Re: Is Memetics Needed? [Was : A Drosophila etc]

Timothy Perper/Martha Cornog (
Mon, 23 Jun 1997 15:32:58 -0500

Message-Id: <>
Date: Mon, 23 Jun 1997 15:32:58 -0500
From: (Timothy Perper/Martha Cornog)
Subject: Re: Is Memetics Needed? [Was : A Drosophila etc]

>>Do I get an A?
>In Answer #3, I left out the part where a number of people and corporations
>got very, very, VERY rich from both projects -- that's economics, not
>Nasty feeling you have a rhetorical trap lurking but yes. If the point is
>memetics is not *necessary* then see my original agreement.

No, no rhetorical trap at all. Instead, my point is that memetics by
itself -- defined solely or primarily in relationship to entities called
"memes" -- does us no good whatever. We must, instead, embed all such
discussions in other frameworks that themselves define what memes are and
what they do.

The whole discussion about masturbation, which came from Aaron Lynch's
discussion of the topic, was designed to prove that point. Absent such
frameworks, memes are tautological: we do X because memes make us do X
because no other memes can compete with X-memes. An argument like that is
fatuous question-begging because it says nothing substantive at all about X
or about memes.

But, if we take Bill Benzon's somewhat sardonic comment that city-memes
replicate better because they have more neighbors, and expand it in
information terms, we see that cities historically developed from market
towns and that one function of markets is to exchange goods AND
information. When Magellen came back from circumnavigating the world,
which was worth more -- the spices he brought back or the stories? We know
the answer: the spices are long gone, but the stories remain. We swap
stories and trade stories, just as we swap and trade commodities and

So the connection between memes and economics is direct. Information is
economically valuable. Indeed, it might be possible to obtain a reasonable
rigorous definition of meme -- something that has notably eluded the
discussions so far -- if we think of units of economically exchangable

But my point is that even if information is not always economically
defined, we can understand how memes work only in context.

This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the
Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
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