Re: virus: The Naked Meme

Alex Williams (
Sun, 1 Dec 1996 17:22:13 -0500 (EST)

"Eva-Lise Carlstrom" at Dec 1, 96 01:51:06 am
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> be transmitted directly. Another, which I had not formulated clearly
> until now, is that memes are in fact what is transmitted, the encoded
> instructions, whatever they may be, and that ideas within the mind are not
> the equivalent of viruses, but more akin to the diseases engendered by
> viruses, which may produce different symptoms in different hosts and
> circumstances. :) Alternatively, we can acknowledge memes as a metaphor
> linked dependently to the conduit metaphor, and not as a truth of the
> universe, or even a universally useful myth. There, three possible outs
> for the meme meme; discussion?

Interesting points, all. Leaving aside the first, which I've been
defending like the last Centurion standing astride the bridge with
sword in hand and grimace on face for a week or more, it can be
likened to treating a mind as a running Tierra[1] environment, in
which organisms (memes) flourish, compete and die, but which must be
conveyed between biomes in symbolic, environmentally mutable
structures which must be interpreted upon recipt. Your second
suggestion merely abstracts memes another level from what is already
only ephermally observable. One can ascribe the level of `memetic
symptom' directly upon meme-complexes, of which memes themselves are
the primary constituant, supported by belief, action and behaviour
(which, themselves, make up part of meme-complexes but are not memes,
themselves.) The problem with that analysis is that it leaves us
nowhere more `useful,' it merely changes the names on a few things but
is not, to use a term from a friend of mine, `revealatory'[2] in any
meaningful way, it gives us no more mental `hooks' to move the idea of
ideas around with.

The third idea is the one I find most compelling, being the basic
abjuration to `get your goddamn head down out of the clouds.' Its
very easy, as I've pointed out before, to confuse the medium with the
message, the map with the territory, in this field of inquiry. Its
all /too/ easy to begin believing that your theories, that your
beliefs, that your myths are, in fact, the way the world works and not
just as much stories that we tell each other about the unknown to try
and explain it enough so that we feel comfortable, as much so as the
ancient legends of the Greek gods were. Memetics, as a field, is not
independently testable as macrocosmic physics is[3]. Memetics, if
possible, is an even softer field than sociology, and as such is more
pliable than we tend to give allowance for in our natural hubris. Its
worth keeping in mind that the meme itself may not be a universally
applicable myth, whether or not its tied dependently to the `conduit
metaphor' or any other.


[1] I don't know how many Virians are into Artificial Life research,
but Tierra is a fine simulated environment in which organisms made up
of a very specialized `machine language' compete for computing
resources. Provider of scads of useful analogues for memetic thought.

[2] `Revealatori-ness,' if I may be permitted a particularly absurd
construction, is the state of creating a sense of `revealation,' that
`I didn't know THAT before,' effect. Very useful as a measure when
evaluating data-mining techniques and, in my personal philosophy, in
judging ideas about other ideas.

[3] I deliberately leave aside the question of Quantum. :)