Re: virus: Comments on Brodie's Posting

Dave Pape (
Mon, 9 Jun 1997 21:02:38 +0100 (BST)

At 13:55 08/06/97 -0500, Timothy Perper/Martha Cornog wrote:

>For example, I do not see how memes are supposed to influence their
>carriers to do things -- anything -- without making some *large*
>assumptions about human behavior.


>But then sometimes people are exposed
>to meme X and do NOT do anything. We could say that this person was
>"resistant" to meme X, but that says nothing we don't already know.

Couldn't the memeticist say that the reason the person is resistant to meme
X is because memes Y and Z are already "in control of" the person's
behaviour? They could argue that when X impinges on the person's mind/brain,
a competition ensues between X and Y and Z. William Calvin
(, and probably others) is developing
models based on neurophysiology to describe control of action by thought,
and especially intelligent/creative/"novel" thought, in terms of neural
activity patterns competing for cortical resource. So perhaps the person's
apparent resistance to meme X arises from... an existing "infestation" with
other memes, which outcompete the new arrival for expression in the person's

>>>In my own view, memes are simply packages of information that are
>>>circulated in a society. Knowing a piece of information -- a meme --does
>>>nothing to you. Thus: "To make fried potatoes, take boiled potatoes,
>>>slice them, and fry them until yellow-brown." Has any reader leapt up,
>>>driven like a robot, to perform these instructions?

Maybe some have... others might watch the screen calmly, driven by a
combination of incoming TV memes and neural activity patterns learnt from
previous interactions of memes... driven to reach for a pen and write the
recipe down for later. Still driven like robots, but driven like differently
programmed exampless of the same kind of robot. That second reaction I
described still involves a massive component of memetic influence, as the
TV-decoding, writing, and stationery-management skills involved are all
culturally transmitted.

>>>In what precise sense
>>>is it alleged that "memes" cause or induce behavior?

I'd say it's to do with associating linguitic actions with behavioural
responses. It's not just meme X that causes you to do action x... Meme X
impinges on a whole ecology of memes (I reckon) which seethes away
dynamically in your mind, and neural activity which codes for the
interaction of meme X with that ecology... has behavioural-response neural
patterns associated with it.

Hmm. Precision was not my watchword. :)

>On the other hand, the undeniable efficacy of this sort of brain-washing
>*is* what one would expect if people -- not the memes -- were the active
>agents in their behavior, and if memes were only information packages
>without a life of their own. The organism resists change (a sort of
>behavioral homeostasis) unless it can be deceived, tricked, forced, cajoled
>or otherwise pushed, prodded, or enticed into changing.

>And sometimes all
>we need to do is point out that something interesting exists (like your
>book) and people will pick up on it. Was that because the memes took over
>their minds or because they were already prepared to be influenced by the

/Kind of/ both. I'd imagine that previous memetic interaction in the
person's mind (corresponding to neural interaction in their brain, see
Calvin and friends) would have led to a cognitive landscape into which the
newly arrived meme fits easily, encountering little competition. Under such
conditions, the new meme would be very easily expressed. So, using Richard's
book as an example, my mind/brain had been thinking about memes for a while,
so lots of memories, laid down as networks of neural connection strengths,
were encoded in my brain. When I "heard about Richard's book", ie memes like
"the guy you just got an email from has written a book about your favourite
subject" impinged on my mind, they arrived at a very friendly cognitive
landscape, into which they fit very happily, and were expressed very easily.

I personally try not to see a distinction between a "person" and "the memes
in their mind". It's difficult because of the language I've grown up with
("this is Me and these are My Thoughts"), but I'm now fairly confident that
I /am/ my memes and my limbic rushes, my pains and my perceptions. I am the
emergent of the interaction of all those neurally encoded things. So talk
about memes "taking over" people loses impact for me, as people emerge (as
cognitive entities) from memetic activity in human cortex.

Dave Pape
I am ready.

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