Re: New Memes Book

From: Price, Ilfryn (
Date: Wed 30 Mar 2005 - 14:35:54 GMT

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    >This is becoming a humblingly familiar refrain in my posts, but I'm just

    not familiar enough with Derrida to know whether that's what I'm

    saying! Could you explain a bit more about what he says about discourses?>


    I wouldn't but see Gatherer (1977) who is good on the subject, or has assiduously studied Dennett.


    Derek I hope you don't mind being quoted


    "Saussure's theory revolves around the notions of the `signifier' and the `signified'. To use an example provided by Sarup ([37]
    <> p. 3), in the case of an apple, the signifier is the sound image made by the word `apple', but it is the concept of an apple which is the signified (not, as one might imagine, the apple itself). The
    `sign' in Saussure's terminology is the relationship between the signifier and the signified, and it is arbitrary, depending on convention. A case has already been made for equating the propositions and pseudo-propositions of Logical Atomism with memes, but in this case the correspondence is not so easy to tease out. Is the signified the meme? or the signifier? or the sign?

    A further difficulty is provided by the fact that Saussure's followers, the Structuralists, like the Logical Atomists, were not particularly interested in change. Structuralism emphasises the study of structural relations existing at one moment in time, ie. the `synchronic', over the way that these relations change through time, ie. the `diachronic', and thus relegates evolution to a position of lesser importance. As Structuralism has turned into Post-Structuralism, there has been a tendency to concentrate on the signifier rather than the signified, which has been interpreted as an attempt to remove the one-to-one correspondence between propositions and reality. This presents a considerable philosophical challenge (especially for Anglo-Americans), but in effect it brings Structuralism closer to memetics. The potential ambiguity present in Saussure's complex triadic system of signifier, signified and sign is removed. For the Post-Structuralists, the signifier is now the dominant unit and can be considered as analogous to the meme. We thus have `the play of the signifiers' (le jeu des signifiers) much beloved of the school of Post-Structuralism known as the Deconstructionists. The process of breaking a text down into its component signifiers is a similarly reductionist process to memetics. Memeticists analysing a complex belief system are concerned with identifying, dissecting and describing the memes that are present in it, in terms of their replicative powers, adaptiveness, selfishness etc.

    The leading Deconstructionist Jacques Derrida has presented the notion that we are made out of language. This seems a strange idea to many scientists and Anglo-American philosophers. However, Daniel Dennett [10]
    <> has used the meme concept to say something very similar about consciousness. Dennett sees memes as a kind of software for the `virtual machine' of consciousness which runs on the `hardware of the brain'. To say that we (or our consciousnesses) are `made of' language, following Derrida, is not too far from Dennett's view that our consciousnesses are `made' from the complex interaction of memes"

    Discourse as I understand it is form of meta-signifier. I tend to agree with Derek as above.




    >Wrt to the title - I was kind of surprised that nobody had used it

    before, and mildly surprised that nobody at the CUP questioned my use of

    it (though the subtitle was their suggestion not mine). Richard

    Dawkins certainly wishes I hadn't used it,>


    Did he say why?




    Professor If Price


    Sheffield Hallam University

    0114 225 4032


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