Memetics history was Re: groupthink

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Sat 07 Feb 2004 - 04:45:50 GMT

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    At 02:34 PM 05/02/04 -0800, Ted wrote:


    >Nonetheless someone had to consciously made the connection. When Lucas came
    >up with "memetics" as a term for describing this field of study, it was a
    >simple idea. As she herself became accustomed to the term, it became a
    >habitual idea. As it became habitual for many other people, it gained the
    >status of "meme."

    At the time (and as I remember, it *has* been over 20 years now) there was discussion about what to call the field. "Memetics" seems obvious enough now, but it was not then. I do remember the discussion leading to the much less popular term "memeoid." The use of that word could have gone like viroid, which are infectious DNA or RNA elements so small they don't code for anything, or in analogy to android or robotic. This meaning might have been used for infectious word use such as "you know." I chose the android
    (under control of) meaning because it seemed more useful. It never picked up much use even though Dawkins put it in the 2nd Ed of _Selfish Gene_.

    But the time course of the use of "memetics" can be researched through Google Groups.

    There are one post which uses "memetics" prior to 1989 (4 actually, but 3 refer to an Amiga frame grabber that was using memetics as a name.)

    posts in the year, (cumulative)

    1988 1 (1) 1989 9 (10) 1990 15 (25) 1991 21 (56) 1992 75 (131) 1993 489 (564) 1994 504 (1168) 1995 477 (1545) 1996 3730 (5275) 1997 3400 (8675) 1998 3430 (12105) 1999 3750 (15855) 2000 3020 (18875) 2001 1780 (20655) 2002 1440 (22095) 2003 950 (23045)

    I don't know if the fall off in the last few years is because there is little controversy or if much of the discussion has moved off Usenet to mailing lists like this one and to webbed locations. "Memetics" on Usenet is probably into the flattened top of the S curve

    There is lots more that could be added to a graphical presentation of this data, the points where various articles and books were published, _Selish Gene_ in 1978 being the first, Hofstadter Metamagical Themas column in Scientific American (from memory Jan 1983) which had a lot from Aaron Lynch in it, and his book, L5 News articles 1985, 1986, Analog/WER article 1987, Vajk's article 1989, last day of June (exact mid year) 1993 when alt.memetics was first listed. (Which I didn't discover until Feb. 1996) More recent books, Brodie, Dennett, Blackmore, and anyone else I missed.

    Dr. Vajk's excellent early article is here:

    There are many other ways the data could be presented. Each use could be examined to see if the user was supportive or hostile, or the nuances of the concept could be traced.

    Fully enough raw material for a self referential PhD thesis.

    Keith Henson

    PS. Google lists me as author of 3 percent of the postings. :-)

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