RE: The Extended Memeotype

Richard Brodie (
Fri, 9 Apr 1999 16:12:11 -0700

From: "Richard Brodie" <>
To: <>
Subject: RE: The Extended Memeotype
Date: Fri, 9 Apr 1999 16:12:11 -0700
In-Reply-To: <v02140b0bb33419bd4b39@[]>

Reed wrote:

<<Richard, I've got to agree with Bill on this one. Where a star begins
and ends is entirely an arbitrary matter...such things have no surface.
Where even a single atom of hydrogen begins and ends is entirely
probabilistic. Where a mind begins and ends is similarly diffuse.
I think to confine it to the dimensions of the brain is clearly wrong,
because a lot of what minds do is through the nervous system. Where
does the nervous system end?>>

I agree with both of you, and the lack of clarity is probably my fault.
Cohen & Stewart's "Figments of Reality" points out the inadequacy of looking
at either the mind or the artifact as a self-contained replicator. But I
still think there is value in studying both, because there are plenty of
situations where the "gravitational effect" of the other is negligible.

I never intended "in the mind" to refer to any particular part of the
nervous system. That's a hardware issue. I'm a software guy. ;-)

<<It might be useful, eventually, for empirical scientists to create a
taxonomy of how and where memes are embodied. But the image
I hold in my head is one in which a line drawn between brains
and their environment is not a useful distinction. Thus, there isn't
any reason to insist that "memes" are in brains.>>

Before enlightenment, mountains, rivers.
During enlightenment, no mountains, no rivers.
After enlightenment, mountains, rivers.

<<Do you understand the image in my head? Dawkins gives us one
word: Gene. Gene explains everything from viruses to ecologies
according to his model. That simplicity is attractive

I want us to have one word which explains everything from
what goes on in brains to what goes on in e-mail chain letters.
The word I use in my own mind is: Meme. That simplicity
is attractive, where a taxonomy is not.>>

I use that word too! Memes burble around in someone's mind, he behaves in a
certain way, he produces some artifacts, someone else interacts with those
artifacts, and that person's gets new memes. Sure, to some degree we store
some of our knowledge externally -- in address books, clipped to the
fridge -- and if you want to look at that as an extended mind, I guess I
don't have a problem with calling those things memes. I also don't have a
problem with calling the same information a meme when it is written down,
when a bridge is built, etc., as long as we look at it from the perspective
that it's the embodies information, not the artifact, that's the meme, and
that it only matters when it interacts with minds.

<<That almost strikes me as, well, academic. Richard,
you of all people should understand that multiplying terminology
is lethal to transmission.>>

Well, if it was academic, I assure you it was purely by accident. I don't
have the credentials to do anything truly academic.

Richard Brodie
Author, "Virus of the Mind: The New Science of the Meme"
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