RE: when is a meme selfish?

Wade T.Smith (
Sun, 29 Aug 1999 10:54:38 -0400

Subject: RE: when is a meme selfish?
Date: Sun, 29 Aug 1999 10:54:38 -0400
From: "Wade T.Smith" <>
To: <>

On 08/29/99 10:00 the inimitable Richard Brodie made this comment =8B

>This kind of information in a mind is called a meme.

For which I supply, in this morning of clear nonclarity, the following
ramble, which all began because as I sat on the toilet I was staring at
the bathroom scale, and asking myself, what information, if any, is in
that device on my floor?-

The only reason I would use a toaster (to stay with the toaster) to burn
bread would be because I know what bread is, and I know what toast is,
and I know it needs an electrical outlet and I know I have to put the
bread in and push down the button.

There is an entire set of circumstances where I could replicate this
toaster completely, right down to duplicating the serial number and
manufacturing date, but there is no guarantee, unless my immediate
cultural environment contains enough 'memes' about toast and toasting,
that I would ever drop a slice of bread into it and have the marmalade

(Although I have no idea if 'mutation' is a force here- turning the
toaster into an altar is, well, just a mistake as far as the culture that
used the toaster to burn bread is concerned....)

There is only forensic information in objects themselves. Relativity,
location, complexity- these are facets of the cultural decoding- but the
encodings themselves are inside the culture as well....

In non-humans, we have evidence (from birds- those end products of
saurian evolution) that common behavior produces mutatable imitative
variations- in humans we have the layer of language as well providing a
value-added descriptive commonality. Memes may then lie somewhere in the
liaison between imitation and the intended mutation thereof that is
cultural behavior.

Will we really be able to look at our memes? Are we doing that all the
time? Or are we just singing like the birds, making our nests with
building permits as well as plumage? (And I wonder at the split,
biologically, between saurians and mammals, and then primates.)

And, I have no answers- I am here to learn, to listen, to be shaken and
stirred. I admit to an anthropocentric bias- yes, I feel, with that
horrid intuition that is bound to the humanly illogical at the best of
times, that humans are, well, a little bit different, and, to supplement
this maybe errant notion, 'memes' might be a handy source of this
difference- but, I am beginning to see that culture and our immersion in
it may be nothing (but what a nothing!) more than our level of birdsong,
nothing more than the way imitation and language mix together- a
complexity which, in order to get a handle on, we've brought forth
religion, and politics, and philosophy, to purchase some grip, to stay in
one place on its shifting bulk.

And which may, the more we look at it, compel us back to our own nature.

We all sing when we know the song.

- Wade

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