Re: Words and memes

From: Dace (
Date: Tue Feb 05 2002 - 20:08:08 GMT

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    Subject: Re: Words and memes
    Date: Tue, 5 Feb 2002 12:08:08 -0800
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    > Hey Ted
    > Thanks for the clarification. It is an interesting distinction but I see
    > it as one that would cause more confusion than is necessary. Suppose
    > someone goes back and relearns the underlying processes behind the
    > meme and then chooses to consciously repropagate what had since
    > become a meme, would it then loose its memetic quality?

    Something similar to this is happening all the time, and it's why children
    ask so many annoying questions. Children consciously engage the cultural
    verities that, for most of us, proceed on automatic. With each new
    generation culture is regenerated from the ground up. Memes transform back
    into ideas in the minds of children, and then, as the children grow up,
    revert once more to memes. And children don't have a monopoly on this
    process. Philosophy is all about going back and relearning the basics, not
    so as to relaunch the same old memes, but to correct the underlying errors
    in our thinking.

    > Similarly suppose that some people were
    > 'intentionally' propagating the idea and others were just passing it
    > along without thinking would it be a meme or not? Since acquisition of
    > any idea requires some mental processes where could we draw a line
    > that we distinguish for data gathering purposes? Wouldn't we have to
    > ask everyone who passed the idea along whether they were acting
    > 'intentionally'? And isn't the term 'intentional' going to be subject to
    > numerous interpretations?

    There's no definitive line between intentional and memetic culture. Between
    an ideal (nonexistent) intentionality and an equally ideal mindlessness,
    culture is on a continuum. The less we feel we have to reflect on an idea
    in order to believe it, the more memetic it's become. Without this tendency
    for ideas to become culturally ingrained, we could never have passed beyond
    the most primitive stage of culture. Memes are essential to cultural
    evolution because they enable us to set aside the most basic stuff and
    advance into greater complexity. It's no different than habits of mind
    freeing up consciousness to move on to more interesting things.

    > Also I have to disagree with your statement that 'learned behavior' would
    > necessarily equate to 'meme' in the absence of an 'intent' distinction.

    I'm merely saying that we must not allow memes to be equated with either
    learned behaviors or ideas.

    > Memes would have to have been learned from interaction with other
    > organisms possessing the same meme while a large of class of behaviors
    > can be learned with resort to acquisition from other organisms (ie
    > learning not to touch a burning candle after doing it once)
    > Thanks for the response,
    > Ray Recchia

    Okay, sometimes learning occurs through imitation, and perhaps this trait
    isn't universal to life. But this doesn't solve the problem. If we equate
    memes with learning through imitation, then memetics is reducible to
    mimesis. And if memes are equated with ideas, then why not just refer to
    ideas that have replicated versus ideas that haven't? Who needs memes?
    Just another gratuitous neologism. This is why it's important to delineate
    memes precisely, in order to secure a field of study that belongs
    exclusively to memetics.


    > > If we think of a tune as a musical idea, then the tune that gets "stuck
    > > your head" is a nice example of an idea that turns memetic. The
    > > began as an idea, hatched by the Defense Department's advanced
    > > research projects division, and then became a meme as it caught on.
    > > No one has to reflect anymore on what the Internet is and what its value
    > > is. We've long since reached the point at which this idea propagates
    > > unreflectively. It's on our minds whether we want it there or not.
    > >
    > > If "meme" is taken to be equivalent to "idea," then it becomes
    > > universalized and ceases to have meaning. On the other hand, if "meme"
    > > is equated with "learned behavior," then it becomes biologically
    > > universalized and also ceases to have meaning. Any term that can be
    > > collapsed into another term is just an abstraction. It has no existence
    > > outside of the word we've made up for it.
    > >
    > > Ted
    > >

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