Re: Critical thinking in memetics

Robert G. Grimes (
Sat, 23 May 1998 18:54:23 -0400

Date: Sat, 23 May 1998 18:54:23 -0400
From: "Robert G. Grimes" <>
Subject: Re: Critical thinking in memetics

Bruce Howlett wrote:

> Snip

> The reason for lurking for so long is that I was hoping for a few hints
> as to what actually makes a meme contagious. We have some clues but
> nothing specific in the way of a grouping of words or thoughts. One
> penomenon I observed recently leads me to think that a major factor is
> pattern identification. If I am right in thinking that a catchy song is
> in fact a meme, then one sure fire way of selling a new song is to have
> a link to a well known already popular song. The new song in question
> is "Never Ever" by the All Saints. If you listen carefully to the
> background melody, it is in fact "Amazing Grace" with an up tempo
> overlay. Needless to say, it is already enormously popular.

> Snip


If we would simply follow your question, briefly, I believe that quite a few
obvious mechanisms that explain why a meme would occasion its replication by
the host could come to mind. I would like to suggest that there are
probably many reasons, including the one you mentioned (background or
subliminal familiarity of rhythm, alliterative or onomatopoeic qualities,
"catchy" phraseology (she sells seashells by the seaside, etc.). More
probably, there are many reasons for memes to "resonate" or inspire some
type of sympathetic energies, including such things as humor, ribaldry,
sexiness (in a different sense that the previous word), fear, etc., or words
that have an appeal to a physiological drive or need...

In addition, there are some other obvious reasons that are a little more
cerebral, i.e., evolutionary coherence, where the "explanatory" character
bridges previous or other forms of knowledge and contributes to our
hypotheses or explanations for things..

Then, think of the combinations of just these alone, such as catchy phrases
that enable one to remember important relationships or nomenclature
(mnemonics), such as, "Red right returning," the Three B's (Brahms,
Beethoven and Bach), "Thirty days hath September....., etc.," and many

In addition, it has been suggested by myself and others that in addition to
such obvious reasons as the above mentioned ones (and many others of similar
ilk) "mood" changes associated with the meme would encourage their use and
replication, i.e., such as the "structure of the meme" in ones cognitive
milieu having certain characteristics (we have referred to this
metaphorically as "shape of the meme") which sites might "bind" or stimulate
neuro transmitters - or their antagonists - in such a manner as to extend or
magnify their effects or to minimize or shorten their effects, and such
activity involving endorphins, serotonin, dopamines, other "opiod" neuro
transmitters, etc., would promote neural activity, moods, and such, which
are precursors to further endocrinal or other hormonal activity, etc. This
would tend to encourage replication of the meme or meme-complex by the
resultant overall sensual result, including activities. What I've called
the "rush of the meme."

Immediately it is evident that more than likely it is a combination of all
of these things which tend to give memes the ability to stimulate their
reproduction. If we are amused, if we feel stimulated sexually, even if we
are brought to anger by the mention of a meme, one can see the immediate
physical and psychological responses that would occur with the meme being
brought to "consciousness" (in the sense of access and certain thresholds).
Or, if the opiod qualities result in soporific or calming feelings then we
would resort to the meme, both for ourselves and others, to soothe. If the
meme's associative characteristics (when accessed) produce changes of these
types in the originator and subsequently in receivers then its powers would
be determined by persistency, rate of diffusion (especially if it were
innovative), and the general somatic and psychological effects it would
produce upon the organisms.

When one considers the combined effects of all of these things, it is not
difficult at all to envisage a myriad of memes with a variety of effects
that encourage their spread or degree of contagion. It is pretty safe to
say that nothing happens in the neuro systems sans particular neuro
transmitters and their antagonists and the subsequent sensual effects they
play both as themselves and as precursors to hormonal, pheromonal, and
physical activities.

When Jackie Gleason used to shout, "Oh, how sweet it is!" (a well known
meme) in the Honeymooners episodes, it may well have been sweet!

Personally, I can not begin to enumerate all of the memes that instigate in
me, both in mood and otherwise, in varying fashion, all sorts of feelings
and activities that cause me not only to repeat the memes but to actively
encourage others to do the same for the same reasons....

I suspect that this may stimulate others to respond as well to the reasons
they think that memes are contagious or otherwise...

That was a very good and appropriate question....



Bob Grimes Jacksonville, Florida

Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore....."

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