Sticky Memes

From: Price, Ilfryn (
Date: Tue 24 Jan 2006 - 14:47:02 GMT

  • Next message: Kate Distin: "Re: Sticky Memes"


    I'll try and take your summaries together because you open up interesting areas

    > Of Kate Distin
    > The contention of people like Chris, If and Ben is that
    > 1. we ought not to expose young children to religion because
    > 2. in doing so we're imposing a false view of the world which

    False see below

    > 3. has far-reaching and potentially harmful consequences, and
    > 4. is almost uniquely sticky amongst the memes children encounter -
    > possibly even as sticky as their first language: it is so hard to shake
    > free of parental religion that you are effectively removing all choice
    > from these children.
    > My reply is that:
    > 1. We cannot avoid exposing children to religion. There is no neutral
    > alternative. Secular humanism, atheism and agnosticism are all alleles
    > of the religion meme (to put it simplistically). We can - and I think
    > we'd all say should - avoid offering our views as unquestionable dogma,
    > but even then young children are bound to be influenced by parental
    > beliefs and practices.

    I agree given your set of what I would simplistically call 'value system' memes. Inoculating, if possible, younger minds against dogmatic assertions is indeed key.

    > 2. We have to agree to disagree about this one.
    > 3. Whether religion is inherently harmful is also up for debate.

    'Inherently' is indeed up for debate. 'Potentially' is a different word.

    > 4. If: I think you're right. Religion is almost as sticky as language.
    > But I want to go further. I think lots of other things are this
    > sticky too

    Part ii
    > 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.

    In my interpretation the 'representational system' (the word or signifier) is being replicated and hence is the meme (or primary non genetic replicated). The information represented by a given signifier (the signified) can vary with time and context. (This is of course simplistic and atomistic and shorthand for emergence in more complex representational systems and I am ignoring gestures and tools for now).

    Acquisition of (normally) a 'mother tongue' or first language seems to be innate and there are claims which I have not tracked to source that once acquired it blocks or impedes acquisition of some others. Along with language we acquire some level the collective 'representedness' of a particular family / group / culture.

    > 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.

    > In all of these cases, adults *are* able to discard or add to what stuck
    > to them in childhood.

    Discarding is virtually impossible post 6 years old for at least the primary language and probably difficult for a range of others from the trivial (e.g. simple jingles) through a range of others, so there appear to be two axes stickiness (the inverse of discardibility) and something like significance

    > In every case the ability to do this will be enhanced by early exposure
    > to the alternatives:


    > Of course what I'm saying here is purely anecdotal.

    Agreed, but a logical hypothesis

    > 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.

    Agreed, and an interesting research area. I strongly suspect primary language gives us 1 fairly universal reference point for stickiness. Let us call it for a thought experiment 100 Distins. How would we assess the relative stickiness, and or 'triviality' of alternatives and how would we relate relative stickiness to context (e.g. earlier discussion of closed religious or Elvisian communities)

    > 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).

    Can you really discard 'Rudolf the red nosed reindeer' or 'Santa' (as opposed to certain 'Santa-related practices' out of your head. I would call them highly sticky and relatively trivial (logical dangers of manipulation and association with over consumption excluded)
    > No matter how sticky the meme, the human ability to metarepresent does
    > ensure that its adherence need not be permanent.

    If by metarepresent you mean roughly the same as 'ask questions' yes I agree.

    A stickiness scale, and a triviality scale would be useful. We may also need a 'value of truth scale' (see again Cohen and Stewart). They make an interesting claim that "all religions are true for a given value of truth" and the same claim for perhaps a different VOT of say Newton's Laws of motion.

    That's where I'll resist the temptation to get sidetracked


    =============================================================== This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing) see:

    This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Tue 24 Jan 2006 - 15:07:44 GMT