Re: Blue tie

From: Dace (
Date: Mon 08 Dec 2003 - 23:28:50 GMT

  • Next message: M Lissack: "RE: The Redefinition of Memes: Ascribing Meaning to an Empty Cliché"

    > From: Keith Henson <>
    > At 09:59 AM 05/12/03 -0800, Dace wrote:
    > >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
    > >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
    > >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"
    > >virulence.
    > 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.

    Ideas are subject to human intelligence. Memes follow a more natural, Darwinian path.

    > I think what you are mixing in here is the mutualistic to parasitic range
    > of memes.

    A meme is a habit of thought or behavior which is shared rather than personal. That's really all it is. A habit perpetuates itself under its own momentum without the need for individuals to continually re-evaluate it on its merits. You simply think or behave the way you always have before. It doesn't matter whether the habit is helpful or harmful. What makes it a meme is that it's cultural rather than personal.

    That said, pathological memes are useful to memetic studies for the same reason that brain pathologies are useful to neuroscientists. The aberrant can tell us a lot about what is normal. That a particular behavior spreads through a population doesn't tell us it's a meme if it happens to be useful and therefore can be explained according to human reason. However, if a belief or behavior is clearly pathological, then we can't ascribe it to human agency and must recognize that it spreads under its own agency, i.e. that it self-replicates rather than passively replicating.

    For instance, in *Paralysis to Fatigue: A History of Psychosomatic Illness in the Modern Era,* Edward Shorter discusses, among other things, the early 19th century fad-diagnosis of "spinal irritation." Doctors believed that irritation to the spine could cause peripheral motor problems such as paralysis. Over the years, reports of paralysis began to increase, mostly among women. Shorter explains that women were more suggestible in regard to psychosomatic paralysis because Victorian social arrangements denied them careers and independence. They were, in effect, socially immobilized. The paralysis meme spread among women by exploiting their sense of social paralysis, which they unconsciously manifested in their bodies. It's not as if they consciously decided to make a political statement about their social condition by pretending to be paralyzed. So the agency is clearly in the behavior itself-- and therefore memetic-- rather than the person.

    > >To deny that memes self-replicate is to deny memetics. If memes
    > >replicate, then there's simply no reason for the term to exist, and we
    > >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
    > >field of study.
    > Memes under the term "culturegens" was a legitimate field of study at
    > a decade before Dawkins give the same concept a catchy name.

    Memetics remains a "cult" science outside the mainstream. And there it shall stay until it stops trying to airbrush people out of the picture by reducing cultures to memes (or to "culturgens" or whatever).

    > >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."

    Then face painting is a meme and not an idea. It was an idea when it was created, but once it "caught on," it became a meme.


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