Re: New Memes Book

From: Chris Taylor (
Date: Fri 18 Mar 2005 - 11:53:16 GMT

  • Next message: Bill Spight: "Re: New Memes Book"

    This talk of memes as more than thumbnail metaphors for what is really going on is limiting discussion. There are no memes in the sense that there are genes. There is not even an approximately analogous thing.

    Biologists have long employed shorthand, such as 'evolved to do suchandsuch', to avoid having to always say that the chance occurrence of a thing in an individual happened to result in the greater 'fitness'
    (more shorthand) of that individual (or something along those lines). But the danger is in trying to treat such shorthand characterisations as more than they are.

    There cannot be memes that are transmitted. There is no mechanism for their propagation. The only 'things' that are even things at all are the little self-sustaining modules of thought that occur within a mind, but to try to assert that these (ill-defined at best) informational chunks can jump minds, or be 'embedded' in artefacts, is at best nonsense.

    What meme 'transmission' should be shorthand for is a mix of phenotypic copying and convergent evolution; e.g. I learn a behaviour or internalise a thought, but in doing so I try (ahem) to construct an internal copy that works like the thing I have seen, from my own internal stuff, i.e. the sum of my experiences and internal interactions to date. If we both see an artefact it will produce superficially similar (on testing) representaitons of it in our minds (not dissimilar to a jelly mould). But to imagine that there is anything remotely similar in an absolute sense is ridiculous.

    There are no memes, but that does not preclude a memetics.

    Sorry this wasn't a direct response to the previous mail, just ranting.

    Chers, Chris.

    Kate Distin wrote:
    > Kenneth Van Oost wrote:
    >>----- Original Message -----
    >>From: Kate Distin <>
    >>You wrote,
    >>>Memes in the mind - yes. Memes in behaviour and/or artefacts - it
    >>>depends what you mean by "behaviour" and "artefacts": memes in artefacts
    >>>like books and CDs - definitely; memes in spoked wheels (to use one of
    >>>Dennett's examples) - no. Memes, on my view, are fundamentally
    >>>representational, so anything that isn't a representation can't be a
    >>>meme. This turns out to be a key point on which I disagree with Dennett
    >>>and Blackmore in particular, both of whom use a lot of examples based on
    >>>things that I don't see as memes at all. The other major point at which
    >>>our views diverge is their claim that the mind is a meme-complex. I
    >>>think we can have our cake and eat it: that memetics is compatible with
    >>>a conventional view of the conscious human mind.
    >>Hi there,
    >>Maybe you are better off with the performance- model of Wade T.Smith,
    >>although most list members would disagree.
    >>Memes in books and CD's ok, but what Smith proposed ain 't stupid either.
    >>By reading a ( certain) book in a specific surrounding you express each time
    >>a different meme. The meme is in the performance of reading the book.
    >>Every different meme would in that case be represented by a / its different
    > I'm not familiar with this model, I have to admit, but oddly enough a
    > similar discussion has recently taken place on alt.memetics. My view is
    > that a book contains representations of certain fixed memes, but those
    > memes can have different effects in different contexts - so each time
    > the book is read (even if it's re-read by the same person at a different
    > time) it will have a different impact. Same memes, different phenotypic
    > effects in different memetic/environmental contexts.
    >>Shooting the arrow is meaningless unless the performance of shooting is set
    >>in a specific place/ time and for a purpose. And each time an arrow has been
    >>shot for any purpose in any place and time possible a different meme is
    >>added in the memepool. Even in the different ways the bow has been
    >>stretched (different ) memes sprung to the light.
    > Shooting an arrow isn't something I'd normally describe as a meme,
    > because it doesn't (usually) represent anything. Of course it could if
    > you set it up that way ("When you see me shoot an arrow that's the
    > signal to attack."), but normally not. It feels to me as if it's the
    > definition of "meme" that's being over-stretched in this example!
    >>Memes in spoked wheels, no... but you can ' draw ' memes from it, by
    >>talking about them; by taking pictures of it; in trying to figure out how
    >>are fabricated; etc...! Spoked wheels can be representational for a certain
    >>sub- cultural group, for a certain social class and in that case they are
    >>' memes '.
    > I would say that spoked wheels are the phenotypic effects of the memes
    > for spoked wheels. They are not in themselves memetic. Once you start
    > talking about them, taking pictures of them, etc. then you are
    > representing them (in words, pictures, diagrams, etc.), but that doesn't
    > make the wheels representational in themselves. You may even be able to
    > work out how they were made, but only by bringing your own existing
    > memes to the situation (knowledge of what a wheel is, the fact that
    > being spoked is an option, understanding of manufacturing methods and
    > materials, etc.). The wheel does not contain any of this information.
    > A wheel isn't a great example in that it's hard to imagine a person who
    > wouldn't recognise it for what it is. More complex artefacts like
    > coffee machines or computer keyboards make the point clearer, I think.
    > If you showed a coffee machine to my five-year-old, or to someone from a
    > pre-technological society, then he wouldn't know what it was or what its
    > purpose was. He wouldn't be able to work it out either, if he'd never
    > seen anything like it before. If you gave him the instructions, though,
    > he could read them and get his understanding from there. This is
    > because the instructions contain the necessary information but the
    > machine doesn't.
    > If a rival manufacturer wanted to lift ideas from this particular coffee
    > machine, then he'd only be able to do so because he brought his existing
    > understanding (memes) of that sort of artefact to the situation. In
    > other words I don't think there's a sub-group for whom such an artefact
    > is representational - just a sub-group with such a good understanding of
    > similar artefacts that they are able to represent this one for themselves.
    > Of course this all rests on my contention that memes are
    > representations, which I accept I've not defended here.
    >>Is this clear enough !?
    > Yes - hope my replies are!
    > Kate

      Chris Taylor (
      HUPO PSI: GPS --
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