Re: Emotional memes?

Robert G. Grimes (
Sat, 29 Aug 1998 18:47:43 -0400

Date: Sat, 29 Aug 1998 18:47:43 -0400
From: "Robert G. Grimes" <>
Subject: Re: Emotional memes?


> snip
> Bob
> > .....because of the uniqueness of each individual cognitive milieu,
> the meme construct in situ is unique in each individual
> Derek
> so therefore when you say 'meme for x', where x is any objective aspect
> of culture, you don't mean that there is a single replicating thing
> which is the meme, but rather that the meme is a set of non-identical
> constructs which are, in themselves, 'unique to each individual'.
> Since there are many people in the world, we have a fairly largish set
> here.

Yes, and the same holds true for just about anything in nature (there is no
"identity" in nature), people, houses, automobiles, protons, neutrinos, ad

In fact too large a set to make it a tractable device for any

> kind of empirical investigation.

It all depends on the type of investigation. If you are implying that when
one creates a mathematical abstraction of any natural domain that one's
symbology represents a group of natural things such as N for the domain of
Homo sapiens, then N1=me, N2=you, etc.... obviously N1 is not identical to N2
since the members of the domain have only certain things in common which
defines the domain of Homo sapiens. These "certain" things are also
abstractions for things which are not identical (the things, not the
abstractions) but which seem very similar and which we use to denote members
of that "set." Thus, the same would hold true for the domain of memes and
their tokens, i.e., the meme token of "Do unto others as you would have
others do unto you," could be spoken, printed, sent in morse code, binary
code, etc. but each expression would differ to some degree, even though we
would generally accept them as equivalents as long as we could read the
symbology, understand the utterance as vocalized, decode the transmission,
etc., just as we do when we accept nickels and dimes for legal tender which
also aren't identical but which we count up and deposit periodically.

Now when the meme was abstracted into that representative "token" by the
sender it was not the same as the meme that resides internally and may be
extremely complex to that individual, but only an abstractive token of such
meme (which meme, meanwhile, is not "permanent" in its construct within the
sender because of the constancy of change of its milieu) to which we are
substantially limited when we perform such abstractions. When the receiver
abstracts the token and "internalizes" it, it again assumes a much larger,
unique construct within the organism of the receiver. Yet, we can discuss
the principles of what we mean by the meme, we can be "inspired" by feelings
which the meme engenders within each, and we can in turn "replicate" the
token, "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you." The process
is repeated in any of dozens of ways. We say we "understand each other," and
we say that meme is attributable to perhaps a specific religious pattern or
meme complex.

> Bob
> > but the over all impact of both the meme and the meme
> > "token" is "close enough for government work"
> Derek
> Since the meme (your definition) is in principle infinitely variable,
> your statement above reduces to the following:
> 'the overall impact of an infinitely variable thing and its
> very-definitely-not-infinitely-variable token is close enough for
> government work'

No, both the meme and the abstractive token are not identical but "close
enough for government work." The abstracted token is usually of a much lower
order of complexity, by definition, as it is just a "token," still, whether a
word or a sentence or an idea spoken, it is a not identical to other tokens
of the same meme, just recognizable in most instances.

> better to say: 'the overall impact of the token is close enough for
> government work'

I thought that was what I said, but if not, your wording is fine.Derek

> So I ask you: why not just drop the infinitely variable thing?
> a) It is superfluous to requirements, your sentence makes more sense
> without it.

I only assert such qualifications when faced with concepts of memes as some
kind of atomistic reagent or corpuscular construct, etc. It is an effort to
discuss things as objectively as possible in a subjective world and to avoid
the metaphysics or tendency toward that. The concepts apply to many things
other than memes...

> b) you can't even begin to define it

Which is true with most things we discuss although, as I have said
previously, "it is close enough for government work."

> c) in set theory, what kind of a set do you propose? (It is clear that
> you are proposing some kind of set)

I discuss catecholamines, too, but I'm both unqualified and would resist
placing them or manipulating them in a "set." Yet, we can discuss their
overall impacts and draw conclusions from the things we see in people when
they are stimulated and make predictive comments about what happens when
someone is called by a label to which they have some sort of emotional
identification (there are a great many of those for many people) and their
blood pressure rises, pH in many fluids may change, permeability of membranes
vary in reaction, etc.

