Re: On Gatherer's behaviourist stance

Aaron Lynch (
Tue, 15 Sep 1998 10:51:08 -0500

Message-Id: <>
Date: Tue, 15 Sep 1998 10:51:08 -0500
From: Aaron Lynch <>
Subject: Re: On Gatherer's behaviourist stance
In-Reply-To: <001301bde084$f3f0ee80$cf4795c1@pc>

At 09:43 AM 9/15/98 +0100, Paul Marsden wrote:
>Aaron wrote
>>But it may, in effect, be too late for Dawkins to undo the damage of not
>>being sufficiently clear in 1976. The propagation of alternative meanings
>>may have forced at least some lexicographers to recognise non-specific
>>meanings of the word. Those of us who want a specific term may therefore be
>>the ones who must stop using the term "meme."
>What a brilliant idea!

Well, don't give me too much credit for "brilliance" here. With thousands
of copies of Thought Contagion in print, and another printing on the way,
it is simply impractical for me to suddenly change words.

Bear in mind too, that you have overlooked at least some academic
memeticists. For instance, Francis Heylighen at defines "meme" in terms of memory

I think your eagerness to find less specific meanings to the word "meme"
may relate to the thesis you mentioned back in April. Is that thesis
published yet?

At 11:12 AM 4/7/98 +0100, Paul Marsden wrote:

Response to Aaron Lynch

Thanks Aaron, for the clarification and elaboration of your position re. the
problem of defining the meme. The call for a clarification of the meme
concept is of course to be welcomed, (with the minimum necessary
introduction of neologisms). I was just guarding against what some people
could have construed as a call for a one and only definition when you argued

"if "meme" means whatever a writer wants it to mean, then it means nothing"

In other words I (perhaps incorrectly) took this to be the line of reasoning
"If x = openset then x = nothing" which as you probably realise is not the
point of view I subscribe to. I agree that your definition is broad, (which
is one of the reasons I like it) like it.

A memory item, or portion of an organism's neurally-stored information,
identified using the abstraction system of the observer, whose instantiation
depended critically on causation by prior instantiation of the same memory
item in one or more other organisms' nervous systems. ("Sameness" of memory
items is determined with respect to the above-mentioned abstraction system
of the observer.)" Lynch 1998

However this definition posits certain domain assumptions about the nature
and status of the world we experience, including:

1. We inhabit a physical world and we exist as biological organisms
2. These biological organisms neurally-store information which we
experience as memories (therefore memories are physical entities)
3. That these biological organisms posses abstraction systems
4. That these abstraction systems determine sameness
5. That a meme is an abstracted unit of imitation (2nd order construct)

Whilst I would agree with (5), the other points I do not feel are necessary
(althought they may well be correct) to a working definition, unless one
wishes to tie memetics down to biology. Now I don't want to appear to be
knocking such a project, because I believe that the rapprochement of the
natural and social sciences could be beneficial to both sides, but I think
that memetics could encompass much of what you want to call "cultural
repliconics", and that it is not necessary to define memes as neurally
stored information. I suppose I would want to suggest that a meme is a
functional phenotype (ie a informational object of our phenomenology
whatever its substrate), and that it is not necessary to posit them as
neurally stored anything. I fear we are quibbling over something we braodly
agree on, I just don't want to see my thesis go on memetics go up in
Lynchian smoke!

--Aaron Lynch

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