meme is or isn't. The question is
    > > > what are we going to call things? At some point in time someone wrote
    > > > a ditty called London Bridge is falling down. Some of us are calling
    > > > the creation of that ditty in the mind of the creator a meme. Some
    > > > saying they will only refer to it as a meme after he/she has passed it
    > > > on to someone else. Some say it is what was passed on that was the
    > > > meme and everyone else who sings or says or writes it is also passing
    > > > on that same meme. To each person who uses the word, "meme," to refer
    > > > to what he/she has decided to call a meme, it is a meme. To those who
    > > > have decided something different, it is not. But there is no meme
    > > > outside of what we decide to call something. If we decide to call it
    > > > beme, then for that person at that moment, that's what it is. So
    > > > arguing over what is and is not a meme is futile and self defeating.
    > > > What we have to decide is what part of our experience are we going to
    > > > refer to as memes. Outside of that, they don't exist.
    >I think the absolute minimum requirement would be:
    >meme = a replicator of a cultural element.
    That's broad enough to cover most of the conditions people have brought up. What we have to do in order to make memes useful, to my mind, is find a definition we can agree on. The trend here seems to me to be reductionist. People are more concerned with what to exclude from the definition than what to include. But since "memes" refers to all of culture, any definition would seem to me to be more inclusive than exclusive.

    Another problem I see with most definitions is that they depend too much on the biology metaphor. Richard Dawkins was writing a biology book when he pointed out the comparison between genetic evolution and this cultural element he called a meme. Because of that, a lot of the thinking about memes has been taken from the biological sciences and attempts have been made to claim that the similarities between memes and genes are almost identical.

    I reject this viewpoint. Memes don't really replicate in the same sense that genes do as far as I can see. Each instance of passing from mind to mind involves some distortion of the meme that is being passed. With memes, perfect consistency in the information being transmitted is an ideal devoutly to be wished but seldom achieved. With genes, its alteration of the information that is uncommon. Therefore the concept of mutation in memes is a misnomer. There are few if any exact replications with memes, so change is a much larger part of the process than it is with genes, which require centuries to mutate naturally. Of course, what modern memes of biological science are doing to that scenario completely alters the course of evolution as we have known it until now.

    In another sense, what genes produce is bodies. What memes produce is culture. Culture ties individuals together into a body of sorts, but it is the things we manufacture that are the product, not the individuals who create and transmit the memes. With genes, mutations change the cells that make the body. With memes, the cells (people) are still the product of genes but the structure of the connections between the cells are what gets changed.

    Memes govern how we associate and collaborate, not how we as individuals evolve physically. Of course, with memes taking over the biological agenda, that may change in the near future.



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