From: Grant Callaghan (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Date: Thu 24 Oct 2002 - 21:46:23 GMT
> > Would you say the term "couch potato" is an example of a meme
> > that propagated itself?
>It is a meme, but it does not propagate itself.
> > Words are not memes themselves because they can mean anything depending
> > the circumstances in which they are received. They carry information but
> > not the information being carried.
>I agree, but the information they carry (metaphorically) is not the only
>information they possess. They also have structural information. If you
>define a meme as information, that information is sufficient. I will
>post more about "lex-memes" soon. :-)
>In any event, in the context of "I know one when I see one", you do not
>have do define memes to include words. It is enough to identify memes by
>words. I suspect that you are denying that, but I am not sure. Would you
>say that each word *sense* is sufficient to identify a meme?
I'm not really denying anything at this stage. I'm just questioning
assumptions. Sort of wrestling with myself in a public forum. No mud
involved. I think words DO identify memes and are at least the carriers of
memes, as are actions and physical artifacts such as paintings, statues,
buildings, tools, machines, etc., etc. A sharp engineer can look at a
machine and see how it was constructed. In The Soul of a New Machine, the
author talks about a computer engineer who sneaks into another company's
workshop and takes a quick look at the machine they were working on. From
that one quick look he was able to go to his own shop and build a similar
They say Tai Chi Chuan was given to the world by a young man who sneaked
over the wall of the only master of the art and watched him go through the
whole hour-long routine. He is said to have immediately grasped the essence
and usefulness of what the master was doing and soon worked out his own
routine based on what he saw. It may just be hearsay, but it illustrates
the idea of meme through imitation. I call that a meme transferred by
I'm split on where the meme actually lies. Is it when a person sees
something and gets meaning out of it or is it when the person he/she gets it
from turns it into a word, action or object that a person can take the
information from? Is the meme the information or the thought, word, action
Take language, for example. I get an idea about something such as what a
meme is. I take that idea and put it into words. The words, however, are
limited in their capability to express the full extent of what I was
thinking. What my words carry are an approximation of my thoughts. The
person who hears my words uses them to form a picture in his own mind based
on his past experience with the meaning of the words I used. What he/she
forms in his/her mind as a result of hearing my words may be a far cry from
what my words were crafted to convey. So what was it that was transferred?
Language, as you said above, is a great deal more than mere words. Spoken
language includes pauses and emphasis and tone. English speakers use tone
to mark breaks in sentence structure while in Chinese it marks the
difference in meaning between homophones. In the process of crafting a
sentence out of the materials available to me in the theater of my mouth,
augmented by my tongue, teeth and larynix, I rely on a cultural history of
such usage that has been passed down from person to person for milliniums.
Written language is just a poor attempt to duplicate the tools that have
been honed in generations of mouths. The letters, inherited from speakers
of Latin, represent, poorly, the sounds of the English language. We have
turned the pauses between phrases into commas (one beat), semicolons (two
beats), periods (four beats). Question marks tell us to raise our voice at
the end of a sentence, while commas tell us to keep the voice high and
level. An exclamation mark tells the reader the word before it has
emotional expression. Changes in tone and pauses between words, therefore,
carry meaning and have been passed between members of a culture and are, in
some way, memetic in nature.
There are other memetic features to language that I could go into but this
is getting too long and drawn out already. But my point is that it is a
method of transferring thoughts out of my head into yours. What I'm
grappling with is the question of whether the meme lies in the process or
just in elements of the process? Many of the people on this list want to
break the process into its elements and refer to one or another of those
elements as the meme. I have been guilty of this myself. But the more I
wrestle with what I see going on, the less sure I am that anything less than
the entire process makes sense as a unit of culture passed.
What do you think?
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