Re: Words and memes

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Mon Feb 04 2002 - 23:42:06 GMT

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    Date: Mon, 04 Feb 2002 18:42:06 -0500
    From: Keith Henson <>
    Subject: Re: Words and memes
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    At 11:39 AM 04/02/02 -0800, you wrote:
    >From: Keith Henson
    > > Idea is very close in "meaning space" to meme, but meme has the
    > > replication aspect attached.
    > >
    > > So you could have Watt's *idea* about how to improve steam engines
    > > "separate condenser" which you would use to describe Watt's study and
    > > coming up with the idea. You would use the *meme* of "separate
    > > condenser" when you wanted to talk about Watt's idea spreading like
    > > wildfire among the steam engineers of the day.
    >It was still an idea when it began spreading among engineers who studied it
    >and approved of it, but before long its propagation would have taken on its
    >own momentum and become memetic.

    By the distinction of replicating, once Watt told anyone about his idea it
    became a meme. (Perhaps we could require that the person who had been told
    understood the meme well enough to pass it to yet another person.)

    >Gradually the idea becomes set, and no one
    >much examines it anymore.

    Not so. The "separate condenser" meme guides the construction of every
    steam power plant built. I have worked on the design of variations needed
    to make condensers for use in zero gravity myself.

    >In other words, it wasn't simply an idea in
    >Watt's mind and a meme in everyone else's. It began as an idea that spread
    >through conscious intention and then picked up "steam" as it became
    >ingrained. Even in Watt's mind it eventually would have become memetic.

    It get's redefined by replicating. When Watt told the first person about
    his idea, it became a meme. Of course it is still an idea, but it has now
    also become a meme.

    Meme, an idea that has replicated at least once.

    Potential meme, an idea that has not replicated, but could. Either the
    person who thought of it is alive still remembers it, or if they are no
    longer a potential source, it was written on paper and paper has not been

    > > I have often written that an idea fails to be a meme (at best it is a
    > > potential meme) when someone has an idea and never communicates
    > > the idea.
    >True. It's not a unit of culture until it gets beyond the mind that
    >generated it. Failing that, even if it becomes ingrained, it's not a meme,
    >just a personal habit of thought.
    >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 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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