RE: Silent memes

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Tue 08 Jul 2003 - 22:07:53 GMT

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    At 08:08 AM 08/07/03 -0700, Richard wrote:


    >What makes a replicating information pattern a meme (rather than some other
    >kind of replicator) is the fact that it replicates because of the influence
    >it has on a human mind when the information is in the mind.

    There is certainly an important class of "convert the heathen" memes that fits this definition. But an awful lot of meme replication is done blindly, automatic backups of computer files, the computers the duplicate these list messages, and people who copied the Mayan glyphs before they were understood. Printing is a marginal case because the people who do the printing often have no idea of what they are replicating even if someone else does. The analogy here might be genes that are put in bacteria (or picked up by bacteria) and duplicated without being transcribed.

    >If you don't
    >have this constraint, there is no difference between a meme and some other
    >kind of replicator such as a gene or a computer virus.

    I *fully* agree with you on the need for a constraint to differentiate between replicator classes. But I think the "active locus" or place where they have effect is enough to distinguish between memes, genes and computer viruses. Though one can set up weird corner cases, genes have influence in cells, computer viruses only in the proper computer and memes are translated into behavior influences in minds.

    Note that I don't require *human* minds, though for certain human minds are the active places for the vast majority of memes in our little corner of the galaxy. It is clear that chimps have culture and that their culture varies from place to place. Some groups crack and eat nuts using hammer and anvil stones. Others who could eat nuts don't because they lack this cultural element and have not invented it. "Potato washing" is an example of a monkey meme where we even know which bright monkey invented the meme and how it spread. Birds drinking cream out of milk bottles is another example as is the bright parrots that figured out how to eat the kidneys out of sheep in New Zealand and spread *this* behavior to other parrots. (It took killing all the parrots infected with this meme to get it out of the parrot population.)

    Keith Henson

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