RE: Words and memes

From: Grant Callaghan (
Date: Sat Feb 02 2002 - 15:54:20 GMT

  • Next message: Grant Callaghan: "Re: Abstractism"

    Received: by id QAA09602 (8.6.9/5.3[ref] for from; Sat, 2 Feb 2002 16:00:03 GMT
    X-Originating-IP: []
    From: "Grant Callaghan" <>
    Subject: RE: Words and memes
    Date: Sat, 02 Feb 2002 07:54:20 -0800
    Content-Type: text/plain; format=flowed
    Message-ID: <>
    X-OriginalArrivalTime: 02 Feb 2002 15:54:20.0746 (UTC) FILETIME=[E0ACF2A0:01C1AC01]
    Precedence: bulk

    > >Joe Dees,
    > >
    > >> >> >> >"There is bacon in the fridge" is not a meme. It's simple
    > >> >> >> >information. The meme would be "bacon is evil" or "bacon is
    > >> >> >> >fattening" or "bacon is good." That sort of thing.
    > >> >> >> >
    > >> >> >> That bacon would be evil to two of the people for different
    > >> >> >reasons, and good to a third, because of their differing cognitive
    > >> >> >contexts [...] qualifies it as a meme (same for fridge).
    > >> >> >>>>
    > >> >> >
    > >> >> >Memes promote the autonomy of culture over our conscious minds.
    > >> >> >When we make simple observations of the world around us, we're
    > >> >> >functioning intentionally, using words entirely for our conscious
    > >> >> >purposes. That culture uses us doesn't mean we don't use it too.
    > >> >> >This is the flipside of the basic argument of memetics, that our
    > >> >> >intentional use of culture doesn't mean it's not turning around and
    > >> >> >working us as well.
    > >> >> >
    > >> >> That relates to my contention not one whit.
    > >> >
    > >> >When we say, "There's bacon in the fridge," we're using words. When
    > >> >we say, "Bacon is evil," the words are using us. Only then are they
    > >> >memetic. Words are not identical to memes (any more than to ink on
    > >> >paper.)
    > >> >
    > >> If I say to someone else that the bacon's in the fridge, and they tell
    >a third person, then meaningful information has been replicated, a
    >necessary and sufficient condition for memetic propagation to be said to
    >have taken place. It would also result in the modification of behavior;
    >the third person would look for the bacon in the fridge rather than in the
    > >>>>
    > >
    > >To be replicated is necessary but insufficient to qualify as memetic.
    >Memes are not passively replicated but actively self-replicate. The mere
    >repetition of words doesn't mean memetic propagation is occurring. Memes
    >exploit our conscious interaction in order to replicate themselves from one
    >mind to another. In order for this to occur, the words must involve some
    >kind of interpretation ("bacon is evil") and not a mere statement of fact
    >("bacon is in the fridge"). If it's merely factual, the repetition of the
    >statement can be accounted for according to normal, intentional use of
    > >
    >The memetic hook used is among our most primordial; hunger can even trump
    >sex as a hook, and is only itself trumped by safety, and not even then if
    >one is hungry enough. How can it be maintained that single words, which
    >must be learned and taught to be used, are memetic in nature, yet
    >sentence-configurations composed of them is not, is exceedingly strange.
    > >
    > >Ted
    > >
    It seems to me that if you tell someone "The bacon is in the fridge," you
    have used a meme to transfer information. But if you come home and say, "I
    brought home the bacon," to mean "I completed my assignment," and no one has
    used that combination of words to make that assertion before, then you have
    created a new meme. And if the person you said it to starts using the same
    combination of words to mean the same thing, you have transmitted that meme,
    although your friend is just using a meme rather than creating one.

    In my scheme, all the words you use are memes that have been created by
    someone at some time for some purpose. New combinations are new memes the
    minute they are transmitted. The new memes die out if the receiver does
    not, in turn, pass them on. A good ad man invents new memes every day.
    Budweiser's ad agancy took a common phrase, "What's up?" and a catchy way of
    saying it, invented, probably, by some friend or acquaintance, and put it in
    a Superbowl commercial. From here, "Wazzaaaa!" was spread to millions of

    The person who first used it to amuse and influence his friends was an
    inventor. He was just like the first man to realize he could chip the edge
    of a rock to make it sharp instead of having to go in search of one. The
    people who picked up the practice were meme users. People who improved on
    the theme were also inventers and if enough of the tribe or tribes started
    using the technique, the meme became part of their culture. What we call
    culture is just the accumulation of these inventions by ordinary people and
    not so ordinary people using and passing on ideas and techniques in the
    course of their daily lives.

    That some ideas are more useful or appealing to the people who pick them up
    does not mean the ideas are using us. Ideas don't use anyone. People use
    ideas. Other people borrow them for a number of reasons, but the ideas do
    not impose themselves on anyone. A chipped rock has no will of its own. A
    sound can impress the people who hear it, but it does not do so knowingly.
    Only the people who hear it can place a value on it and use it again for
    their own purposes.

    Giving memes anthropomorphic qualities does not advance the science of
    memetics (if it ever becomes one). Even though, over time, the hand and arm
    that holds the hammer is reshaped by it, it was not the will or desire of
    the hammer that caused that change. It was the will and desire of the
    carpenter who wanted to use it that much.


    Get your FREE download of MSN Explorer at

    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)

    This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Sat Feb 02 2002 - 16:08:36 GMT