Re: definition of meme (was Re: virus: Re : Complexity was TT)

David McFadzean (
Wed, 27 Nov 1996 13:00:55 -0700

At 01:54 PM 27/11/96 -0500, Alexander Williams wrote:

>For a different take on your missive, take my view: The memes that cause
>you to write your email to the list cause you to create a very specific
>pattern of `literary figures,' transmitted by electronic vectors to all
>participant. These figures, in the act of interpretation, cause each
>observer's meme-structures/interpreters to give rise to certain other
>memes, certain of which attempt to model what my meme-structures suggest
>what /your/ meme-structures were involved in whilst composing the
>pattern of spoor. Meanwhile, those memes I
>reconstruct/are-born-by-interpretation-from your missive rattle around
>against my own memes and get corners knocked off, further mutating by
>interaction and eventually settle in or get discarded.

Yes, that is *much* simpler than standard memetics.
What happened to Occam's razor?

>In short, I don't think the composition of patterns themselves, whether
>it be smears of light or vibrations in air contain enough information to
>`retrieve the original.' I think we get `good enough copies' but still,
>distinctly different entities from the originals.

So we agree that the patterns contain enough information to retrieve
good enough copies. That's all I ever claimed.

>OK, `no two people (or better, minds) share a meme.' How's that for
>heretical? People share memes which function similarly and which are
>shaped by the neural structure that supports them and the patterns made
>by other meme-complexes, but to say that my idea of the word `cow' and
>yours is the same is ludicrous. They share enough in common that we can
>approximate a model of what you mean when you say `cow' and vice versa,
>but that's a pretty broad concept in the particulars.

True, but not very useful. No two cows are identical but that's not
a very good reason to dispense with the "cow" meme.

>If all you had was a Perl4 interpreter then the code you posted wouldn't
>be a program at all, it'd be a string of data, perhaps, but not `a

True, but perl5 interpreters are readily available. So it is a program.

>`All dogs are dogs' is not quite a contraversial statement.

What I claimed was closer to "all sled dogs are dogs".

>Hint: in the futurewhen engaging in reducido ad absurdiam argument, be
>certain your absurdity is, in fact, absurd. I should hope my commentary

No kidding. Trust me, I did.

>up til this point would have shown why /I/, at least, don't think its
>absurd to say `memes cannot be transmitted' even if your point of view

Honestly, I think it is as absurd as stating "memes contain no information".
You are of course welcome to state it, defend it, even believe it.

>Have the very precepts of memetics become so entrenched amongst the
>community that some of the basic axioms cannot be questioned without
>questioning the validity of the entire structure? I'm quite familliar
>with the contents of the alt.memetics FAQ as well with a fair amount of
>the selected bibliography and, frankly, the insinuation that I'm not is
>slightly insulting.

I'm sorry you were insulted but it is very easy to mistake a rejection
of very basic precepts with an unfamiliarity of same. If you told
a Buddhist that the basic idea behind her beliefs is to amass material
wealth, would you be insulted if she referred you to Buddhists writings?
I referred you to the FAQ because you seemed to assume that memes can't
be transmitted and I wanted to demonstrate you are alone it that view.

>If the entire point of memetics is to understand how ideas are
>transmitted culturally, it might be worthwhile to look at ideas which
>involve memetics without the limitation of only looking at transference
>so that your own vision of the possibilities of the field are not so
>limited as others. Taking the position that memes exist but cannot be
>transmitted, they can only create patterns in physical reality (yes,
>objectivism again) that other memes can interpret in different ways to
>spawn new memes is just as valid as the more mainstream view that memes
>are inherently transmissable. Both theories have facts which would seem
>to support their existances.

True again. It may be quite worthwhile, but understand that it
throws out a basic assumption of memetics (that's all I'm saying).

>Its somewhat disturbing to find the Virus list already so encapsulated
>around dogma; one would think a Virian Church would eschew dogma in
>favour of almost constant catyclismic change.

It is certainly not dogma. It is doctrine which is necessary for any
constructive discussion. Without some common ground in assumptions
and definitions we would spend all our time debating basics. Hmm, I
guess that is exactly what we are doing. Please understand, I'm not
saying that the common ground is beyond question. It just isn't useful
to debate whether memes can be dormant if it turns out we don't have
the same idea of "meme" at all.

OK, now back to the debate about the transmissibility of memes...

If you said I can ftp a file from your server, and I objected saying
that the files isn't really transmitted, but instead it is used to
create a very specific pattern of digital electronic pulses (which aren't
really digital but overdriven analog waveforms) on phone lines which is
interpreted by another computer as file spoor which is enough to create
a new file at the host end which is similar enough to the original file (even
though the drive format may be quite different) wouldn't you call me crazy?

David McFadzean       
Memetic Engineer      
Church of Virus