Re: Memetic trapping and wars.

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Thu 17 Jul 2003 - 04:02:28 GMT

  • Next message: "Re: Memetic trapping and wars."

    At 05:09 PM 13/07/03 -0400, Aaron wrote:


    >Actually, although the definition of "thought contagion" as
    >given above is wordy, it is not conceptually complicated.
    >It is equivalent to the phrase "homoderivative mnemon" used
    >in my 1998 JOM paper and my 1991 JOI paper. But I have more
    >recently been relying less on neologisms, which seem to be
    >very distracting even to intelligent readers. The neologism
    >"homoderivative" can also give an impression of needlessly
    >stilted prose, while the neologism "mnemon" can give a
    >misimpression that I am claiming to have discovered some
    >new kind of entity -- one whose existence would need to be
    >tested with a microscope, for instance. All I really did
    >with the term "homoderivative mnemon" was to label a
    >specific subset of memory items already widely considered
    >to exist by people who are not hard-core behaviorists.
    >Avoiding neologisms leads to a wordy definition, but the
    >core element of theory remains fairly simple.
    >When using the less formal term "self-propagating idea," I
    >never mean to conjure a notion of something whose formation
    >depends solely upon its own prior instances. That is, I am
    >not saying that there exists any such thing as a purely
    >self-replicating idea, or a purely self-replicating entity
    >of any other kind either. Rather, I am saying that one or
    >more prior instances played a critical role in causing the
    >new instantiation.

    I.e., a causal loop.

    >For a given phenomenon (self-replicating
    >or not), one can usually make a long list of causal
    >precursors -- some of them distant or very abstractly
    >defined. For instance, one can (for what it's worth) list
    >the electron rest mass, supersymmetries, etc. as causal
    >factors for a war. A defining issue in deciding whether
    >something should be classified as self-replicating or not
    >is whether the potentially very long list of causal
    >precursor factors includes some prior instance of the same

    Defined *that* weakly the only thing required of a meme [long form, self-replicating information pattern where the locus of action is a brain/mind] is that there be a previous instance that is "copied," imitated, whatever. It even matches my distinction that a never communicated idea falls short of being a meme, although any such idea is a
    *potential* meme. ("Self" doesn't add much to "replicating" in the weak causal requirement, "there was an earlier one.")

    I can certainly go along with that.

    It is analogous to the way viruses replicate by hijacking the DNA/RNA replication machinery of a cell where they don't have a hand in creating the replication machinery (or certainly not all of it).

    Prions (mad cow, BSE, CJD, variant CJD) are another class of
    "self-replicating" in this sense. They are tightly folded proteins that cause a particular nerve cell protein in contact with a prion to fold into the same tightly folded form. They are, of course, parasites requiring the normal protein as "feed stock." There is no complete causal loop to make more normal protein since replicating prions kill the organism by destroying its brain. [Incidentally, prion cases arise spontaneously in brains on rare occasions. So do new memes. :-) ]

    Memes infesting humans that induce suicide, or celibacy, or whacking off gonads are in this class of deadly parasitic replicators (or self-replicators in this weak sense). They thrive--to the limited extent they do--by hijacking the mental machinery built by genes to be receptive to the large class of rock-chipping, pot making memes, i.e., the survival enhancing memes that enabled humans to become the most successful animal for our size in the history of the planet.

    There *is* a strong (though long and complicated) causal loop for survival enhancing memes which includes selecting genes that build brains/minds better able to propagate the survival enhancing memes. (Just as there is a short causal loop for genes that make DNA replication machinery and a much longer causal loop for animal genes enhancing brain traits that lead to behaviors that improve reproductive success.)

    It seems to be a law of nature that any success gets parasitized. Viruses do it to cells, computers have them, and some memes parasitize human minds.

    It has been my opinion for many years that investigating the spectrum from deadly self-replicating information parasites to essential memes like agriculture is where the most "survival enhancing" progress in memetics could be made.

    Perhaps in discussing memes we need a little ASCII graphic to denote where we think a particular meme lies on this spectrum from deadly parasite (Jim Jones), neutral fad (songs?), and essential symbiote (agriculture).

    For example, |-^--------| (scientology)

    >Thanks for your interesting comments.

    Thank you for inducing me clear up the way I present this material.

    Keith Henson

    >--Aaron Lynch

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