Re: i-memes and m-memes

Bill Spight (
Sun, 29 Aug 1999 13:35:13 -0700

Date: Sun, 29 Aug 1999 13:35:13 -0700
From: Bill Spight <>
Subject: Re: i-memes and m-memes

Dear Lawrence,

> I would say that ideas, behaviors and artifacts CAN be memes IF they have
> the architecture and functions needed to 'displace' competing memes, and
> if they are provided with the requisite distribution channels. This
> provides that many ideas, behaviors and artifacts are not memes, because
> they lack the above characteristics.

I agree with your earlier statements about not treating memes like genes; the differences are too great. However, I think that here there is a relevant analogy with genes.

A mutant gene which kills or sterilizes lacks the architecture and function for replication. However, it is still useful to consider it a gene.

Admittedly, this is a tricky question. In "The Evolution of Useful Things" Henry Petroski points out that the function of many surviving craftsman's tools is unknown, because the craftsmen who made them for their own use never revealed the secret of how they were used. Do we consider those tools and how they were used memes or not? The information was transmissible (heritable), but was never transmitted.

I gather that you would not consider them memes. But do you go further? If they were transmitted, but in a way that would give them little chance to displace competing memes, would you consider them memes or not? For instance, a parent might tell their child the secret, but the child chooses another line of work. Meme or not?



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