Re: Distinguishing characteristics

From: Grant Callaghan (
Date: Sun 20 Oct 2002 - 02:09:11 GMT

  • Next message: Van oost Kenneth: "Re: electric meme bombs"

    > > When I look out on the lush lawn of the park I see a number of birds
    > > around competing for crumbs of bread, etc. How do I know which ones to
    > > robins, which to call crows, which to call pigeons, etc.? They are all
    > > birds, but each type has distinguishing characteristics. Individual
    > > also have distinguishing characteristics. So how can we distinguish
    > > from other types of behavior and experience? What are the
    > > characteristics of a meme? If we can't find any, we can't do much with
    > > concept. If we can't agree on what they are, it will be difficult to
    > > them. So how do we go about deciding what the distinguishing
    > > characteristics of a meme are?
    >Here's one suggestion: a distinguishing characteristic of a meme from
    >non-memes is that the former, unlike the latter, is being
    >replicated (by non-genetic means for sake of quoting our
    >great hero Richard Dawkins).
    I agree replicability is a good candidate, but does that mean things that can be replicated or only things that do get replicated? Since nothing gets replicated perfectly, do we distinguish between what is transferred but altered by the recipient and what is copied to near perfection? Does the ballet dancer who picks up a new step from her teacher but performs it badly the first few times "get it" or does she not? Or the Mexican who learns some English and pronounces "shoes" as "choose." What memes were transferred there? My own opinion is that the "sh" sound is a meme in itself and although a person picks up most of the memes involved in learning a language some are not transferred. With practice, the Mexican will learn the proper pronunciation but has he/she not picked up the meme until sound is perfect?

    There seems to be a lot of grey area in the transmission and replicability of memes. If a thing is a meme because it CAN be replicated that would make things that are not replicated memes. But if replicable behavior is seldom replicated perfectly, or is altered after being learned, can we really say that only replicated behavior can be called a meme?

    The answer might lie in defining a meme in terms of a number of distinguising characteristics that separate the meme from other possible candidates. Now all we have to do is decide what the set of possible candidates consists of. That, of course, also means coming up with names for all the various candidates -- the things that are NOT memes.



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