Re: List of meme definitions

Ton Maas (
Sat, 11 Apr 1998 10:55:03 +0200

Message-Id: <v03102800b154d8b5b223@[]>
In-Reply-To: <>
Date: Sat, 11 Apr 1998 10:55:03 +0200
From: Ton Maas <>
Subject: Re: List of meme definitions

Aaron wrote:
>Your statement is not equivalent to my second statement, and is nowhere
>near as pragmatic as you think. Suppose we investigated the belief that
>"the sun will rise again," and found out that most of its hosts learn the
>idea from their environment without being told. Now suppose I find a young
>Inuit child who only has this idea because she has been told. Does that
>make the idea a meme in ALL instances, just because it is replicated in

An interesting case for various reasons. To describe the notion "the sun
will rise again" as a belief, we are already assuming the possibility of a
separate memetic "entity", rather than, say, a symptom of a more complex
underlying way or _organizing_ such "things" as notions, beliefs etc. In
other words: if an Inuit and an Aborigine child both have notions of the
sun rising again the next morning, can we say they believe the "same
thing"? Obviously the "outcomes" of their belief systems are similar, but
these might be produced by fundamentally different procedures. By focusing
on the "objective" events in the material world, we forget that organisms
in a radical way only know themselves, even though they entertain _notions_
of a reality outside the boundaries of their skin.

Punctuation _does_ matter greatly, hence the silliness of behaviorists
trying to extinguish "items" of behavior such as exploration - which by
definition are impossible to manipulate on that level of abstraction.

Years ago Wallace Ellebroek wrote a fascinating article on why and how
people get sick and get well: "Language, Thought & Disease" (CoEvolution
Quarterly No. 17 - Spring 1978). We might describe his view as a "memetic"
approach to sickness and health, although he obviously wasn't aware of
Dawkins' work. If we take his work a bit further, we might say that a
disease is not an _item_ of behavior (even though it is better to describe
sickness as an activity rather than a condition), but rather a way of
organizing behavior. This should change the way we look at symptoms. We
might say that (for instance) acne is a message comment of some kind upon
some subject matter which is of the logical typing level of _exploration_
or _play_, etc. That is we are not dealing at a straight symptom level or a
straight message level nor at the level of organization of behavior, but at
the level of names of organization of behavior. If acne could be some sort
of meta-comment upon, perhaps, courtship, then what of cancer? Fascinating
ideas, which haven't been _really_ explored to great depth at all.


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