Re:RE: Replicating in and out of minds

joe dees (
Fri, 09 Apr 1999 19:28:22 -0400

Message-Id: <>
Subject: Re:RE: Replicating in and out of minds
From: "joe dees" <>
Date: Fri, 09 Apr 1999 19:28:22 -0400

At Thu, 8 Apr 1999 17:11:11 -0700, you wrote:
>Bill Benzon wrote:
><<If one defines a meme as that entity in cultural
>evolution that plays a replicator role analogous to that which the gene
>plays in biological evolution, then the question of whether or not memes
>are in the mind/brain is not a matter of definition. It is a matter of how
>cultural evolution works. That is an empirical question.>>
>Well, I'll just say you've got bigger balls than I had when I wrote VM. I'm
>really in complete agreement with you that the self-replicating mental datum
>is NOT the most interesting perspective from which to view cultural
>evolution; the self-replicating cultural institution and its interaction
>with human psychology is much more interesting, and so is the poorly
>understood mechanism of self-organization that Price rightly keeps trying to
>pique our interest in. But in 1995, when I went to press with VM, everybody
>with letters after their name who had written on memes had defined them as
>being in the mind. So I went with that.
>Whatever you call it, replicator-in-the-mind really is an interesting
>distinction to make (replying to Tim). It focuses on the mechanism of how
>beliefs affect behavior. I catch a meme somehow. What does it do to me? It
>influences me to whistle a tune, wear a hat backwards, or speak a slang
>phrase. But I'm not sure there's much you can do with engineering a "pure
>meme" that doesn't quickly evolve into an artifact-centered replicator. So I
>would be really happy if meme were defined as what Dawkins and I call a
>virus of the mind. My concern is that you're going to confuse everybody
>should you do that.
><<I realize that, in saying this, I'm saying that Dawkins doesn't understand
>how cultural evolution works. Columbus thought he landed in the Indies,
>but he was wrong. Dawkins thinks memes are in the mind/brain, but he is
>wrong; he's linking the term he coined to the wrong entities.>>
>I think Dawkins would be the first to admit that he doesn't know how
>cultural evolution works. He coined the term only to point out that DNA was
>not the only possible replicator. In VM, I pointed out that meme-in-mind is
>not only not the only possible CULTURAL replicator, but it's not even the
>most interesting one. But I still spent a lot of pages on it, both because
>it was a starting point for people who had read The Selfish Gene and because
>the whole idea of memes as components of our individual map of reality is
>essential to understanding the cognitive model of psychology.
><<I've already explained why I think that the meme, thus defined, is in the
>environment, not in the mind/brain. I don't think my argument are at all
>definitive; but I'm not at all impressed by the arguments for the orthodox
>position. However, I don't want to go through that yet one more time.
>But I don't think empirical matters can be settled by calls for consistent
>use of terms.>>
>You are completely right and justified philosophically. It's just a
>political and PR battle that I don't think is worth fighting.
>Richard Brodie

I think you're both half right and half wrong; memes are BOTH inside AND outside the mind/brain. Think of, say, malaria. It multiplies INside a body, but is carried BETWEEN and OUTside the body by the tsetse fly. Memes, I believe, also have this double life. They are unlike viruses, however, which take over a cell in order to make many copies of themselves within it. Rather, how a meme replicates is by being broadcast (communicated) from a person it has infected (a carrier) to many others; this replication and multiplication happens not WITHIN, but BETWEEN hosts, and it is carried not BETWEEN, but WITHIN. Thus memes, like diseases, have a double life, within and between hosts, but with the locations of the carrier and replicator functions performed within and between inverted. To distinguish between these two aspects of the life cycle of memes, I propose the adoption of the terms enmeme and exmeme; enmemes are ideas inhabiting/carried by a host, and exmemes are signs (!
labels for or instantiations of ideas) communicated/replicated between them. Notice that, whereas singing, spoken language memes and manual technique demonstrations have only ephemeral exmemic existences, artifacts (such as tools, buildings, paintings and machines) and written texts, recordings and movies have longer exmemic "shelf lives".
Joe E. Dees
Poet, Pagan, Philosopher

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