Re: Astrology

Thomas McMahan (
Tue, 06 Jul 1999 21:18:35 -0400

Date: Tue, 06 Jul 1999 21:18:35 -0400
From: Thomas McMahan <>
Subject: Re: Astrology

"In our view, memes are essentially linguistic, communicative constructs
that have self-disseminating and self-protective architectures. Memes
will spread best via people or other communicative channels that adopt
them and repeat them, especially if the meme has been able to destroy
any countervailing beliefs/linguistic constructs. Thus a meme that is
'targeted' must have properties that enable it to proceed along the
right channels to reach its target.
A meme, in its linguistic physical form can lie dormant if it fails to
be disseminated. For example, it can be embedded in a book, or a letter,
or an email, ready to be 'activated' when conditions are ready for it.
It can also lie latent in someone's brain, a phrase, say, that all of a
sudden, perhaps years after it was heard, that now 'makes sense' to the
person who has been carrying it (remembering it) but had not yet
integrated it into the rest of their thinking or believing."

Two things: You speak of memes destroying countervailing beliefs in the
first paragraph. You then, in the second, speak of them lying dormant
for indeterminate periods. This brings to my mind that any cultural
agent cannot truly be destroyed. It can be discredited and fall to the
wayside, but destroyed? No. The only way to destroy a single meme would
be to destroy all memes, all culture, and all of the originators of that

Second thing: I don't believe that memes "lie dormant" really. A meme
needs a sentient brain to spring into existence; books are filled with
so many meaningless symbols until the brain connects the dots. It is in
that process that cultural evolution takes place, because the originator
of the idea did not transfer that idea perfectly into his/her book (or
statue or anything else.) When the second brain comes along and
"re-connects those dots," it doesn't reconnect them in exactly the same
way; hence, an essentially new meme is created within the brain, because
a reader of a text cannot know what the originator of that text had in
mind perfectly. I don't mean to sound "postmodern-ish" here, because
generally speaking I do not subscribe to postmodern tenets in their full
forms. But, as a historian, I have to acknowledge that there is some
truth to what Derrida and others have said. It is in this transmission
where the "error" occurs, analagous to errors that lead to genetic
evolution. It is that aspect of memetics that fascinate me, not some
cultural Spencerian vision of survival of the fittest.

If I'm retreading old ground, or seem to be disagreeing with you when I
largely do not, I'm sorry. Like I said earlier, this is initial
exploration for me.

>"Lawrence H. de Bivort" wrote:
> On Tue, 6 Jul 1999, Aaron Agassi wrote:
> >> From: []On Behalf
> >> Of Thomas McMahan
> >>
> >> No, I still don't buy the contagion analogy, at least not quite that
> >> literally. When you try to take that analogy lock, stock, and barrel
> >> from a biological premise and place it into a cultural one it ends up
> >> sounding silly; memes "hiding" and so forth like they're conscious
> >> entities or, like viruses, have evolved specific techniques to ward off
> >> specific invaders.
> >Do you deny that infection tends towards the most suitable vectors first?

> >Do you deny that a personality can be defined by which sorts of memes will
> >find the consciousness permeable? And, indeed, does this not carry with it
> >evolutionary factors with ramifications to success and survival?
> It would have to be a pretty powerful meme to be considered defining (or
> more appropriately re-defining of a personality). It does happen --
> religious conversions might be an example -- but most memes operate below
> that level, I would think, and introduce changes into a person or a
> culture's thinking that modifies existing belief structures, rather than
> redefining them from scratch.
> Lawrence de Bivort
> The Memetics Group
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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)