Sticky Memes II

From: Kate Distin (
Date: Fri 20 Jan 2006 - 14:51:31 GMT

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    To pick up where I left off:

    Religion is almost as sticky as language. But I think lots of other things are this sticky too. Some of the things that stick to children are representational systems (RSs) like natural languages; others are memes (i.e. the information that is represented by those RSs) like religion.

    Here's a list of some of the most sticky memes. [When I say 'parental' I mean 'mostly parental but, depending of the degree of exposure to influence outside the family, possibly also social'.]

    Parental attitudes: to whether smacking is acceptable; to the importance of fashion; to racism; to sex; to money; to work; to education; to marriage . . . the list is almost endless. Parental beliefs in matters of: religion; politics; the role of Santa and the tooth fairy in childhood; etc. The first RS you learn as a means of representing information in: natural language; mathematics; music; written language; horology; etc.

    In all of these cases, adults *are* able to discard or add to what stuck to them in childhood. In every case the ability to do this will be enhanced by early exposure to the alternatives: e.g. bilingual children pick up other languages more easily than others whereas children isolated in a linguistic community will never learn another language. Conversely, isolation will decrease the ability to shake off early influences: e.g. amongst novice pianists, a long-time violinist who's only ever read music written in the treble clef, will struggle more to pick up the bass clef than one who's never read any music before.

    Of course what I'm saying here is purely anecdotal. It seems clear to me, from observing the people I know and know of, that most people do not discard these early influences, although a significant minority do.
      It would need statistical investigation. But by widening the scope of the investigation I suspect very strongly that the unique status of religion and language, as candidates for the Most Sticky Meme award, would be undermined.

    Also let's not forget the fact that a significant minority *do* learn another language, convert to another religious viewpoint, discard racist attitudes or bizarre Santa-related practices (she's off again). No matter how sticky the meme, the human ability to metarepresent does ensure that its adherence need not be permanent.


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