Re: virus: The Naked Meme

Alex Williams (
Sun, 1 Dec 1996 17:00:21 -0500 (EST)

"Eva-Lise Carlstrom" at Nov 30, 96 11:29:37 pm
X-Mailer: ELM [version 2.4 PL24]
Mime-Version: 1.0
Content-Type: text/plain; charset=US-ASCII
Content-Transfer-Encoding: 7bit
Precedence: bulk

> I am, as this post should make clear, firmly within the park of 'Zander's
> Heresy', that memes are not in themselves transmissible. The

Fascinating, I never thought I'd have a Heresy (even of the Church of
Virus) named after me; my parents will be so proud ... if they can
understand what the heck its about, that is. :)

The cynic within suggests that this very discussion is a primary
example of memetic interaction through the intermediary of interpreted
symbol, and the dangers of assuming that you've communicated
effectively, the burden of understanding being heaped like hot coals
on the listener. In fact, a largish number of the discussions that
flare into somewhat irregular heat bear the earmarks of what might be
called `intellectual arrogance,' including my own (so you know I'm no
piker). It may be a useful paradigm to accept, however briefly even
if you do not accept it usually, that the `conduit metaphor' is only
that and that the speaker is more than casually responsible for what
is heard in the progression of these arguments, er, disputations.

[snip, rewind]

> One example of the conduit metaphor in action would be Person A, with a
> very high technical understanding of a procedure, telling Person B how to
> do something, and Person B failing to understand the explanation. Person
> A might claim that since her explanation 'contained' the correct meaning,
> Person B was an incompetent listener, 'not paying attention' or something.
> If Person A were aware of the conduit metaphor's implications, however,
> she might well notice that her terms were self-explanatory only for those
> with background she might not have provided and B might never have
> encountered, and so provide fuller instructions.

My actual employment is in the field of Telephonic Technical Support,
so, empiraclly (yes, I know its misspelled, its been a long morning) I
have quite a bit of exposure to this very example, day in and day out.
That constant drilling into my psyche is, without doubt, partly
responsible for my having difficulty encompassing rival points of view
on the issue from those without, perhaps, the constant innundative
reminder that, yes indeed, making assumptions about the
interpretive-complexes (complexi, if I wanted to sound unnecessarily
erudite?) of someone with whom you're communicating can have
disasterous consequences. (If I hear `I'm not really a UNIX guy, all
I know is VMS, but ...' one more time ...)

In fact, I've even experienced the change in meaning from things I,
myself, have said mere moments after speaking them as my mental focus
and the associated meme-complexes change to follow a chain of
inferences, reinterpreting my own words and having to issue follow-up
communications to both my other listeners /and myself/ to change the
intended meaning. This, in my mind, is a little more evidence for the
`conduit metaphor' being an inadequate representation.

In any case, thank you for your typically informative and instructive
article, Eva.