Re: implied or inferred memes

Bill Spight (
Tue, 21 Sep 1999 09:16:16 -0700

Date: Tue, 21 Sep 1999 09:16:16 -0700
From: Bill Spight <>
Subject: Re: implied or inferred memes

Dear Derek:


There's no time for a trend to take a grip before the next craze replaces it. This is (was) (perhaps) less the case in so-called less developed societies.


Mmm. Pet rock vs. Shiva Lingam.


Those traits that are _genuinely_ maladaptive, like Rogers & Shoemaker's classic account of the Peruvian villagers that point-blamk refuse to boil water, are harder to explain as adaptive to the meme. Can anyone explain this example?


Verrry interesting. I had not heard about that. Can you give a reference?

Anyway, it might be a little hard to identify a meme for *not* boiling water. Was it a taboo?

Taboos are hard to do away with, I think. Particularly if the environment offers plenty of events that can serve as evidence that breaking a taboo is harmful.


I've yet to see a convincing example of a maladaptive-to-the-individual meme which spreads because it is adaptive to itself.


I don't know what "adaptive to itself" means. However, I can see how memes in a system might be said to adapt to each other.

Along those lines, I have hypothesized a process of memetic reinforcement for strategic memes. Simplified example: Meme A has the form, c,b -> a , where c is a context and b is a behavior of another person in a particular role. Meme B has the form, c,a -> b . Alice is a vehicle for meme A and Beth is a vehicle for meme B. In context, c, with Alice and Beth playing appropriate roles, if Alice exhibits behavior, a, that elicits behavior, b, from Beth, which in turn elicits behavior, a, from Alice, etc.

In a real example, there is much more to be said. However, this kind of thing goes on all the time. And some of these persistent interactions are deleterious to some of the persons involved. How these interactions are fueled and how they might change are interesting questions, and ones that I expect to do some research about.

But given that they do persist, the fact that the memes in the system evoke each other reinforces them: they become well-practiced. And evocation is a major component of transmission. So the cycle of memetic reinforcement contributes to both the survival and the proliferation of the memes involved, aside from the question of their effects on the people who are their vehicles.



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