Re: Memes Meta-Memes and Politics 1 of 3 (1988, updates 2002)

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Tue Feb 12 2002 - 01:46:23 GMT

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    Date: Mon, 11 Feb 2002 20:46:23 -0500
    From: Keith Henson <>
    Subject: Re: Memes Meta-Memes and Politics 1 of 3 (1988, updates 2002)
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    At 06:05 PM 11/02/02 -0500, you wrote:
    >In a message dated 2/10/2002 11:23:12 AM Central Standard Time, Keith Henson
    ><> [writes in thread Re: Memes Meta-Memes and Politics 1 of
    >3 (1988, updates 2002)]:
    > > [Not to detract from Dawkins, but as I have dug deeper into the subject,
    > > Dawkins himself recognized William Hamilton as more of an original
    > > thinker. For certain though, Dawkins made the work of Hamilton, William,
    > > Trivers and a host of other players available to ordinary people with his
    > > popular works.]
    >Hi Keith.
    >Credit for evolutionary replicator theory should also go to F.T. Cloak, whose
    >1973 paper developed evolutionary replicator theory for both biological
    >molecules and culture. The paper not only develops evolutionary cultural
    >replicator theory, but also evolutionary biological replicator theory.
    >I take it that giving Dawkins credit for popularizing is not meant to detract
    >from Cloak, Hamilton, Trivers, etc. either.

    No, and these guys are all very careful about giving credit. Dawkins even
    credited me in the Second Ed. of Selfish Gene for the word memeoid and its

    I *think* I have made significant advances in some areas largely due to my
    unfortunate and intimate experiences with the scientology cult. The cult
    fight led into me happening to get the input that caused me (with some
    help) to connect drugs and cults. That led to the insight that cults are
    using the same attention-endorphin reward pathway hijacked by drugs..

    It happens that my slightly later figuring out capture-bonding or Stockholm
    Syndrome as an evolved response and some of the places *that* leads may
    have been done first by John Tooby, but I don't think he published. I have
    asked him in email, but no answer back yet.

    There are excellent reasons, rooted in the days when we were hunting for
    meat rather than knowledge, to be very careful to properly acknowledging
    contributions. It was really necessary to credit the guy who scared the
    game into your snare or where you could spear it if you wanted him to do it
    again. :-)

    Along those line when I am mentioning that Dawkins named cultural elements
    memes, I mention that Arel Lucas, my wife, suggested "memetics" as the name
    for the study of memes and the interaction of memes with their hosts.

    Keith Henson

    PS, Arel was on this list in the early days.

    PPS, cut from the Analog article of 1987

          Memetics comes from "meme" (which rhymes with "cream"), a word
    coined in purposeful analogy to gene by Richard Dawkins in his 1976
    book, _The Selfish Gene_. To understand memes, you must have a good
    understanding of the modern concepts of evolution, and this is a good
    source. In its last chapter, memes were defined as replicating
    information patterns that use minds to get themselves copied much as a
    virus uses cells to get itself copied. (Dawkins credits several
    others for developing the concepts, especially the anthropologist F.
    T. Cloak.) Like genes, memes are pure information.*

       [*The essence of a gene is in its information. It is still a gene
       "for hemoglobin" or "for waltzing behavior in mice" whether the
       sequence is coded in DNA, printed on paper, or is written on
       magnetic tape.]

                                                       They must be
    perceived indirectly, most often by their effect on behavior or by
    material objects that result from behavior. Humans are not the only
    creatures that pass memes about. Bird songs that are learned (and
    subject to variation) and the songs of whales are also replicating
    information pattern that fit the model of a meme. So is the
    "termiteing" behavior that chimps pass from generation to generation.

          "Meme" is similar to "idea," but not all ideas are memes. A
    passing idea which you do not communicate to others, or one which
    fails to take root in others, falls short of being a meme. The
    important part of the "meme about memes" is that memes are subject to
    adaptive evolutionary forces very similar to those that select for
    genes. That is, their variation is subject to selection in the
    environment provided by human minds, communication channels, and the
    vast collection of cooperating and competing memes that make up human
    culture. The analogy is remarkably close. For example, genes in cold
    viruses that cause sneezes by irritating noses spread themselves by
    this route to new hosts and become more common in the gene pool of a
    cold virus. Memes cause those they have successfully infected to
    spread the meme by both direct methods (proselytizing) and indirect
    methods (such as writing). Such memes become more common in the
    culture pool.

          The entire topic would be academic except that there are two
    levels of evolution (genes and memes) involved and the memetic level
    is only loosely coupled to the genetic. Memes which override genetic
    survival, such as those which induce young Lebanese Shiites to blow
    themselves "into the next world" from the front seat of a truck loaded
    with high explosives, or induce untrained Iranians to volunteer to
    charge Iraqi machine guns, or the WW II Kamikaze "social movement" in
    Japan, are all too well known. I have proposed the term "memeoid" for
    people whose behavior is so strongly influenced by a replicating
    information pattern (meme) that their survival becomes inconsequential
    in their own minds.


    This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the
    Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
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