RE: Meme definition (was: birthdays)

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Thu 19 Jun 2003 - 00:18:12 GMT

  • Next message: Wade T. Smith: "Re: Precision of replication"

    At 03:56 PM 18/06/03 -0700, Richard wrote:


    >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.

    LOL! Stolen from the scientologists. Is this one of the ones like EST/Forum/Landmark started by former scientologists? In scientology, you must as part of the "course" write up your "big win." The "registrars" (on commission) go after you at that point.

    >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.

    "When in Rome . . . ." Good examples. A similar example I have mentioned is which side of the road people drive on. A lot of things including accents are about doing things the same way as the locals. Another example I have used is the obnoxious filler phrase "you know" which is so easy for people to pick up as a speech habit.

    > >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
    >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.

    I would turn that around and say that people are programmed to pick up a variety of memes from the meme pool (culture) around them. Similar to the way kids are programmed to pick up thousands of words when they are learning the language around *them*.

    ><<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.

    You can see why I try to define memes, genes *and* computer viruses in a way that brings out the common features. After doing so, it is easy to start talking about how they are encoded, meme in the brain/mind, meme on paper, meme being communicated between two people talking, meme encoded
    (maybe) in an artifact. Normally you don't have to be this specific because it is obvious from context what substances, be they brains, paper, sound waves, rock, DNA, or mag tape, are encoding these memes, genes or computer viruses.

    Up to about 300,000 years ago the "killer Frisbee" (hand ax) meme was in the brains of our remote ancestors and handed down from generation to generation as an old stone age culture element "how to obtain the meat course for dinner." The meme died out in human culture but the meme was in the rocks themselves and the context of where they are found (standing on edge in the mud at accent water holes). Today it is also on paper and computer disk in William Calvin's excellent reconstruction of how they were made and used. Now the *only* thing common across all these media examples is the information (concept if you want another term) of the "killer Frisbee" and how to use it to feed your family.

    ><<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

    Your local driving customs example above is good though you might have included a third example of freeway driving customs in LA--exemplified by Steve Martin in LA Story. The hardest part about examples is remembering to put them in where you think people will have problems understanding what you are talking about.

    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 : Thu 19 Jun 2003 - 00:26:44 GMT