Re: virus: The Naked Meme

Eva-Lise Carlstrom (
Mon, 2 Dec 1996 22:23:17 -0800 (PST)

On Sun, 1 Dec 1996, Alex Williams wrote:
> 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

I noticed this only on the second reading, but this analogy restores
the conduit metaphor, which I was trying to eradicate in my phrasing. In
language, the meaning is *not in* the words. It is only *associated with*
the words. No amount of unpacking or transforming can turn the words into
the meaning, or dig the meaning out of the words. All we can do is match
up the sounds we hear or patterns we see with the meanings we have been
led to believe through experience that others intend us to associate with
them. Nonetheless, almost all the words and idioms we use to describe the
process of communication have this sense of containment in them:
conveying, bearing, sending, or passing on a message; rooting out the
meaning; even the word 'message' is related to 'missile' and other words
with the Latin root for 'to throw', and means (is associated with the
meaning) roughly 'thing which is sent'. The word itself confounds signal
and signified. I don't propose we attempt to destroy all remnants of the
conduit metaphor, since it is obviously very deeply rooted in the human
psyche, but only that we try to be aware of it and its limitations.

(and thank you for your commentary, O Zander the Heretic who got me
started on this line of thinking ;) )