Re: Dereck Gatherer's recent paper to JoM

Tim Rhodes (
Sun, 6 Sep 1998 00:53:28 -0700

From: "Tim Rhodes" <>
To: <>
Subject: Re: Dereck Gatherer's recent paper to JoM
Date: Sun, 6 Sep 1998 00:53:28 -0700


Let me say first off that I quite agree with the conclusions of your paper
("Why the Thought Contagion Metaphor is Retarding the Progress of
Memetics"). It follows a line of thinking similar to one I've been
promoting on another memetics mailing list (Church of Virus threads:
"Extrocranial Memes" 8/3-8/18 and "The Meme and the Hypothesis" 8/16 -8/19).
I admit gladly that your agruments do mine shame, being much more polished,
reasoned and better constructed than mine on this topic. And, because we
are in agreement, your genius is of course clearly apparent. :-)

That being said, I have some questions and thoughts. You wrote in section

" These memes are behaviours, or artefacts that are the products of
behaviour, and not abstract informational instantiations in individual
And, crucially, individuals do not have any of these memes. They build them,
say them, do them, make them, assent to them or deny them, but the memes are
entirely outside the human beings that generate them. These meme frequency
statistics are not per capita of human populations, and therefore do not
constitute a body of data which is formally analogous to that of population
genetics. For this reason, there can be no population memetics."

And, where it is true that there can be no population memetics using human
beings as the "population", this does not, however, prevent us from
constructing a population memetics of which cultures and sub-cultures form
the populations in question. Although we are not able to speak of the how
often with a meme appears per capita of human population, this should not,
theoretically, prevent us from quantifying a meme's frequency per capita of
the total memes present in a sub-culture. We need not completely discard
the analogy to population genetics. But we will need to rethink the
"species" in whose population a meme frequency occurs.

You also write in section 8.6:

" I still stand by my view of religions as `large, integrated complexes of
memes' (Gatherer 1998, p.205), but I should now say that beliefs are not
among those memes. The memes in question are the observable, copiable
aspects of religion, such as prayers, rituals, artefacts, liturgies, dogmas

But does this prevent us from defining a belief system as the presence of a
certian minimum number of memes (specific prayers, rituals, artefacts,
liturgies, dogmas, etc) and then working from there? We might at some
point, with MUCH more emperical data under our belts [1], be able to say for
example, that among members of belief system X memes of the type a, b and c
are transimted 27% faster than between the members of belief system Y.

I don't think this is out of line with theory and may prove an interesting
line of though worth exploring in the future.

[1] I can't stress here enough the need for hard data FIRST. Although I
suspect we all intuitively believe this to be the case, until we have some
actual numbers to back it up any thoughts in this regard will (and must)
remain purely and wholly within the realm of speculation.

-Tim Rhodes

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