Re: virus: Question

Eric Boyd (
Tue, 04 Jun 1996 21:46:19 -0500 wrote:
> I hate to sound stupid, but what is memetics?

I'm going to take this opportunity to see if _I_ have a complete grasp
of memetics. What follows is my explaination of it, and some of the key
insights I've obtained by studying it... please, everybody, tell me if
I've got it right or if I've missed something.

Memetics is the science of idea propagation. A meme, coined by analogy
with a gene (and pronounced to rhyme with it) is a unit of imformation.
Thoughts, culture, sentences, religion, the very language we speak with,
all of these are examples of meme's (or meta-memes, if they are composed
of smaller memes) The key founding stone of memetics that makes it
different from, say, information theory, is that these memes /evolve/.
They are subject to evolutionary pressures, and it's a game of "survival
of the fittest".

A meme will survive (propagate through the meme sphere's (minds) of
individuals and get repeated) longer if it possesses some key traits.
Amoung them are the "three buttons": sex, food, danger. Meme's about
these naturally perk or interest and get repeated more often. Some
other traits: for a meta-meme, coherence is a must. The system should
remain consistent internally. Another bonus to the survivability is if
the meta-meme is formed out of meme's that directly point to each other
(ie each meme in the series triggers the next one so that the individual
becomes aware of the whole system at once). For individual memes, a
variety of things can act on it... the so called "truth function" is a
good one. Is the meme true? Does it mesh with those meme's already
dominant in the subjects mind? But (and this is the most important
thing) the truth function is not the only force. Usefulness is another
important function. See recent discussion about "200 words for snow".
Another force is the "survival value" of it... and this is where talk of
"Virus's of the Mind" comes out. The meme is not useful or true, but
for whatever reason (forcefulness, button pushing, /design/ (think ads),
humourousness, etc.) the meme causes you to repeat (propagate) it, thus
bringing it to the attention of further people who repeat it and so on.

It is important to understand that at some level, /all/ meme's _infect_
us. Even if we deliberatly choose to use a meme, it still invades our
meme sphere and changes us a little (or a lot!). Even meme's we wish we
could ignore (and do, consciously) can have a sub-consciousness effect
on us. And then there are the meme's that are so basic to the way we
see the world that most are not even aware of them. This is the land of
philosophy, where the ideas are so /deep/ that they influence us in ways
we are usually unaware of. Culture is a good example. Structuralism,
the way John described it, is another.

But anyway, all of this has talked about "static" meme's seeming to
exist in some ether. This is not really how it is. Meme's evolve
rapidy, and are playing not "out there" in space but right inside your
head. Every played that childhood game "telephone" (name wrong?) where
one child starts by wispering a secret message to the next, who then
passes it on, and on down the line it goes. Then the last child stands
up and says what s/he heard; and nine times out of ten the message is
different. Evolution. The message has mutated as it got passed down
the line, and each child repeats /what she _thought_ she heard/. If the
message starts as totally meaningless, it changes more because each
child attempts to make sense of what they hear, thus changing the
message. In a similar way, jokes and stories and gossip will change
with each successive telling, becoming more and more "adapted" to their
environment. Usually this means that the gossip becomes more and more
outrageous, or more and more dirty. :)

What I learned about next was the so called "levels of mind"... level 1
is the mind of a chimp, not really capable of too much in the way of
memetic's (too simple). Level 2 is the average human mind, infected to
the teeth with meme's and providing a vector for many others. Virus's
of the mind breed and live here. It is characterized primairly by a
"single track" analogy. No deep contradictions, just lots of unexamaned
meme's acting together in a haphazard way to produce action in an
individual. For it is the interaction of meme's at this level that
produce personality and likes and dislikes. This is (in theory) why
advertising is so effective. All you have to do is get your word out
and people will come, influenced by your meme's to do whatever you
want. Of course, various levels of immunity develop in people
(otherwise they would be broke and dead) and so advertising is
constantly trying to find new ways of infecting you. Much talk in this
area about phallic symbols hiding in advertisments.
Level 3 is the "awakened" mind. Aware that all ideas, thoughts,
messages are in fact just meme's competeing for the valuable meme-space
inside ones head, the level three person /knows/ that infection is
unaviodable. But s/he sees no reason to simply stick with /one/ of the
meta-memes floating around. Why not use them both? See both sides of
the same issue at the same time. Use memes, as well as being used by
them. Understand that /contradiction/ is not always bad, and in fact is
sometimes very useful. Rise above the meme fights and /fight back/ by
deliberatly spreading those meme's you see as useful, and deliberatly
supressing those that arn't.

Hope this helps;