Re: what's a meme

Bill Benzon (
Sat, 14 Jun 1997 10:25:13 -0500

Message-Id: <>
Date: Sat, 14 Jun 1997 10:25:13 -0500
From: (Bill Benzon)
Subject: Re: what's a meme

Time Perper says:

>Now I'd like to turn this upside down. We imagine that we are studying the
>product of someone else's hands -- a piece of art, a musical performance, a
>pipette, and so on. I would like to suggest that such an object or process
>contains within itself the traces not only of the memes (again, however we
>define them) but also of the handwork of the person who made the object.

Yes. In some styles of painting, for instance, the pattern of brush strokes
is important (and is lost in even very fine reproductions). In any work of
art the physical stuff is very important. That's where the "message" is.
That goes for literature too. For example, in one of his many pieces on
bull fighting, Hemingway describes the cape work of an accomplished
matador. He wrote those sentences so that the rhythm would, in some way,
imitate the cape work he was describing.

I guess the neural patterns in the mind of someone who, for example, plays
the trumpet (my main ax) would me Lynch's definition of a meme. But to
think of the transmission of trumpet-playing from teacher to pupil as one
of meme replication is to ignore the very active work that pupil does in
learning how to get music out of this funny-shaped pile of brass tubing.
Perhaps the trick is to somehow divide all that neural activity into 2
piles, one pile which is memetic, and one pile which is not. You need both
piles to play the trumpet, but only the memetic pile plays a role in
cultural evolution.

In any event, I'd like to think of the "progression" from Louis Armstrong
to Roy Eldridge to Dizzy Gillespie to Don Cherry as involving cultural
evolution. Part of doing that is to think of them as members in a
community of musicians and to think of all the music created in the
community and available to it from other communities of musicians. How &
why is it that the community in which Eldridge functioned differentiated
itself from the community in which Armstrong functioned, etc.

>Yet I sense that that formulation is too glib, and that in some sense
>memetics can -- or should -- deal with these processes. They seem to
>underlie Bill's repeated reference to how jazz musicians improvise. And I
>am quite sure that they underlie how bench science is actually done and

William L. Benzon 201.217.1010
708 Jersey Ave. Apt. 2A
Jersey City, NJ 07302 USA

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