RE: When is a meme not a meme?

Richard Brodie (
Sun, 8 Jun 1997 08:17:27 -0700

From: Richard Brodie <>
To: "''" <>
Subject: RE: When is a meme not a meme?
Date: Sun, 8 Jun 1997 08:17:27 -0700

Tim Perper wrote:

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

Isn't this a little overstated? After all you could make the same
argument about genes, couldn't you?
>To be sure, fans of such memes can enjoy arguing about them, but such
>cannot be used to address concrete problems in history, culture, or
>politics. (Be careful how you read what I just said: "such" memes.)
>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."

I suspect that you are throwing down a gauntlet here, much as I have
tried to do, to stimulate thinking. =)
>In my own view, memes are simply packages of information that are
>circulated in a society. Knowing a piece of information -- a meme --
>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
>is it alleged that "memes" cause or induce behavior? Until that issue
>been addressed, memetics is silliness -- pure verbalism claiming to be
>significant understanding.

My book "Virus of the Mind" is deliberately (and overtly) infected with
language designed to plant memes designed to make the reader leap up and
recommend the book to others. I modeled this phenomenon on my perceived
reason for the success of another book, The Celestine Prophecy (oops,
there go my memes, making me leap up and mention TCP again!). While it's
certainly not a controlled experiment, the sales curve for Virus has
demonstrated consistent word-of mouth sales (i.e., unrelated to
publicity appearances).

I'm in LA right now hanging out with people who use NLP techniques in
designing direct-mail (DM) pieces (sales letters). Believe me, the
techniques of implanting people with memes that cause them to leap up
and buy are tested extensively in DM. Modern, effective sales letters
are rife with embedded commands, use or misdirection with imagery,
Trojan-horse devices and so on. But this is not memetics per se. When
they learn to make these things self-replicating, as many
personal-growth groups have perhaps stumbled into by accident, then we
will have designer mind viruses that are "technology" stemming directly
from the science of memetics. In my view, it's the self-replication
aspect that makes memetics rise up above semiotics, behavioral
psychology, and so on.

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