RE: Meme definition (was: birthdays)

From: Richard Brodie (
Date: Wed 18 Jun 2003 - 22:56:36 GMT

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    >Sometimes the meme goes out in the world encoded
    >in a straightforward, one-to-one way into a vehicle, like the method for
    >making arrowheads being made into an instructional video. Other times a
    >can replicate through a much more complex, probabilistic series of events
    >which encoding may not be the best model to represent the replication. For
    >instance, suppose I am learning to play poker tournaments without the use
    >a book. I start off really bad, but through practice I start to come up
    >some strategies in my mind, ones I think the better players use to gain an
    >advantage. Sometimes I will be mostly correct and their strategy-memes get
    >replicated in my mind. Is it useful to say those memes are encoded in the
    >poker game? Possibly, but it's a stretch compared with the book on poker
    >the instructional video. I may misconstrue the play and invent my own
    >strategy, a different one from what I think my opponent is using. I may
    >use that strategy and a third player may infer the original strategy-meme
    >opponent was using in the first place, misconstruing mine. I'm not sure
    >encoding is the best metaphor here.

    <<I would say memes are not involved in such de novo learning. There certainly are memes such as the rules for card games in general and the specific rules of poker that a person would have to learn in order to play but idiosyncratic playing strategy I don't think would count as memes unless it was obtained from observation of other players and imitated.
    (I.e., don't draw to a small pair.)>>

    Here's an example you may like. A personal-growth group I am familiar with has a course with some very clever design points. One of the is a module about choice. The purpose of the module is to have the participants figure out for themselves that the best way to make a choice is to go with your feeling and ignore reasons why or why not. Participants who hold this position tend to sign up for the next course, which is conveniently offered in the back of the room during the break right after this module.

    I maintain that "go with your feeling and ignore reasons" is a meme, that the meme is replicated during the course into the minds of some of the participants, predictably, but without every being explicitly stated, and that some percentage of those participants go on to enroll more people in the course and repeat the process. This is a controlled, deliberate attempt to induce learning of this strategy-meme. As such, it illustrates the process. However, I maintain that there are many, many "induced-learning" memes part and parcel of any culture, and not necessarily set up deliberately. Some of the induced learning may be along the lines of what you choose not to call a meme (I'm neutral), such as "unsupported objects fall." But much of it is culture specific. For example, in Seattle people think it's just fine to drive the speed limit in the left lane of the highway and they think it's criminal to cross against the light. In Boston, people think the opposite. Assuming some percentage of the people just learn these ethics from observation rather than being taught them explicitly, they are predictable induced learnings that result in meme replication.

    >How about a child whose mother is a strict disciplinarian? The child
    >the strictness for her woes and makes a decision to be lenient with her
    >child, who comes to the opposite conclusion and once again adopts the
    >strictness meme. Where is that generation-skipping meme encoded?

    <<In other minds. Assume child raising strategies 1 and 2 that are both common memes in the culture. In the case you described, a meme that could take the path from parent to child failed to make the jump and the child picked up the alternative from others. Same thing with the second generation.>>

    Hmm... I think you're blurring the distinction between encoding a meme and cultural context. I see your point and don't really wish to argue it. But you give ammunition to people who say, "Aha! Where is that meme encoded between mind A and mind B?" Sometimes the culture is just set up to program people probabilistically with various memes.


    <<Computer viruses, DNA strings (genes) and memes should all be considered pure information because they can be freely interconverted from one media to another without loss. (It would be silly to do so, but a computer virus could be encoded into DNA, put in a cell, duplicated, read out by a gene sequencer and converted back into an identical computer virus.) They differ mainly in the place in which the information has real world effects. A computer virus has to be executing in the proper computer, a DNA string must be in a cell, and a meme must be "running" in a human brain to have effects. They all belong to the more general class "replicators.">>

    Yes, that's the nub of the gist.


    <<First, there are some vines and other plants that only propagate vegetatively, i.e., they have no seeds at all--somewhat like your description of a people and culture.>>

    Excellent example...thanks! I wish I could make up examples as good as yours.


    Richard Brodie

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