Re: virus: Definition of meme (from alt.memetics)

Jason McVean (
Tue, 31 Dec 96 12:55:22 MST

David McFadzean wrote:
> Here's my analysis: Alex wants to make the following changes to
> the Virus doctrine:
> 1) Redefine memes to mean only "active memes", ie. memes in the mind.
> 2) Redefine stored memes, memes in transit, and otherwise "inactive memes"
> as meme spoor.
> After careful consideration, I'm still unconvinced that would be a
> good idea. First of all, I see no inherent advantages to the new
> naming scheme. Don't get me wrong, I think it is all-important to
> distinguish between memes-in-the-mind, and that which is communicated
> and stored, hence the modifiers "active" and "dormant" and "in transit",
> etc. Secondly I think "spoor" is very confusing. As far as I know,
> an animal as never been recreated from its tracks or trail. Finally,
> and most importantly, changing the definition now would make everything
> that has been written about memetics up to this point incoherent. Not
> unlike changing the definition of "gene" so that genes cannot be said
> to be transmitted from generation to generation.
> So, on the off chance that my opinion carries any weight in this forum,
> I suggest we keep the "old" definition of meme, at least until we have
> a good reason for changing it. Anyone agree?

This discussion reminds me of the Absolute truth argument. While
I feel that Alex and comrads make excellent points regarding the
impossibility of fully encoding a meme (as it exists in one's
head), I think it is simply more useful to retain the current
definition of a meme and include careful explanations concerning
what they point out when necessary. The alternative is to be
forced to use cumbersome and ineffecient terminology. Alex's
heresy isn't really that controversial at it's heart. Once the
point is made, I don't think many people will discount it.

If "meme" is intended to be analogous with "gene", then David's
definition is prefered because, as has been pointed out, genes
are subject to misinterpretation and encoding/decoding errors just
as memes are. There is a question of degree of transmission
imperfection, but this is a quantitative distiction, not

Dept. of Physics and Astronomy University of Calgary

"All my life I've been waiting, and watching, and waiting for
flesh that smells familiar." Sara Craig - Thank You (Very Much)