Re: Sticky Memes

From: Kate Distin (
Date: Tue 24 Jan 2006 - 15:27:11 GMT

  • Next message: Chris Taylor: "Re: Sticky Memes"

    Price, Ilfryn wrote:
    > Kate
    >>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

    You are right of course. I have been ignoring throughout my original post the important difference between acquiring a piece of information and accepting it.

    As a slight aside, this is one of the key reasons why I don't go for the mind-as-a-memeplex view. Philosophers talk about "propositional attitudes" - i.e. the fact that we can take a variety of different attitudes to any given proposition: we can wish/fear/believe/disbelieve that "it's going to rain today" or "the earth is flat" or whatever. We respond to incoming memes - we are not identical with them. [Climbs back down from hobbyhorse . . .] So I really should not have been ignoring it! As you say below, I haven't actually discarded the Santa meme but I have chosen not to act on it.

    In fact as you point out elsewhere, the very fact that I am discussing it is acting to spread the Santa meme further or at least bring it back to the attention of people who may not have thought about it for years.
      Just as Dawkins does a good job of spreading the religion meme (its name if not an accurate portrayal of its content). Again this points up the diference between a piece of information and the human brains that interact with it.

    >>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)
    > 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.

    Having drawn attention to the distinction between memes and their expression (e.g. between knowing about the claim that the earth is flat, and acting on the belief that the earth is flat), I suppose that we ought to be a bit more precise in our definition of stickiness. By stickiness do we mean how difficult it is to stop the memes having their effects once we've acquired them, or how difficult it is to discard them altogether?

    Is this what you're getting at when you say "triviality"? In that a jingle for example may actually be discarded altogether - the meme itself is forgotten.

    Whereas there are other memes that are more "sticky" in the sense not only of being harder to forget but also in defending themselves against rivals. E.g. in language - not just natural but in other representational areas like music and maths - the original system we learn seems to "get in the way" of our learning an alternative later. So it's not just that the meme itself is retained (as I've retained the flat earth or phlogiston memes) but its "activity" - that's not quite right: its tendency for us to act upon it - is sticky too.

    You're right - this needs more thought!


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