Re: The necessity of mental memes

From: Grant Callaghan (
Date: Mon Jan 21 2002 - 15:40:31 GMT

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    Subject: Re: The necessity of mental memes
    Date: Mon, 21 Jan 2002 07:40:31 -0800
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    >Anyway, since I already have been using the various terms "idea," "belief,"
    >"behavior," "artifact," "thought contagion," "doctrine," "opinion," "belief
    >system," and "urban legend," I find no communication difficulty arising
    >not using the word "meme" alongside them. My book chapter "Evolutionary
    >Contagion in Mental Software"

    What I dislike in the choice of the word "contagion" to describe the passing
    of information is the implication that the receiver has no choice but to be
    "infected" by the idea. It also has connotations of sickness and a process
    that leads to death. Most of the bacteria and a lot of the viruses that
    invade our body do so harmlessly. Some are killers. But we have little
    choice about catching the flu or HIV. I don't believe this is the case with
    memes. Although some memes, if taken up by a large enough number of people,
    can lead to sickness within a society and the death of many of its members,
    the overall effect of memes is to make the society stronger and allow us to
    adapt to a changing environment that is changing too quickly for genetic
    evolution to keep up with. It seems to me the terms "virus" and "contagion"
    were chosen to create fear and controversey. They are loaded with emotional
    baggage from historical attempts to survive plagues and their aftermath.
    Emotion laden terminology should be kept out of the study of culture and
    mind if we are to reach objective conclusions about them.


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