Sexy memes

From: Grant Callaghan (
Date: Sun 20 Oct 2002 - 15:23:20 GMT

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    Perhaps we should include as one of the defining characteristics of a meme that it is a transaction as expressed in number 2b of the definition below:

    Main Entry: trans·ac·tion Pronunciation: tran-'zak-sh&n, tran(t)-'sak- Function: noun Date: 1647 1 a : something transacted; especially : an exchange or transfer of goods, services, or funds <electronic transactions> b plural : the often published record of the meeting of a society or association

    2 a : an act, process, or instance of trans acting b : a communicative action or activity involving two parties or things that reciprocally affect or influence each other
    - trans·ac·tion·al /-shn&l, -sh&-n&l/ adjective

    What is replicated through a meme is information. In order for it to be replicated, it must be transmitted. This requires the information to be encoded and broadcast and it also requires someone to receive and decode the transmission. Therefore, we can say it is the information that is the meme, but only if it is part of a transaction between an originator and one or more other people.

    This also allows for the problem of the receiver not receiving the information perfectly because the system generates noise as well as information. What a person does with the information received is beside the point. Usually, it is used to reproduce behavior based on the information received. But I think we can say that it was the information transmitted that was the meme, just as it is in the case of genes.

    For those who want to make comparisons with DNA and genes, DNA is also encoded information that is broadcast through the medium of reporductive action. In sex, the male broadcasts his seed and the female receives it and uses it to reproduce a body that resembles both the male and the female. That is also a transaction. Sometimes the process results in a reproduction and sometimes it doesn't. (for example, fish fertilizing eggs laying on the bottom of a stream or the ocean) It's the same with memes.

    So I vote for the word "meme" to refer to the information encoded as part of a transaction between two or more people (or animals?) which may or may not lead to replication.

    In short, a meme is encoded information. The encoding can be in the form of words, actions, or artifacts but the meme is what was encoded.



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