Why "meme" is so hard to defin

Dave Gross (dave@moorlock.eorbit.net)
Fri, 6 Jun 1997 06:54:04 +0800 (GMT-8)

Date: Fri, 6 Jun 1997 06:54:04 +0800 (GMT-8)
From: Dave Gross <dave@moorlock.eorbit.net>
To: memetics@mmu.ac.uk
Subject: Why "meme" is so hard to defin

Sorry if you're seeing this message twice; I sent it out a week ago, but I
don't think it went through. It never showed up in the archive, in any
case. -- DG


The word "meme" has proven very hard to define. Many of the discussions
here and on alt.memetics are definitional debates between partisans from
two main camps: I'll call them the "symbol" people and the "meaning"

Symbol person: "A meme is a particular symbolic representation that, for
whatever reasons (among which may be the semantic understanding of
consciousnesses that encounter the meme) is reproductively successful.
Some memes have no semantic content whatsoever, or semantic content which
is unrelated to its reproducing symbolic content. Examples include
catchy tunes, nonsense slang, etc."

Meaning person: "A meme is a conceptual, non-symbolic, semantic
instantiation in the virtual reality of an observing consciousness. Words
and symbols are merely the skeleton of a meme, or its reproductive
process. Examples like Christianity reproduce even when all of the
original symbols are translated into another language and culture."

I've been waffling between these two camps for quite some time. I'm
starting to think that they're both right. Maybe "meme" is too broad a
category for what we're looking at. Maybe there are two varieties of
replicators that overlap and that exist and reproduce in similar ways --
subjective mental states that use symbolic representations as their
reproductive organs, and meaningless symbol-like collections that
reproduce in a similar fashion to dialects of birdsongs.

-- Dave Gross

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