Re: Blue tie

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Sat 06 Dec 2003 - 04:25:55 GMT

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    At 09:59 AM 05/12/03 -0800, Dace wrote:


    > > Anyway, that's my two cents. If I'm way off base then please correct me.
    > >
    > >
    > > Danny
    >Hi Danny,
    >Thanks for the response. While I wouldn't say you're way off base here,
    >there is a crucial error in your analysis.

    I don't think he had any serious error in his analysis.

    >Memes cannot simply be equated
    >with ideas.

    Agreed, though the terms overlap to a high degree.

    >The transmission of ideas is not the same as the transmission
    >of memes. The difference is that ideas are intentionally transmitted
    >according to human logic. Memes, by contrast, are ideas that transmit
    >according to their own logic. It's a question of agency. Ordinarily,
    >humans have agency (the power of determination) over our actions. I
    >determine to transmit an idea to you, and it appeals to you or fails to
    >appeal to you on the basis of your belief system and your power of reason.
    >An idea becomes a meme only when agency is transfered from the person
    >holding the idea to the idea itself. I become the vehicle by which the meme
    >transmits itself, like a virus, to you, and it appeals to you, not on the
    >basis of your power of reason, but on the basis of its own "catchiness" or

    Memes and ideas are both patterns of information. Memes are patterns of information, elements of culture, that are replicated and because of that, subject to Darwinian evolution--mutation, selection, extinction and so on. I don't see a fundamental difference in a meme that is replicated because it is just useful to people and one that replicates for other reasons, such as inducing addictive behavior. Every idea is a potential meme, ones that are actually transmitted are memes as well as being ideas.

    I think what you are mixing in here is the mutualistic to parasitic range of memes. Making shoes and castrating yourself for some stupid belief like Heaven's Gate are both behavior outcomes of memes. The first gets propagated from generation to generation because it is just darn useful, the second . . . well, if it doesn't make a sidewise move to non offspring it's a dead meme. A meme can include an element of "go preach me" but it doesn't have to and most don't.

    >To deny that memes self-replicate is to deny memetics. If memes passively
    >replicate, then there's simply no reason for the term to exist, and we might
    >as well refer to all ideas as "ideas" and leave it at that. It's only
    >insofar as ideas can take on their own agency that memetics is a legitimate
    >field of study.

    Memes under the term "culturegens" was a legitimate field of study at least a decade before Dawkins give the same concept a catchy name. On the subject of self-replication, Aaron and I went around and around on this and we finally came to agreement that any replication is "self-replication" if there is a prior instance. (That was the only way to make memes and genes follow roughly the same logic rules.)

    >Unfrotunately, memetics is bifurcated between people who think it's the
    >answer to all questions related to cultural transmission vs. people who
    >think it's an overhyped pseudoscience.

    Most of the large number of people I know who use the term don't think of it either way. Memetics is just a very simple concept, that you *can* apply biological/Darwinian models to elements of culture. But cultural elements are just part of the picture, for example, you have to keep in mind that memes and genes feed back on each other and that memes *can* have a much shorter "time constant." (That was not always the case, humans used the "Acheulean" tool kit during a substantial fraction of human evolution. WH Calvin's THE ASCENT OF MIND (Chapter 8) ... The Acheulean hand ax is far, far older: it was the most prominent feature of the Acheulean toolkit made by Homo erectus between 1.5 and 0.3 million years ago. ... )

    >In order to stake a middle ground
    >and establish memetics as a serious science that appeals to more than just a
    >handful of true believers, it's imperative that we define not only what a
    >meme is but what it is not. It's not a substitute term for idea,

    No, because you use meme where you want to consider evolution/replication about the information pattern under discussion, idea when you don't. Examples: "I have an idea, let's do face painting at the kid's birthday party." "The meme of face painting came from nowhere to become a part of the culture of childhood in the last two decades."

    > and it
    >doesn't explain culture from top to bottom. Memetics has a certain place in
    >the study of culture, and until that place has been clearly delimited, it
    >will not be taken seriously by the larger, intellectual community.

    Sigh. It may be that the meme about memes is *just too simple.* People want to make it more complicated than is justified, kind of like peeing in the soup to improve the flavor. You don't need to. There are lots and lots of areas that get really gnarly in the evolutionary psychology study of why certain memes spread and others don't.

    Keith Henson

    >Ted Dace

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