virus: Re: virus-digest V2 #37

Reed Konsler (
Wed, 12 Feb 1997 22:46:52 -0500

>From: Dave Pape <>
>Date: Wed, 12 Feb 1997 12:57:56 GMT
>Subject: virus: Inter-species memetic transfer
>And I know that any high-school chemistry equation (these reactants change
>into these products, end of story) is a brutal over-simplification.

Hey, you wanna fight? Huh, punk? Those equations contain a great deal of
meaning (fnord) you aren't perceiving...but, I can't talk to you like this,
first you must join us in (fnord) level Pi. There you will find new vistas
of chemical experience and it will all (fnord) become clear.

>I'm pushing this non-human memes point because I see that more implicit
>barriers have been put in place:
>1 Memes are a human thing
>2 Memes are linguistic

This I agree with. Meme is a "soft" concept. It means different things to
different people.

Here is a thought experiment:

A simple organism, say the Smallpox virus is gene sequenced. The last
known quantities of smallpox are destroyed such that the organism is
technically extinct.

Later on, for some irrelevant reason a scientist regenerates Smallpox on a
DNA sequencer, amplifies it and infects some cells.

To what extent can it be said that Smallpox existed, for a time, only as a
meme? Is it significant that no human ever memorizes the huge tables of
data vital to our technological lives...for instance that no one can, off
hand, tell you the Smallpox sequence? In what sense do we "know" something
that we only "know to be known"? Is that kind of meme different?

How many memes do we have that correspond to actual "facts" we know and how
many correspond to "addresses" where we can find information at will? If
these databanks aren't human do they contain memes? What if you use
alta-vista...does the computer contain distinction memes? In what sense is
it different (other than feasability) if you have the computer or a person
do a keyword search?

If your spell-checker respells something you screwed that a
distinction-meme? What kinds of functions are best abdicated to
automations? As automations become more sophisticated don't you think we
will have to recognize some of their functions as properly cognitive...even
before a true AI is developed? They already remember things, sort and
transmit information, we trust them to monitor systems and control

Word 6 has a grammar checker which kindly informs me that me scientific
communications are written in the "passive tense" and that this is poor
rhetorical form. Is my computer not using proper distinction memes? The
spell checker, however, is a little more convenient: I can teach it that
"diastereoselective" is, indeed, a word. Am I teaching it?

People use cognitive aids all the time: computers, watches, day-timers, these things think, even a little?

I'll tip the answer. We do not commonly perceive thse objects as thinking
because we do not perceive them as possessing "will" and thus do not relate
to them using (from Dennett) the intentional stance. It is the human using
them that possesses will or intent, and is thus by extrapolation the host
of memes.

Here is the contradiction. Memes are only centered in those objects that
have apparent intentionality. However, many proponents of memetics believe
this concept undermines the ideal of will. There is therefore no obvious
reason not to refer to memes in books, computers, or dogs.

If memes are really just information then I think this concept of
humanistic memes is a throw back to ancient ideas of the primacy of our
species...many of which have been refuted in detail but remembered in
essence. We are all God's children, one way or another...

On the other hand, we could re-examine this idea of "free will" and see if
we can bring new life to it. In other words: is there come cognitive facet
of the mind outside of memes?

I'm just posing the questions, not advocating answers.


Reed Konsler