Re: I know one when I see one

From: Dace (
Date: Sat 26 Oct 2002 - 21:00:58 GMT

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    > From: Bill Spight <>
    > Dear Grant,
    > > 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.

    Then it's not a meme.

    > Dawkins begins his definition of "meme" in "The Extended Phenotype"
    > with, "A unit of cultural inheritance". In recent discussions I have
    > assumed that that was a necessary part of any definition of "meme".
    > (That seems not to be the case for everyone, however. ;-))
    > I propose that "A unit of cultural inheritance" is also sufficient to
    > define a meme, and thus, is an acceptable standard definition.
    > We may argue about exactly what and what kind of thing such a unit is,
    > but I think that it is a good idea to separate the ontology debate from
    > the question of definition. We may agree upon a definition of "unicorn"
    > without agreeing about the ontology of unicorns.
    > BTW, Dawkins defines "gene" simply as "a unit of heredity". Short,
    > sweet, and sufficient. :-) No need to go into DNA, information, mutation
    > rate, or anything else. KISS (Keep it simple, sister).

    Dawkins is a reductionist. He regards the gene as the central actor of evolution, while the body is merely its mechanism of self-replication. In the case of memes, our minds provide the mechanism of self-replication. Memetics is a hypothesis that culture can be reduced to its "atomic" structure, that the indivisible unit of culture, and not human consciousness, is what provides its guiding principle. This unavoidably endows memes with self-nature, as they use us for their own propagation. To deny the "selfish" nature of memes is to abandon memetics. "Meme" would cease to have a unique meaning and could just as easily be replaced with
    "word, habit, tune," etc. The question of memetics is the question of whether these elements of culture carry their own momentum, their own drive to reproduce. If not, memetics is finished.

    The alternative to standard memetics is to accept the "selfish" nature of memes without necessarily reducing culture to it. We can regard culture as a two-track process, involving human consciousness and its choices as well as the memes that seek to influence those choices. This treats memes in regard to culture exactly the way Walter Elsasser treats genes in regard to species. (See *Reflections on a Theory of Organisms*). Genes provide information required for cellular functions but can't account for the general morphology of the species, which is propagated holistically. Same for memes and the general characteristics of culture. While we can accept this as a variant hypothesis, the theory that does away with "selfishness" altogether ceases to be memetics.

    > 3) "Unit" means a single thing. It also suggests indivisibility. To say
    > that a meme is a unit can be faulted on both counts.

    It's the self-nature of the meme that makes it singular, i.e. indivisible.

    > Definition is not the end of discussion, it is the beginning. :-)



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