Re: "Abstract" Memes?

From: Ben Dawson (
Date: Fri 02 Dec 2005 - 22:39:10 GMT

  • Next message: John Wilkins: "Re: Giving a presentation on memetics"

    On Wed, 30 Nov 2005 11:52:51 +0000, you wrote:

    >Davi Johnson wrote:

    >> Things like songs, making shoes and chipping rock (or
    >> hanging Xmas trees upside down--just read about this in the
    >> AJC and it screamed "meme" to me) seem to me to be
    >> more "material" than abstract concepts or ideas, easier to
    >> understand as concrete practices. For the abstract ideas, I
    >> am stuck on how to identify what might define them
    >> as "meme."
    >> (They definitely influence behavior, and they do seem to
    >> replicate).
    >There isn't any essential difference between the memes in all of these
    >cases - all are portions of information - but some have more concrete
    >phenotypic effects than others. Memes like equality have their
    >'essence' pinpointed by dictionaries, which carefully delineate these
    >memes' varying usages and content across time and context.
    >What defines them, and any other meme, as 'meme' is that they are
    >portions of representational content. In other words they are
    >representions of a particular chunk of information.
    >Information can be complex as well as simple. This is reflected in the
    >varying lengths of definition of words in dictionaries; in the density
    >of notes on a stave; in the number of symbols in a mathematical or
    >chemical equation; etc.

    Kate -

    I am interested in this "representational content" you frequently refer to. This is the one of the parts of your book I found the most difficult to grasp, although I think I now understand it correctly.

    I'm going to include a section on your viewpoints in my presentation next week, but can I check that I have in fact understood you correctly. This is my take on what I've read so far:

    A meme consists of some representational content; that is, information which can be represented. A meme is simply a representation of a portion of information, which may be realised internally within the mind, or externally.

    (Q: in it's internal realisation, am I correct in thinking that you mean that it is realised, as Dawkins puts it "as a structure in the nervous systems of individual men the world over"? ie as an actual physical structure inside the human brain, albeit in a form that is unknown to us?)

    It's external realisation is in the form of books and blueprints.

    These two types of representation support each other. A meme could not easily spread from passive copies of itself alone. A tune, represented in a book as a musical score would not spread if the book was never read and nobody was familiar with the tune. On the other hand, if memes only existed internally, with no external representations, memes in their present cultural environment would not be as fecund. To use your words, "external representations play an essential role in memetic replication".

    A meme has a phenotypic effect, in the same way as the gene has a phenotypic effect in the body which it builds. A meme’s phenotypic effects are internal and external.

    The internal phenotypic effect is in the thoughts and behaviour of the person. For example, the meme for Santa Claus could affect the child's mind by making the child feel happy or excited.

    The external phenotypic effect is realised on the environment. You give the examples of bridges, forms of poetry, methods of central heating, models of the double helix...

    Would you say this is an accurate summary?


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    >Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
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