Received: by alpheratz.cpm.aca.mmu.ac.uk id FAA12998 (8.6.9/5.3[ref email@example.com] for cpm.aca.mmu.ac.uk from firstname.lastname@example.org); Mon, 4 Feb 2002 05:34:10 GMT X-Authentication-Warning: cheetah.nor.com.au: Host 015.digital.ppp.port.dataheart.net [18.104.22.168] claimed to be green-machine Message-Id: <email@example.com> X-Sender: firstname.lastname@example.org X-Mailer: Windows Eudora Light Version 3.0.1 (32) Date: Mon, 04 Feb 2002 16:22:25 +1100 To: email@example.com From: Jeremy Bradley <firstname.lastname@example.org> Subject: Re: ply to Grant In-Reply-To: <LAW2-F91m26mYfDBQ8g0001bd05@hotmail.com> Content-Type: text/plain; charset="iso-8859-1" Content-Transfer-Encoding: quoted-printable Sender: email@example.com Precedence: bulk Reply-To: firstname.lastname@example.org
At 07:45 AM 3/02/02 -0800, you wrote:
>>Subject: Re: ply to Grant
>>Date: Sun, 03 Feb 2002 22:36:55 +1100
>>At 07:52 AM 14/01/02 -0800, Grant wrote:
The problem we are having is
how to separate memes from things that are not memes. In other words, the
definition of a meme. Everyone wants to draw the line in a different place
and include things other people won't accept. Is a meme an idea? Is it
behavior? Is it something you can name? Or is it all of these?
I have cut up your post so as to answer its various parts
My definition of a meme dates back to Dawkins' original concept that a meme
is to a culture what a gene is to a biological organism. Therefore, if a
gene is a codified strand which exists within every cell of an organism,
then a meme is a code which exists within every unit of a culture. As a
gene enables the recognition of appropriate cells to the body of that
organism, a meme enables the recognition (within a culture) of artefacts
which are then perceived as valid or invalid to that culture. Acceptance or
rejection is therefore predicated by the presence, or absence, of
sufficient memetic 'switches'. Thoughts, activities, behaviours, ethics and
other artefacts can only become infectious if they either contain enough of
the relevant cultural meme/code, or if they can deceive the cultural body
into perceiving/believing that they do.
Mostly, the people who concern themselves with this problem are
reductionists. They are searching for the smallest unit from which the
whole of culture is created. They want to use this dichotomy to create a
formulaic method of predicting how memes are created and propagated. Is the
idea you borrow and use really a meme? Or is it just the original idea we
can call a meme?
A geneticist is not accused of reductionism because they study "the
smallest unit" from which the organism is created. A gene is what it is,
and a meme is what it is. They are both small but potent.
What we all seem to agree on, though, is that the culture we have built
around us to support us was created in bits and pieces that emerged into
something greater than the sum of its parts. It evolved as the new parts
replaced old ones and the old provided the material from which to create
what never existed before. Methods and materials were created that changed
how we organize ourselves and the kinds of dwellings we live in, how we get
from place to place, and the kinds of food we eat as well as the utensils we
use in the process. All of civilization is a result of this memetic
evolution and we want to understand it so we can use it, just like we use
everything else in our environment. We think we won't be able to do this
until we understand exactly where to draw the line.
That, at any rate, is my take on the situation.
I agree with most of what you say here Grant with the exception of your use
of the singular "civilisation". There are many civilisations and some of
them have more respect for the environment than we Westerners do. Also, as
a narratologist, I question whether cultures evolve or are the result of
conscious introductions, exclusions and re-defining of cultural elements.
For example, a successful propaganda campaign must be rooted in the
cultural values (ie contain the meme code) but is able to engineer a change
in those values so that the change is accepted by the cultural body as the
If we "built our culture around us" as you suggest, then it is engineered
rather than evolved. As Aaron wrote recently the mastery of memetic
manipulation could be "worth billions", or it may just preserve something
for our children's children.
This is an important field of research whatever your "take on it" is.
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