Re: Meme Extinction

Omar de la Cruz (
Fri, 30 May 1997 18:53:42 -0400

Message-Id: <>
Subject: Re: Meme Extinction
Date: Fri, 30 May 1997 18:53:42 -0400
From: Omar de la Cruz <>

> > if you can "observe directly" a meme THEN IT IS NOT EXTINCT!
> >
> >That's it exactly. My point was that the very act of studying a meme
> >means
> >that it cannot be extinct, because by studying it we give it a host mind,
> >and thus the meme lives.

>So are you contending that all statements about x include x itself?

I think the two contributions above make clear one of the key issues
about Bloch's paradox, whether studying a meme gives it a new host mind or not.

It is my opinion that it is *perfectly possible* to study very closely and
directly some memes without being a host for them, but that there exists a
large class of memes that cannot be studied without becoming a host.
In this case, Bloch's paradox applies only to the second class of memes.

Thinking that this classification of memes could have interesting properties,
I tried to come up with nifty greco-latin compound names to call these
classes. I'm not completely happy about the result, but it will have to
do for now:

An EPISTEMOGENEOUS MEME is a meme that cannot be `observed directly' by a person
without becoming a host. Knowledge about the meme contains the meme.

Any other meme is a non-epistemogeneous meme.

Clearly, the ambiguity of the notion of `direct observation' is a problem,
but let's not stop there yet. Probably the best way to illustrate these two
classes of memes is using a few examples.

And, by definition, an extinct epistemogeneous meme cannot be studied directly
(unless we allow for "temporal extinction"). On the other hand, it is possible
to study directly extinct non-epistemogeneous memes, if enough information
has survived, and the exactness of the study would depend on the skills of
the historians, archaeologists, anthropologists, etc.


- Beliefs. Studying someone else's beliefs does not necessarily make us
believers. This includes deeply ingrained systems of belief,
prejudices, and lighter forms of belief, like "I believe that
Chicago will be the NBA champion" (I don't follow basketball,
I got this belief from my friends)

- Habits. We can study very closely some person's habit of brushing her
teeth daily, but that doesn't guarantee our correct dental

- Skills. Watching people dance Mambo, studying the social, psychological,
musical, biomechanical aspects of Mambo dancing, doesn't make
us dancers. It can make it easier for us to learn, but there
are physical coordination skills that can't be obtained but by
actually practicing.

- Attitudes. Some people behave nicely, some people are jerks. The difference
probably has a large genetic component, but I'm sure that
the attitudes of the parents and friends are transmitted to
some extent by imitation. And, again, it doesn't take a jerk
to know one.


- Concepts. I can't study someone's concept of `triangle' without learning
what a triangle is.

- Notions. (this is not a good name, but I can't think of one better) This
is similar to the beliefs, but without the believing. For example,
the notion "Elvis is alive" is in my mind, even if I don't
believe it. The notion "X is alive", where X is some singer I've
never heard of, is not in my mind. If a memeticist is studying
the meme "Notion of Elvis being alive", in a direct way, he
becomes a host of the notion. (Also, if the memeticist is studying
the meme "belief of Elvis being alive", in a direct way, he
becomes a host of the *notion*, although not necessarily of the

- Ideas. (this is not a good name either) Here I include many things,
like short stories, jokes, simple melodies, phrases, and other
things that not necessarily make "sense" or even have a "sense",
and that are not supposed to be "believed" or entail
any behaviour,
but that can be easily remembered.

A case could be made against my use of the "direct observation". Someone could say
that you really don't know anything about Mambo unless you can dance it, or that to
understand Islam you have to become muslim. This is not what I am talking about,
and if that is the real meaning of "direct observation", then, well, I will have to
find another word to express what I mean. And in that case, I wouldn't recomend
anyone to try to "observe directly" the Applewhite UFO cult meme! ;)

By definition, epistemogeneous memes are impossible to study in "containment", since
the researcher always gets "infected". Fortunately, epistemogeneous memes are
harmless in general, since they usually don't entail behaviours.

As a final observation, I should mention that I find it more difficult
to come up with
examples of epistemogeneous memes than non-e.g. ones. This could lead
to believe that
there are many more non-e.g. memes than e.g., but the number of actual examples is
hard to estimate.


Omar Delacruzc.
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