Re: Meme definition

From: Wade T. Smith (
Date: Thu 19 Jun 2003 - 17:39:05 GMT

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    On Thursday, June 19, 2003, at 09:27 AM, Chris wrote:

    > At that venue :) it means go-fer/gopher if you're wondering.

    Ah- I thought I was totally up on my brit slang by knowing about the cigarette reference.... Hey, Harry Potter has introduced a whole new generation to things like bonnet and roundabout, where I had James Bond to teach me such things....

    > what is an 'original' idea then?

    Exactly that. (Precious as that answer is....) And, yes, it occurs in a mind, the working cognitive machine of the brain and the body and social development that we have good reason to assume is a quality of homo sapiens sapiens. As you say, I've handed that over to the cogpsych, but, I also cop to being lazy....

    Ideas are most often combinations of other experiences and processes, but, yes, neither I nor the performance model has any problem discussing original ideas, or non-original ideas (although, really, there is an argument for _all_ ideas being original, as any non-original idea is just a memory, really, a data point of experience and/or perception and/or feeling), which all are part of the cognitive gestalt, and all of which matter to motivations of behaviors, along with those autonomic motivators such as most innate feelings and survival mechanisms.

    So, original ideas, or just ideas, are results from the way the brain/body/mind works. Do we know how the brain/body/mind works? We're working on that, even locally, at the Mind/Brain/Behavior Initiative here at Harvard.

    Of course, we don't know _how_ ideas happen, really, so, a few trys at the 'what'. Are they products of experiences? Yes. Are they unique to the individual? Yes. Are they capable of being expressed? Yes.

    And it is at the _capability_ of being expressed that memeinthemind adherents stop, park their cars, and get out, expecting to see their destination. Sorry, guys, it's a ways down the road. The fact is, that expression needs to happen, and, yes, until and unless it does, that idea is just micro-wattage energy use.

    At any rate, it is my contention, as well as the contention of the performance theory of cultural evolution, that, however original or seminal an idea is, culture will never know about it without a performance expressing it, and, sorry, but there is no such thing as a performance that is a perfect expression of any idea, and certainly not one which then, in its imperfection, manages to communicate a perfect replication of its idea, which is what the selfsame meme proponents ask us to swallow, impossibly bitter as it is, both to logic and to nature.

    But, _what_ does one get ideas from? is a more apt question, because we know we get ideas, don't we? This is a question about creativity itself, and, there are a great number of journals, studies, discussions, and theories about this, and I've read a number of them, including some from economists, who have had fascinating comments upon this subject. Ideas, at least creative ideas, which is what we are talking about, original ideas, come. That is all we know. The greeks, after all, knocked up the muses to answer this question. Divine intervention. Ideas seem to come from nowhere, and everywhere. Memories, tastes, feelings, deja vues, chance encounters, snippets of tunes.... Yes, all and everything. We do know some distillation and symbiotic process happens in a mind and that some time is required to form most ideas, even though the actual eureka moment seems to be so instantaneous as to be only 'now'. Ideas also happen as performances in a specific venue are being done- people write to discover what they know, i.e. what they can express to others. Let me use my usual heuristic for questions like this- I have had one blinding moment of eureka creation- I was literally stunned by it, it seemed to exist in all of time for me, as if I could have looked back across my life and seen it next to a cereal dish on my parents' kitchen table, and I did see it as an element of something which will, with absolute certainty, be. I knew this. Madness? Sure, by some definitions. But, with this idea/revelation held in my mind for over three years, an opportunity came up for me to express it. And I did. Did I have a meme in my mind? No. I had a strikingly creative idea, which was a product of the space I just walked into and the product of my life's experiences. What if I had only expressed it as words at that point, to the rest of the people around me, who all had no idea what was happening in my head. I suspect I might never have done the job if I'd only talked about it at that point, but, I don't know. The past is unapproachable, although it is utilizable, especially in cultural ideas. What was my eureka moment? It was the design of a stage lighting for a specific theatre at the University of Connecticut. It was a moment from my first tour of the facilities as an incoming freshman. In my senior year, the director of an experimental theatre piece in that theatre asked me to be the lighting director for his work. I said yes. And, yes, what happened, what was done in that space, was exactly what my eureka moment had shown me would be there.

    > What if you never tell anyone, but that idea recasts everything you
    > previously 'thought'?

    Ah, the individual paradigmatic shift scenario, loved by EST scams and other cults, if not most cultures, endemically, including all MLM schemes and boot camps and political parties. What if it does, indeed? I think I really answered that in my little excerpt from my life above. If you think differently, you might act differently, but you don't have to, and if you don't, sorry, but no-one is going to stop you and look into your eyes and say, 'hey, you just went to see Tim Robbins, didn't you....' Of course, if you _want_ someone to stop you and say that, you perform in the expectation they will observe something to prompt them to say that, and most times, you're invested too many things to perform otherwise. Here, Richard needs to protect his book to wander off into other models or to start to see their worth. In my case, I was invested in, I was at UCONN to learn, technical theatre and performance theory, and my eureka moment was a culmination not only of my present knowledge, but the knowledge I knew I would have to acquire. I don't need to throw up walls to protect this now, it was done, and it worked. Did anyone know about any of my internal desires at the time? No, although they all knew we were all there to learn the theatre. They needed, and I delivered, the specific performance, and when asked, 'how did you think of this?' I always answered- this is the design I saw when I first walked into this space, but they all needed the specific performance to ask this. But, when my late girlfriend convinced me to change my beard style, and I did, people did say things other than 'did you change your beard style?'. They more said things like, 'you look happier'. And when she died, I avoided meeting people, because I did not want to hear things like 'you look like you just lost your best friend', because that is exactly what happened and I was powerless to avoid this sadness' effect upon my appearance.

    What does one get ideas from? All of one's life, and then, where one is, is one answer. But, there are a billion more.

    As for the meme in the mind- yes, perhaps that as a cognitive theory might answer some questions relating to creative ideas, but I personally don't think so, and it seems immoderately cumbersome - it does not model, at all, any eureka moment or combination of experiences or feelings, and I very definitely don't think it answers anything about cultural evolution.

    But I also think memetics is all a prank, at the moment. Not just me, not just Richard, not just Keith, not just St Dawkins, not just Dennett, not just Blackmore, not just Lynch, - we are all pranksters, but anyone calling anything a meme is a prankster. Memetics is our

    Then again, pranks lead us places. Lessons learned.

    There is a very good article at that I refer to often. Let me let it ask a few questions-

    - Can something without physicality be a unit of replication?
    - What are questions that a science of memetics would try to answer, and what are competing theories that try to answer the same question memetics purports to answer?
    - What is the practical value of pursuing such a science (regardless of whether it turns out that memes are a metaphor, are an actual something, or that it canít be established which is true).
    - Can memetics be a science--does it present testable hypotheses?
    - Do memes challenge the notion that culture is ultimately constrained by genetic factors?
    - Is the explanation of behavior that has no obvious evolutionary benefit which relies on memes more satisfying than one that considers such behaviors to be a byproduct of evolution? Are attempts to look for an evolutionary explanation for all behaviors worthwhile? Can't some behaviors (even very complex ones) be spandrels?
    - What is the relationship between memes and consciousness?

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