Re: List of meme definitions

Aaron Lynch (
Wed, 08 Apr 1998 12:33:14 -0500

Message-Id: <>
Date: Wed, 08 Apr 1998 12:33:14 -0500
From: Aaron Lynch <>
Subject: Re: List of meme definitions
In-Reply-To: <000801bd62de$b14e4380$705295c1@user>

I'm going to ask that people responding to topics raised in the "List of
meme definitions" thread (or responses thereto) keep the subject heading as
"Re: List of meme definitions," especially if the post calls attention to
another definition. That way, people who want to cull a list of definitions
from the thread can do so more easily. If I had not restored the subject
line in my response to Josip, then the definition he called our attention
to would not have appeared in the thread.

>Josip wrote
>>Behaviours (replicanda) generates interactors (memes) which are
>>evolutionary individuals that are subjected to selection and whose economic
>>success or failure in the system`s ecology biases the regeneration of the
>>replicanda (behaviour).
>This distinction between replicanda (behaviour) and memes (symbolic
>representations (i.e. information)) is IMHO, useful but would it not be
>better if your definition explicitly referred to your conclusion as to
>whether the meme is a replicator or simply the replicated. (THE source of
>>Unfortunately, in both papers memes are seen as PASSIVE structures
>>(replica-tors,-nda). As I see them, memes are interactors (ACTIVE, dynamic)
>>categories in human neural (dynamic system) ecologies.
>No I think this Wilkin's definition is closer to your position than you
>think because a meme, in his view is NOT "passive", but "active" because he
>claims it has the capacity for "endogenous" change.
>The least unit of sociocultural information relative to a selection process
>that has favourable or unfavourable selection bias that exceeds its
>endogenous tendency to change." Wilkins ("What's in a Meme")

In addition to the points Paul raises, this definition runs into another
problem: It requires development of a full ordering system (set theory)
whereby given any two units of sociocultural information, you can
unambiguously decide that one is larger, smaller, or the same size as the
other. Only then are you entitled to use the term "least" in the
definition. See section 12 of my new paper.

>I don't like Wilkins definition precisely because of this very unclear
>notion of "endogenous" change, (and why, incidently I prefer Aaron's
>explicit definition, which at least is explicit enough to generate
>discussion.) Whilst the distinction between the representation and the
>represented (symbol and behaviour) is useful, your definition is perhaps
>problematic in your use of the term "interactor" for the meme. The problem
>is simply historical and due to the fact that labels and neologisms are up
>for grabs on a first come first serve basis (Aaron may become a rich man if
>he copyrights all those he has introduced), and as you no doubt know a key
>author in the development of memetics (David Hull) commandeered the
>interactor label over a decade ago to refer to the phenotype, (see Wilkins
>"Hull-Dawkin's distinction"). This is not what you are referring to, and I
>fear invites confusion.
>If you replace "interactors (memes)" with the term "symbol" (i.e. a second
>order construct), then you have a fairly conventional definition that has
>been used for decades in evolutionary thought in the social sciences; social
>psychology (symbolic interactionism - G.H. Mead and the Chicago School),
>anthropology (D. Rindos) and evolutionary sociology (W.G. Runciman).
>My own (developing) neo-Marxist approach is broadly compatible with this
>approach, and contrasts strongly (but is not incompatible) with biological
>(neural) definitions. I think the social and biological can be conceptually
>integrated within a single selectionist paradigm (perhaps 'memetics', or
>'repliconics' in Aaron-speak: - good old 'selectionism' will do just fine
>for me) but I do not think one can be reduced to the other.
>My working definition (comments and (constructive) criticism invited)
>defines memes thus:
>"MEME: a unit of sociocultural replication composed of a functional pattern
>of information whose selection in a given environment depends on its'
>relative fitness, where fitness is defined by the structural relation to the
>"ownership" of the means of transmission, and where "ownership" is defined
>by the relative power of sources of variation within that structure to
>determine the nature and direction of information flow."

The topics of ownership, means of transmission, and power are all
interesting topics to be explored from a memetic perspective. However, I
recommend calling attention to these subjects by methods other than
including them in another definition of the word "meme." You can, of
course, say that this definition is the definition of a subclass of memes,
and you can even give them a name such as "dialectical memes." (You may
also want to provide definitions for the subordinate terms you use.) But
there are other memes that do not clearly fall within your "meme"
definition. For instance, if a meme lab raises 1000 clones of a bird in
exactly identical synthetic environments, then releases them into a common
aviary, we should still be able to study the spread of a synthetic meme in
this population of virtual equals.

--Aaron Lynch

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