RE: transmission

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Wed 21 May 2003 - 13:07:11 GMT

  • Next message: Wade T. Smith: "Re: transmission"

    At 09:48 AM 21/05/03 +0100, Douglas Brooker <> wrote:

    >there is a lack of superodinates in English with the result that words
    >are used in double senses as both a superordinate and as a member of
    >the group to which the superordinate refers. (cf F. Bowers, "
    >Linguistic Aspects of Legislative Expression")
    >one would like to know the range of opinions on this, expressed in a
    >structured, methodical way, where 'meme' stands in relation to
    >associated concepts like 'idea'.

    I have written about this before. "Meme" is slightly more restrictive than idea.

    Memes are replicating information, ideas don't have to replicate. So someone can have the idea. "Ah ha! The sky is blue because the atmosphere scatters blue light better!" Her idea becomes a meme when she tells it to another person or puts it in an article or textbook and others read it. Virtually all ideas are potential memes.

    "Meme" is more restrictive than memory. All memes-in-brain (accessed by the mind) are memories, but memories are memes only if they can be replicated from brain to brain, like the above reason for the sky being blue. Memory of places you have visited don't count as memes because you can't really pass on the information you have in your head about a place like the Grand Canyon. The route to some location would count as a meme if you were able to tell someone how to get there or a meme such as "the Grand Canyon is a good place to visit."

    "Rules" are almost always memes because to be useful for games or social situations the information must be known by a lot of people. (Exception being a rule you made for yourself and never let anyone know about.)

    "Performance" (as others have pointed out) is one way to describe meme transfer. Dawkins' original definition mentioned "imitation in a broad sense" which requires a someone doing something and an observer. "Teaching" is used on the source side of the transfer and learner or learning on the receiver side. So 2.5 million years ago our remote ancestors would watch their elders chipping rocks and learn how to do it themselves. In turn they passed the "rock chipping meme" to their children as part of their culture.

    "Element of culture" is another way to describe a meme. Culture is the sum total of memes (information) available to an intercommunicating population. Part of this information gets transferred from generation to generation.

    Memes are in competition for a limited resource, human brains. This is the main factor that makes memetics so interesting since memes can induce behavior that affects how many are carrying them. "Convert or die, infidel!"

    Most memes though, are of the rock chipping and shoe making sort. Explaining them is not hard because of the benefits they provide, ultimately to the genes of their hosts. The exceptional one like the Shakers or the Heaven's Gate cult require a deeper understanding (from evolutionary psychology) of how a meme can have such perverse effects on its host.

    >the relationship of dog to kinds of dogs - poodle, greyhound, etc is
    >one direction of a hierarchy.
    >dog itself is also part of a larger group - mammals (and others - such
    >as quadrapeds...)
    >so where is 'meme' in all of this?
    >where *should* it be? this will depend on the reason one uses the meme
    >concept -what one wants it to do.
    >this is basic work, but it could help to distinguish between concepts
    >that are blurred and lead to more clarity in terms of a definition of
    >the word 'meme' if only in our own thinking.

    Hope the above helps.

    Keith Henson

    =============================================================== This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing) see:

    This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Wed 21 May 2003 - 13:13:23 GMT