Re: Giving a presentation on memetics

From: Kate Distin (
Date: Mon 28 Nov 2005 - 18:02:38 GMT

  • Next message: Scott Chase: "Re: Giving a presentation on memetics"

    > And then there's the cushion effect (i.e. bearing the impression of the
    > last thing to sit on it) of the latest focus of the excitable media (a
    > pun-tastic phrase).

    Absolutely. Stories that would have struggled to get a paragraph on page 5 are splashed across the front page because a particularly alarming version of them happened last week. Relative fitness of memes to grab attention in a variety of environments, I suppose.

    > Necrotising fasciitis anyone?
    > You're absolutely right though both about the degree of control being
    > correlated with fear (I almost never get worried when I'm driving), and
    > also the perceived risk thing (where that = estimated risk x effect on
    > me [or my kids etc.]).
    > Not sure how relevant this is, but a little while ago I bought 20
    > cigarettes and a lottery ticket in the same purchase. A bit of a moment
    > for me as I compared the 1 in 3 (at least) risk I was discounting with
    > the 1 in gazillions risk I was up for... In that case I was discounting
    > the risk of death rather than accentuating it -- different than bird flu
    > paranoia in an interesting way -- is this the control thing again (if I
    > die from smoking then I was in that sense 'driving')?

    This is really interesting, isn't it? We're prepared to believe that
    "it could be you" in one context (wads of cash), but in another context
    (lung/mouth cancer, heart disease, etc.) we can't bring ourselves to believe that it could be us. This can't just be the physical addiction thing. Adults who know the risks start or restart smoking, as well as children who don't. We do seem to be apalling judges of risk and probability. But then there seems to be more to it than that, too . . .

    > Total tangent now: I suck nicotine lozenges now and almost never relapse
    > (cf. the kids); the interesting bit was observing that removing nicotine
    > from the equation uncovered _loads_ of behavioural stuff (~memes, I
    > suppose) keyed into the ritual of smoking -- much harder to crack than
    > the chemical addiction imho (worse luck). Now I need pills that deal
    > with my craving for pastries :(
    > Cheers, Chris.

    . . . I suspect you must be right that there is a memetic element here.
      I was never a heavy or even an everyday smoker but I started ludicrously young and made pitiful attempts for years to give up completely. I know that the reason my sister and I started smoking was the cultural context: the cool kids smoked. Somewhere this message was ingrained in us very deeply and I suspect this is very common. Smoking gives you social confidence. Like you, what I missed more than the nicotine (to which as I say I was never heavily addicted anyway) was the physical ritual of it all, to which I'm sure there is a memetic element.
      Perhaps it is this "cool" element which is the key to smokers' poor risk/consequence assessment: there is the immediate gain (100% probability) of social advantage, vs the long-term pain
    (poorly-understood probability, easy to dismiss as not-very-probable and in any case definitely won't happen to me) of death.

    Pure speculation of course, but interesting that this might be an area where memetics helps to shed light.


    > Kate Distin wrote:
    >> Is this to do with our perception of how much we are in control of
    >> these things? So we get in a car and even pick up a 'phone while
    >> we're driving but we feel fairly in control so don't panic; whereas a
    >> flu epidemic is something out of our hands.
    >> Also of course there's the thing where we pay particular attention to
    >> situations which have especially horrific consequences,no matter how
    >> unlikely. So we panic more about letting our children out of our
    >> sight for two minutes in a store than about letting them drive twenty
    >> miles with a friend's parent of whose driving skills we are completely
    >> ignorant. We imagine an avian flu epidemic potentially wiping out
    >> thousands . . . which outweighs in our minds its unlikelihood . . . so
    >> the meme successfully grabs and holds our attention.
    >> Kate
    >>> Whets interesting about memes like these is that we give them more
    >>> headspace, despite low probability of occurrence, than memes dealing
    >>> with
    >>> far more dangerous things like cars etc.

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