Re: facets of meme-talk

Bill Spight (
Sun, 29 Aug 1999 09:52:59 -0700

Date: Sun, 29 Aug 1999 09:52:59 -0700
From: Bill Spight <>
Subject: Re: facets of meme-talk

Dear Robin,


>To say that something IS
>RP information seems about as enlightening as saying that something IS matter or IS
>RP energy.


A better formulation is to say that both genes and memes are formal
entities, like those used in logic, mathematics and other formal
systems, rather than physical ones.


Simple abstraction, such as a relatively short bit string or list of propositions, is inadequate because of the aspect of meaning. The question has to do with interpretation.

As I understand it, enzymes interpret genes, in the sense that they "read" the DNA sequence to synthesize certain proteins. To be sure, the phenotypic effect of these proteins depends on many factors, which we express in the meaning of the gene: this gene is for this or that phenotypic effect. Still, the basic meaning of the gene can be formalized as the protein or proteins synthesized or as a peptide sequence. The question of phenotypic effects is contextual.

The situation is different for memes, for two reasons.

First, memes do not always have a relatively straightforward interpretation, comparable to the synthesis of specific proteins. I may have inculcated a meme which can be stated as, "Be nice to little old ladies." That might mean helping them across the street, or honking so they can get out of my way. <sorry> <g>

Second, the manifestation of memes in context is typically part of their replication (if they get replicated). That is not true of the contextual phenotypic effects of genes, which are irrelevant to their replication. Unlike the formalizations of most mathematics and logic, an adequate formalization of memes must be contextual.

My notion of the web of meaning is not just a metaphor, an alternative to the hermeneutic circle. I think that formalization of cultural entities (memes) needs to be in terms of a network (web). To be sure, a network can be represented as a list of propositions or a bit string, but not in a short, simple way.



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