RE: Words and memes

From: Joe Dees (
Date: Sat Feb 02 2002 - 21:05:21 GMT

  • Next message: Wade T.Smith: "Re: Words and memes"

    Received: by id VAA10107 (8.6.9/5.3[ref] for from; Sat, 2 Feb 2002 21:11:09 GMT
    Date: Sat, 2 Feb 2002 13:05:21 -0800
    Message-Id: <>
    Content-Type: text/plain
    Content-Disposition: inline
    Content-Transfer-Encoding: binary
    X-Mailer: MIME-tools 4.104 (Entity 4.116)
    X-Originating-Ip: []
    From: "Joe Dees" <>
    Subject: RE: Words and memes
    Precedence: bulk

    ('binary' encoding is not supported, stored as-is)

    > "Grant Callaghan" <> RE: Words and memesDate: Sat, 02 Feb 2002 07:54:20 -0800
    >> >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.
    True enough, but both are communicating information; the first about the specific location of food, the second a metaphor communicating the completion of a mutually-undertood task (such as breadwinning, itself a metaphor).
    > 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.
    I have little to add to or disagree with the balance of your post, except to assert that memes and humans coevolutionarily 'use' each other; the first blindly and naturalistically, the second intentionally and culturally.
    >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)

    Looking for a book? Want a deal? No problem AddALL! compares book price at 41 online stores.

    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 - 21:21:15 GMT