> Bob
> > the behavioral resultant of the meme is far from fixed from organism
> > to organism.


> so the behaviour resultant from something you can't define is far from
> fixed? Scarcely surprising really.

As I have stated above, it would be terribly surprising if we could "define"
it or anything else in the extensional world except in terms that would
invariably have problems because of the the uniqueness of entities yet would
suffice, as I keep saying, when the description is "close enough for
government work," which is not meant to be facetious but really more specific
than we normally are when we use language for these things. We could do the
same thing for atoms, quarks, etc., and it would still be variable. Such is
the nature of the organism and the environment. Still, there is a degree of
humor because of the problem with these discussions.

> Bob
> > neither can a meme token or symbology mean much sans the reactive >
> > organism or symbiote as it is the symbiotic relationship that we >
> > study.
> Derek
> I agree entirely, behaviour means nothing without the organism. But
> does that mean that behaviour means nothing without the (internal)
> meme? No. This is a different issue entirely. Behaviour implies
> organisms, it does not imply (internal) memes. The behaviour is the
> meme.

We are in full agreement here. As we have discussed previously, every "idea"
or semantic representation (or other token symbology) is not a "meme." We
have working definitions for the meme about which there is much disagreement
and I really don't find this surprising considering the subject matter.

> Bob
> > certain refinements may be a matter of taste or technical description
> Derek
> It's more than that. The issue is: what is memetics all about? It's
> been going for 22 years now, and has made not exactly impressive
> progress, because we are chasing things which aren't there, or rather
> they are right under our noses, but we insist on looking for them
> elsewhere.

Again, we are in partial agreement here but I would also point to Aaron's
comments about the rate of growth, the distinction between a briefly
described possibility of a unit of cultural heredity (true "time-binding"
evolutionary behavioral aspects of humans and their social mechanisms) and
the actual development of what may be a new field of science. So far, the
terminology or nomenclature alone is very helpful and I find that when
coupled with that of other things, such as General Semantics and modern
psychology, the resultant is synergistic and, I feel, very promising for
psychology or social studies of a more scientific nature than in the past.
Still, I think it would be amazing if we have the final concepts at hand
right now, but rather, expect that you and those folks with whom we associate
and who are active in the field with develop a powerful applicable science as
it evolves.

> Derek
> Sorry if I sound exasperated. It is not my purpose to discourage or
> put down the many people who are sincerely striving to create a science
> of memetics. But if we are to be scientific, we have to look at what
> is observable. You seem to be chasing.. well not exactly a ghost, but
> a piece of folk psychology, an infinitely variable internal entity that
> somehow causes behaviour. I've been wrestling with this for...well at
> least since 1984, and in my early memetics papers I try desperately to
> put a case for it, but frankly I've given up. It just doesn't wash.

I believe I understand your reaction and the desire to be scientific but
hesitate to remind you that the psycho/social/anthropological world is very
limited in its "scientific armament" except where dealing with historical
artifacts, dating, and more recently with linguistics and PET scan
technology, etc. Hopefully, the work of folks like you and Aaron who are
truly scientists will raise the dimensions and sights of this and associated
work so that we can be more scientific in its description and application and
it appears there is a lot of help.

At the same time, the application of mathematics to behavior is still limited
to statistical evaluations and certain aspects of the organism about which we
are still dismally ignorant. Simple things like variations in synaptical
refractory periods, rates of synaptic discharge, etc., etc., and the roles of
a multitude of neurotransmitters, hormones, pheromones and other complex
chemistry and their interactions makes scientifc rigor a very difficult
achievement in this field sometimes.

As an old fellow but a rank beginner compared to you in the field of memetics
I do hope that you will not take my comments or my espousal of my personal
ideology as anything but the give and take of an interested enthusiast in the
field but one who full well knows that his involvement might be better
defined as "dilettante" rather than professional...

I appreciated your comments and, again, please do not let my enthusiastic
participation inadvertently work your own catecholamines to a detriment.

Cordially and respectfully,


Bob Grimes Jacksonville, Florida

Man is not in control, but the man who knows he is not in control is more in control...

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

=============================================================== This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing) see: