From: Keith Henson (email@example.com)
Date: Wed 21 Jan 2004 - 05:48:14 GMT
At 11:15 AM 20/01/04 -0800, Michael Lissack wrote:
>At no point do I ever suggest doing away with the word 'meme'
You don't, nor have I suggested you have taken this stand. I do say that
you appear to want to hijack the word away from the original meaning and
from the way it is used by the vast majority of those familiar with the
"meme about memes."
>I am suggesting that giving memes the quality of being replicators
That's the essence of what Dawkins proposed.
>and a teleos of "desiring" to multiply
That's just silly. Neither genes nor memes have the capacity to "desire"
anything with or without quotes. Neither are genes really "selfish,"
that's just a literary shorthand to stand for the longer and obvious
observation that genes or memes that increase in numbers during replication
and selection cycles become more common in the gene pool/meme pool.
> is incorrect and the source of many of the problems standing in the way
> of the advance of memetics.
You are right that taking an author's shallow anthropomorphic shorthand in
the place of a deeper understanding of something that is fairly simple does
get in the way of understanding both modern Darwinian theory *and*
memetics. "I have discussed this and other over-literal misunderstandings
in my paper 'In Defense of Selfish Genes,' . . . " Richard Dawkins
(http://www.royalinstitutephilosophy.org/articles/dawkins_genes.htm) But I doubt it stands in the way of progress in either area. It does seem to stand in the way of popular understanding though.
>Reasoning by analogy must be done carefully. If you only focus on the
>similarities you forget that analogies by definition also contain
>variances which must also be addressed.
>Meme=gene was brilliant but too simple. The baggage from replication
>properties is more than 'memes' can cope with.
Meme=gene (meme equal gene) is just wrong, and there is no possible way
Dawkins would be support such a suggestion. Memes and genes are both
members of the more general class replicators, more specifically
information replicators but they have a different "locus of action." A
computer virus is different from a biological virus in a similar way. One
needs a particular kind of computer, the other a particular kind of cell to
>Meme remains the preferred word but the status of memes as replicators is
If you need to put a tag on something in the way you want to modify the
meaning of "meme" please make up a new word. Memes as replicating
information patterns, replicating elements of culture, etc is *well
established.* I can only speak for myself, but I don't think you are going
to get support for your proposed mutation of the "meme about memes" from
Cloak, Vajk, Lynch, Brodie, Dennett, Blackmore, Grant, Wright, or any of
the other people who have written serious works about the subject in the
last 20 years.
To take this to a meta level, what motivates people is gaining
status. What improves the world is non-zero sum-ness. Now there certainly
would be a status gain to the person who succeeded in changing the
definition of meme, but it would be a zero sum result. I.e., any gains a
person got from this activity would be matched by loses of Dr. Dawkins and
others who support the current "standard" meme about memes. (You would be
showing that they are all just wrong in some fundamental way.)
But there are areas in memetics, particularly in the interface with
evolutionary psychology, where there is lot of "low hanging non-zero sum
knowledge fruit" to be picked.
Memetic "gain" i.e., does a meme spread or die out, obviously depends on
details of human psychology. Fads, for example, seem to be driven by the
psychological attractiveness of novelty. Other traits, such as the pre-war
spread of xenophobic memes seem to be dependant on environmental triggers
such as declining income per capita. This *probably* maps into looming
privation of the kind that would have triggered wars between competing
small bands of human ancestor social primates for the last several million
When solitary grasshoppers of certain species get the proper signals of
high population density while growing up (encountering a lot of other
grasshoppers) they undergo a major developmental change to the gregarious
migrating locust form. The *morphological* changes in color and
temperament are so extreme that for a while the migrating locus form was
thought to be a different species.
It is an absolutely appalling but seeming inescapable conclusion from
evolutionary psychology that humans have analogous behavioral mode switches
that are activated under some physical or psychological
conditions. (I.e., you don't have to have real privation to switch into
the "going to war mode," being psychologically convinced that bad times are
coming or that you are about to be attacked may be enough.)
Studies in such areas as mob psychology and war psychology as they relates
to environmental triggers are disparately needed. Interpreting the
Hutu/Tutsi genocides, the Easter Island population collapse, and the
recurrent pig slaughter/wars cycles in Papua New Guinea in such terms would
generate a fundamental literature where memes (as replicators) are a
PS. Anyone is welcome to jump into any part of the above. There is far
more work to do than I can manage and I am more than willing to give credit
and recognition to others who want to work in this area.
This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the
Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
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