Re: Meme Extinction

Paul Marsden (
Thu, 29 May 1997 13:01:40 -0400

Date: Thu, 29 May 1997 13:01:40 -0400
From: Paul Marsden <>
Subject: Re: Meme Extinction
To: "" <>

Message text written by
>>snip preceding material<

>Bloch's paradox is that the meme does not "exist" until we
>think about it, which corresponds to observing it. It whereupon snaps
>reality, with whatever characteristics we endow it. Did that meme "exis=
>before our mental observations, and if so, in what form? It strikes me
>that this question is very much like those raised by the uncertainty

>However on closer inspection I think this assertion

>TP: Which assertion do you mean?

PM The assertion that an extinct meme cannot be studied.

>> is based on two
>>misunderstandings: One, the belief that we must be personally consciou=
>>memes for them to exist, and Two that a meme about meme x is equivalent=

>>meme x. The first fallacy is a result of slipping into the seductive
>>dangerous trap of assuming that there is some conscious being over and
>>above the memes who can be conscious of them (the real me, Soul, Mr.
>>Homunculus etc)

>TP: On the other hand, your comment seems to imply that "memes" are the=

>entities that are conscious. I admit that the notion puzzles me: how c=
>a meme, the content of which deals, say, with circus clowns, be identica=
>to those processes that make us aware of things, including clowns, trees=
>the weather, and so on? Isn't this confusing the perception with the

PM: No I don't think so, to quote Dennett:

"Human consciousness is itself a huge complex of memes that can be best
understood as the operation of a "von Neumannesque" virtual machine
implemented in the parallel architecture of a brain that was not designed=

for any such activities." p210

In other words you, the perceiving Timothy, is that unique meme-complex,
part of which has evolved to become an effective meme-detector (and which=

works of course in parallel with the unconscious brain. They, the memes
are the replicators (parallel to genes a la Dawkins), so no they are not
conscious themselves but they are the virtual building blocks of
consciousness. =

>> I would contend that it is possible to talk about the impact of a
>>meme in a particular spatio-temporal location regardless of whether the=

>>actors present in the situation were consciously aware of those memes a=
>>without being infected with that particular meme oneself, ie regardles =
>>whether that meme is present now. So, yes from this perspective, one c=
>>study extinct memes.

>TP: I agree with your first point, that we can discuss the effect of mem=
>on people who are unaware of them. But that's different from trying to
>reconstruct an extinct meme, and thereby bringing it into existence.

PM: Who is exactly trying to do the reconstructing?

>I would like to know *how* you suggest we can study an extinct meme. Ta=
>the missing text example -- a manuscript that lacks certain passages. H=
>can one "study" what has been lost? I mean this in concrete detail --
>exactly what does one do?

PM: Use linear logic, pattern recognition, inference and deduction (ie al=
those wonderful tools our own Joycean virtual machine - concsciousness ha=
evolved to use.) Just as you can no longer perceive (see) the stalker
chasing you when you turn a corner, you can still predict if and when he
will come around that corner. We don't percieve everything, we
extrapolate, for example peripheral vision (all vision except 2-3 degrees=

of dead centre) is very low grade, yet we have the illusion of a clear =

seemless vision superior to 90 degrees. We generate hypotheses and test=

them, until disconfirmatory data arrives we posit objects (including meme=
based on our ability to detect patterns, we fill in the holes, based on
expectation. I think this is how one would go about studing "extinct"
memes because conciousness is expectation driven not data driven.

One final point, much of the current discussion about Bloch's paradox see=
to make the implicit assumption that our ability to detect memes somehow =
a prerequisite to their existence. Are we therefore saying that a meme
cannot exist if nobody is conscious of it?

Paul Marsden

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