About the definition of Meme.

Omar de la Cruz (odlc@math.ufl.edu)
Fri, 30 May 1997 19:34:46 -0400

Message-Id: <199705302334.TAA15800@mathlab.math.ufl.edu>
To: memetics@mmu.ac.uk
Subject: About the definition of Meme.
Date: Fri, 30 May 1997 19:34:46 -0400
From: Omar de la Cruz <odlc@math.ufl.edu>

Fighting over definitions is frequently a sterile exercise.
However, sometimes it can help to clarify ideas and illuminate
hidden assumptions, if it is kept in mind that the goal is
that, and not to come to a 'definitive', perfect, immutable
definition (since there will always be someone who disagrees).

The particular point I'm interested right now is the following.
The definitions of meme I've seen include always the requirement that
the meme replicates itself (sometimes it is required that the
meme comes from a replication, so disqualifying original ideas
from being memes, and naming memes only the copies).

I think that the requirement that the meme replicates itself
would be correct if it is left as a *potential* ability to
replicate, not an actual ability. Otherwise we leave out "lethal
memes" (like "i've just gotten the notion to go to the barn and
blow my head off whith the shotgun, without saying anything to
anybody") that don't survive the first generation, and memes with
very low tendency to replicate, that also die in the first
generation (I came up once with an original joke that was so
bad that I will probably never tell it to anyone; is that joke
a meme? Why not?)

These memes somehow correspond to the case of a lethal mutation,
like a gene for having no brain, and the case of a gene that
causes very low reproductive ratios, like a gene for impotence
or sterility. If these are valid genes, why shouldn't those above
be genuine memes?

I know, there's probably not a big advantage in extending the
concept to include those examples, but the unnecessary restriction
makes me uneasy (perhaps is my mathematical
training, that seeks for algebraic completeness: we need a zero!
that is, a notion of null meme). Also, these null and deletereous
memes could actually travel, in disguise, in combination with other
repressing memes, or other inactive or "recessive" form.


Omar Delacruzc.
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