Re: memes defined operationally (from article)

From: Philip Jonkers (
Date: Tue 14 Jan 2003 - 18:25:34 GMT

  • Next message: Philip Jonkers: "Re: memes defined operationally (from article)"

    --- Keith Henson <> wrote:
    > Memetics comes from "meme" (which rhymes with "cream"), a word
    >coined in purposeful analogy to gene by Richard Dawkins in his 1976
    >book, _The Selfish Gene_. To understand memes, you must have a good
    >understanding of the modern concepts of evolution, and this is a good
    >source. In its last chapter, memes were defined as replicating
    >information patterns that use minds to get themselves copied much as a
    >virus uses cells to get itself copied. (Dawkins credits several
    >others for developing the concepts, especially the anthropologist F.
    >T. Cloak.) Like genes, memes are pure information.*
    > [*The essence of a gene is in its information. It is still a gene
    > "for hemoglobin" or "for waltzing behavior in mice" whether the
    > sequence is coded in DNA, printed on paper, or is written on
    > magnetic tape.]

    No argument here.

    >They must be
    >perceived indirectly, most often by their effect on behavior or by
    >material objects that result from behavior. Humans are not the only
    >creatures that pass memes about. Bird songs that are learned (and
    >subject to variation) and the songs of whales are also replicating
    >information pattern that fit the model of a meme. So is the
    >"termiteing" behavior that chimps pass from generation to generation.


    > "Meme" is similar to "idea," but not all ideas are memes. A
    >passing idea which you do not communicate to others, or one which
    >fails to take root in others, falls short of being a meme. The
    >important part of the "meme about memes" is that memes are subject to
    >adaptive evolutionary forces very similar to those that select for
    >genes. That is, their variation is subject to selection in the
    >environment provided by human minds, communication channels, and the
    >vast collection of cooperating and competing memes that make up human
    >culture. The analogy is remarkably close. For example, genes in cold
    >viruses that cause sneezes by irritating noses spread themselves by
    >this route to new hosts and become more common in the gene pool of a
    >cold virus. Memes cause those they have successfully infected to
    >spread the meme by both direct methods (proselytizing) and indirect
    >methods (such as writing). Such memes become more common in the
    >culture pool.

    You justifiably draw the parallels with genes. You exemplify genetic evolution. Since this is about memes, I would suggest you do the same about memes. Perhaps you can give examples about pushy Yehova's witnesses or about those home-invading tupperware guild we saw in the eighties. Needless to say, memes associated with systems such as Yehova's cult or tupperware proliferate better using aggressive (or should I say 'annoying') marketing tactics.

    > The entire topic would be academic except that there are two
    >levels of evolution (genes and memes) involved and the memetic level
    >is only loosely coupled to the genetic. Memes which override genetic
    >survival, such as those which induce young Lebanese Shiites to blow
    >themselves "into the next world" from the front seat of a truck loaded
    >with high explosives, or induce untrained Iranians to volunteer to
    >charge Iraqi machine guns, or the WW II Kamikaze "social movement" in
    >Japan, are all too well known. I have proposed the term "memeoid" for
    >people whose behavior is so strongly influenced by a replicating
    >information pattern (meme) that their survival becomes inconsequential
    >in their own minds.

    Last I heard, the originally Japanese term Kamikaze translates into "Divine Wind", which may be considered to be a movement alright but not really a social one I'm afraid :-).

    >2003 comment. I could elaborate, or use different examples, but this seems
    >good enough for a working definition.
    >Keith Henson

    Other than those minor technicalities it sounds like a sound elaboration to me Keith.

    Greetings from Plymouth UK to you all,


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