Re: The necessity of mental memes

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Sun Jan 20 2002 - 21:13:32 GMT

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    Date: Sun, 20 Jan 2002 16:13:32 -0500
    From: Keith Henson <>
    Subject: Re: The necessity of mental memes
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    At 04:59 PM 19/01/02 -0500, you wrote:

    >2) admit that memes can assume different forms while
    > conserving associated meaning and head on to
    > a more abstract semantic definition of the meme.

    I have said the same thing in various ways for fully 15 years. This is
    from my article in Analog in 1987.

    "Memetics comes from "meme" (which rhymes with "cream"), a word
    coined in purposeful analogy to gene by Richard Dawkins in his 1976
    book, _The Selfish Gene_. To understand memes, you must have a good
    understanding of the modern concepts of evolution, and this is a good
    source. In its last chapter, memes were defined as replicating
    information patterns that use minds to get themselves copied much as a
    virus uses cells to get itself copied. (Dawkins credits several
    others for developing the concepts, especially the anthropologist F.
    T. Cloak.) Like genes, memes are pure information.*

       [*The essence of a gene is in its information. It is still a gene
       "for hemoglobin" or "for waltzing behavior in mice" whether the
       sequence is coded in DNA, printed on paper, or is written on
       magnetic tape.]

                                                       They must be
    perceived indirectly, most often by their effect on behavior or by
    material objects that result from behavior. Humans are not the only
    creatures that pass memes about. Bird songs that are learned (and
    subject to variation) and the songs of whales are also replicating
    information pattern that fit the model of a meme. So is the
    "termiteing" behavior that chimps pass from generation to generation.

          "Meme" is similar to "idea," but not all ideas are memes. A
    passing idea which you do not communicate to others, or one which
    fails to take root in others, falls short of being a meme. The
    important part of the "meme about memes" is that memes are subject to
    adaptive evolutionary forces very similar to those that select for
    genes. That is, their variation is subject to selection in the
    environment provided by human minds, communication channels, and the
    vast collection of cooperating and competing memes that make up human
    culture. The analogy is remarkably close. For example, genes in cold
    viruses that cause sneezes by irritating noses spread themselves by
    this route to new hosts and become more common in the gene pool of a
    cold virus. Memes cause those they have successfully infected to
    spread the meme by both direct methods (proselytizing) and indirect
    methods (such as writing). Such memes become more common in the
    culture pool.

    [The rest of the article and some other material can be found here:

    Keith Henson]

    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)

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