Re: Bigfoot as Idea & Meme

From: Scott Chase (
Date: Mon 12 May 2003 - 18:47:52 GMT

  • Next message: Dace: "Re: Bigfoot as Idea & Meme"

    >From: Keith Henson <>
    >Subject: Re: Bigfoot as Idea & Meme
    >Date: Sat, 10 May 2003 23:51:34 -0400
    >At 11:28 AM 07/05/03 -0700, you wrote:
    >>An article on Bigfoot in the latest issue of Skeptic (Volume 10, No. 1)
    >>provides a perfect illustration of the difference between ideas and memes.
    >I don't believe you make a case here. With rather rare exceptions, ideas
    >*are* memes.
    >>In "Big Foot, Bigger Hoax," Daniel Loxton presents the two faces of
    >>First there's prankster Ray Wallace, who appears to have concocted the
    >>shaggy human story and kept it going for over forty years. Then there's
    >>Bigfoot enthusiast Rene Dahinden, who died two years ago, bitter and
    >>never having seen the mysterious creature he spent his life hunting.
    >>Wallace himself died last November, after which his son announced, in an
    >>interview with the Seattle Times, "Ray L. Wallace was Bigfoot. The
    >>is, Bigfoot just died." Michael Wallace revealed the original strap-on
    >>alderwood feet that enabled his dad to produce fake oversized footprints.
    >>As Loxton observes, "while the Wallace family mourns the death of a
    >>prankster, reports of Bigfoot's demise have been greatly exaggerated;
    >>indeed, Bigfoot is bigger now than he's been in years, precisely because
    >>those reports." Curiously, news of the hoax that started it all has only
    >>fired up interest, triggering an increase in the number of "sightings"
    >>reported in the Pacific Northwest.
    >>For Ray Wallace, Bigfoot was an idea. In the late 1950s tales of "Yeti,"
    >>giant Himalayan humanoid, were circulating all over the world. Wallace's
    >>idea was that a similar craze could be generated right here at home by
    >>simply faking a few giant footsteps. He carved a pair of feet and walked
    >>around on them at a construction site he was managing in northern
    >>California. His idea circulated
    >>throughout the region as fellow pranksters realized how simple it was to
    >>generate "Bigfoot" excitement in their own hometown.
    >Memes more often than not start as someone having an idea, like a new way
    >to make shoes, or in this case "feet."
    >The question you want to ask is: Did this idea spread out to other people?
    >The answer in this case is yes, and that makes it a meme. (I have a long
    >history of UFO hoaxs).
    >>While the idea circulated, so did the meme. The Bigfoot meme propagated
    >>effectively because it exploited the all-too-human desire to believe that
    >>our wild ancestor is somehow still alive somewhere, still roaming free,
    >>caged up and domesticated like us. Guilty at the thought that we killed
    >>"wildman" within, we project his image onto the forests and mountains
    >>us. On top of that, Rene Dahinden had another motivation to believe.
    >>he had staked his reputation on the authenticity of Bigfoot, the meme
    >>maintain itself in his mind by exploiting his pride.
    >Although *why* a meme spreads is of great interest to me (particularly
    >reasons that derive from psychological traits selected for in our long
    >history of living as social primates in tribes) a mechanism is not required
    >to make a meme. Did the "belief" in Bigfoot spread out to other people?
    >If the answer is yes, that is also a meme.
    >>Ideas are passive. They lack agency. It was human consciousness that
    >>created the idea for Bigfoot, and this idea spread from one prankster to
    >>another through normal conscious means. But before long the beast was
    >>self-propagating among believers, based on its ability to exploit
    >>unconscious desires. What is idea for one is meme for another.
    >>Memes are ideas that take on their own agency.
    >Memes (same as ideas) are just information. If that information
    >replicates, spreads out to more than the first person who has it, that
    >makes it a meme. (All ideas, even those that never spread, are *potential*
    >Near as I understand it, the entire point to using the word meme is to
    >emphasize that information passed from human mind to human mind is subject
    >to evolutionary selection.
    >It is possible you intend to say the same thing. I don't understand your
    >use of "agency."
    >>This is why the Bigfoot myth
    >>only gets bigger when it's definitively demonstrated to be a fraud.
    >To say this, you have to specify a segment of the population. There are
    >lot of people who figured Bigfoot was a fraud from the start. Then there
    >are people who will believe anything.
    >>don't depend on our capacity for rational thought.
    >That is certainly true or religions would not thrive.
    >>Any publicity, no matter
    >>how bad, will help perpetuate them.
    >Your point is not entirely accurate here. I use the example of phrenology
    >to make the point that some widely held silliness does die out.
    Yet isn't phrenology a precursor or at least an antecedent parallel to the evolutionary psychological belief in a modular mind? Phrenology was at least correct in as much as different functions are attributable to different regions of the brain, even if Gall got it wrong with head bumps.

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