meme lineage

Bill Benzon (
Mon, 30 Jun 1997 06:19:20 -0500

Message-Id: <>
Date: Mon, 30 Jun 1997 06:19:20 -0500
From: (Bill Benzon)
Subject: meme lineage


I've been through your paper & I have a question about your notion of the
lineage of a meme. As an example you use the concept of democracy which
came up in the course of the policy formation process you describe. As I
understand it the following example would be consistent with your usage:

1) Official A says to official B, "We're going to use democratic principles."

2) Official B says to official C, "We're going to use democratic principles."

3) Official C says to official D, "We're going to use democratic principles."

So, the meme we're interested in is "democratic principles." This meme has
been communicated from A to B to C to D. Let us further imagine that
nothing has been said beyond the sentence I've given. In your sense we now
have a lineage for "democratic principles." It starts within the mind of A
and is replicated three times in succession.

We can now imagine that these officials go about implementing democratic
principles and we find that, in fact, they get into conflict. It turns out
that they have rather different understanding of what democratic principles
are. My sense of your paper is that you would explain that by saying that
we have poor replication.

But that doesn't really make sense to me. Surely these 4 officials each
had some understanding of democratic principles prior to this whole
process. In the three assertions in 1, 2, & 3, the concept of democratic
principles is not being conveyed from one person to another. The code
element "democratic principles" does not contain any kind of meaning which
is being passed along or replicated from one person to another. All that
is passed along or replicated from one person to another is the code
element "democratic principles." When B receives that code element from A,
his brain links the code element to whatever meaning is already stored in
his brain. That meaning may or may not be very similar to A's meaning but,
whatever the similarity, it has nothing to do with this particular

Given this, it really makes no difference in what order the committment to
democratic principles is transmitted from one official to another (other
than chain of command type reasons). Their respective understandings of
the term have nothing to do with these simple statements. There is no
meaningful lineage here.

Now, once they've discovered that their understandings are different, they
can enter into a negotiation process where they attempt to reach some
mututal understanding, where they attempt to create a new meaning for the
code elements "democatic principles." They are now creating a new meme,
which is a rather different process. So, let's assume that they've arrived
at a new meme, "democratic principles at KUN."

Now we have officials E, F, G, H & I, etc. They weren't part of the process
of creating the new meme "democratic principles at KUN." So our first set
of officials now undertake to teach this new meme to the other officials.
That seems to me a process of genuine replication and, as such, may allow
you to talk of a lineage.

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Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
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