Re: virus: Question on memes 101

David McFadzean (
Tue, 07 Nov 1995 12:06:57 -0700

At 01:46 PM 11/3/95 -0500, wrote:

>What kind of distinction is to be made between extra-somatic information
>storage (eg. e-mail, 1-900 recordings, pop-up books, etc.) and the
>ideas/concepts in my head? Are both considered out-n'-out memes? Or is
>information in extra-somatic format something akin to a virus in its
>dormant brick stage? Or is corporeal interior/exterior distinction not even
>I know it's a complex issue, but I'd be interested in a thread on this subject.

When thinking about memes I often find it insightful to return to the
computer program metaphor. A meme is like a program in that they are both
causal units of identifiable behaviour. Even if you don't know programming
you can probably see what these two programs have in common:

This one is in a language called perl:

foreach $x (1..10) {
print "$x ";

This one is in C:

i = 1;
while (i <= 10)
printf ("%d ", i);

Most people agree they represent the same program even though

a) they are syntactically different,
b) their respective information pattern in computer memory is
quite different, radically so on different hardware,
c) the first is (usually) interpreted, the second is (usually) compiled,
d) it is irrelevant whether they appear on your screen, on paper,
on disk or in memory.

The aspect that makes them the same program is both cause the
computer to print the numbers from 1 to 10.

I think the distinction you are trying to make is between passive
and active memes. A meme is active when it is currently affecting
your behaviour. It may be encoded in a passive form (as I am doing
here as I type this in) for storage and/or transmission, and be
reactivated later when someone reads, hears, or somehow interprets
the code such that their behaviour is affected in similar ways.

A meme is unlike a biological virus in that the dormant forms
need not resemble the active forms. They only need the potential
to cause the behaviour associated with the meme, perhaps in an
extremely indirect and complex way.

Does that shed any light on your question or have I only added
to the confusion?

David McFadzean       
Memetic Engineer      
Merak Projects Ltd.