Re: When is a meme not a meme?

Timothy Perper/Martha Cornog (
Sat, 7 Jun 1997 19:16:39 -0500

Message-Id: <>
Date: Sat, 7 Jun 1997 19:16:39 -0500
From: (Timothy Perper/Martha Cornog)
Subject: Re: When is a meme not a meme?

Dr I Price wrote:

>It seems to me that the essence of the meme is that it replicates, by
>inducing structures of thinking, perceiving and behaving in its hosts;
>structures that may equate with individual perceptual patterns or with
>organisations and the shared patterns of thinking, being, language, and
>behaviour which enable them to be organisations.
>Then there is a class of 'belief memes', and perhaps 'meaning memes' that
>are presumably stored as neuological structures in individual minds and
>replicate through various belief and language based structures. A whole
>belief memotype exists in a religion, or scientific paradigm, or economic
>system. Whole sets of meanings are created/ preserved/ replicated in
>various linguistic structures. These are perhaps, to exapt Cloak's
>suggestion 'i-memes'. They replicate through phemotypes which include
>language, rituals, and various cultural artefacts. Most books are probably
>better thought of as phemotype than memotype.

How does such a view differ from Platonic idealism? I asked this before,
to deafening silence as an answer, but sooner or later the issue must be
addressed: what do you mean when you, or any memeticist, says that a meme
"replicates" and that it "induces" structures of thought, perception, and

The words "replicate" and "induce" merely sweep the hard questions under
the table by inventing an all-purpose causative homunculus or a ghost in
the machine called a "meme." Thus:

Question: Why did weaponry spread?
Answer: The memes for weapons out-replicated the alternatives.

Wrong. That answer is the phenomenon to be explained, and is not its

The hypothesis of the meme, which is a hybrid between genetics and
Platonism in terminology and concept, needs a good deal more substance than
it now has. As it is, the notion of a self-replicating, behavior-inducing
but unchanging meme explains everything and therefore explains nothing.

To be sure, fans of such memes can enjoy arguing about them, but such memes
cannot be used to address concrete problems in history, culture, or
politics. (Be careful how you read what I just said: "such" memes.) The
reason is that one cannot show that a given historical, cultural, or
political phenomenon is transmitted or induced by such memes, except by
that marvelous form of logic called "truth by assertion."

In my own view, memes are simply packages of information that are
circulated in a society. Knowing a piece of information -- a meme -- does
nothing to you. Thus: "To make fried potatoes, take boiled potatoes,
slice them, and fry them until yellow-brown." Has any reader leapt up,
driven like a robot, to perform these instructions? In what precise sense
is it alleged that "memes" cause or induce behavior? Until that issue has
been addressed, memetics is silliness -- pure verbalism claiming to be
significant understanding.

Once again, my own view -- which centers on information and how it is
organized and transmitted -- sees memetics as a specialty akin to
informatics and semiotics. Anything else strikes me as overblown.

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