Re: Memetic engineering challenge

Lawrence H. de Bivort (
Wed, 7 Jul 1999 10:16:13 -0400 (EDT)

Date: Wed, 7 Jul 1999 10:16:13 -0400 (EDT)
From: "Lawrence H. de Bivort" <>
To: JOM-EMIT Discussion List <>
Subject: Re: Memetic engineering challenge
In-Reply-To: <>

On Wed, 7 Jul 1999, Nick Rose wrote:

>When you [de Bivort] say 'a person might be more resistant to one meme
>than to another' - what is it about that person which is
>offering resistance - would you say? I would agree with
>the latter part of your statement which is similar to
>Dennett's suggestion of filters. However, I would disagree
>that 'personality' (whatever that is) is doing the
>resisting. If it is 'personality' or 'free will' then how
>is it doing the selection?

Yes, I shy away from personality typing. In the work we do, we essentially
model each individual, and design for that person. When we are dealing
with larger numbers of people, or unknown people, we resort to a variety
of 'generic' tactics, sometimes including those of Milton Erickson, or
those of what we call "poly-choice redundancy" (Sorry about the jargon.)
This just means that a range of communicative styles are incorporated into
the communication -- a something for everyone approach.

Individual resistence: different receptivity can occur in many ways. At
one end of the spectrum is the simple matter of access. At the other end
are the different cognitive 'internal strategies' of a person. We filter
for different kinds of information (I'm probably not using this in
Dennet's sense, not having read him); we have to fit new information into
different existing belief structures, etc. We use a fairly complex model
of how people think, make decisions, arrive at judgements, etc. and it
seems adequately to capture the relevant differences among people.

>> (This does not refer as much to the content of
>> the meme as its architecture and its phraseology or
>> symbology.) Again, the better the design of the meme, the
>> better it will be 'noticed' by the person (or culture) >
>and accepted.
>What is it about the 'person' that is doing the selecting?
>Without answering *that* then how could you know what it
>was about the 'design' of the meme which bestows selective

At the point a meme reacheds a person, we view them as a fairly placid
system: ideally, we will know what their 'internal strategies' are, and
will have coded the meme to them, and this takes into account any
particular 'defenses' they may have to our specific meme and its content.
So the metaphor I would use is not so much one of the person 'selecting'
our meme or not, but whether the mature of our meme makes it inescapable.

If the defenders of a castle are defeated and their castle conquered, it
is not because they 'selected' that outcome: they were simply not able to
avoid it.

I hope this is clear!

>> I'll offer a provocation: no one is beyond the reach of
>> _any_ meme, if it is designed well enough.
>Without knowing what it is about a 'person' which selects
>memes you could never create such a _design_. The idea that
>there is some ultimate designer 'killer' meme out there to
>which no one will have resistance is ridiculous.

No, I agree. We don't believe that there is such an all-targets meme, for
the reasons you allude to. But I do believe that no one is impervious to
memes, unless they cut off access.

>IMO the idea that we can produce designer memes
>invalidates the Darwinian mechanism which we propose as the
>process by which culture evolves. If memes are the units in
>an evolutionary model of culture - then whatever it is you
>are designing would be better off not being called a meme -
>to avoid confusion.

Our species in on the verge of being able to do something that no other
species on this planet has ever done: we are developing the ability to
guide our own evolution. This is a huge topic, and much larger than that
of memes. It raises technological, political, ethical, social issues that
are brand new to us. (This is actually my main interest in life: memes are
only a tactical matter for me.) I've defined how I use the term 'memes'
before on this list, and find that it works well. I am not insistent that
memes be viewed as the only or even the main actor in evolution. Nor am I
convinced that 'survival of the fittest' adequately describes the history
of evolution. It may be putting the cart before the horse, confusing
effect for cause. But that is another discussion, as well!

Lawrence de Bivort
The Memetics Group


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