virus: Re: Will The Real Meme Please Stand Up?

Ken McE (
Mon, 04 Aug 1997 16:48:30 -0500

Ken McE wrote:

I'm interested in nudging memetics in the general direction of being a
respectable branch of science, assuming it belongs there.

> Mark Mills <mmmills@OnRamp.NET> Wrote:

Me too.

Ken McE writes:

I do wonder sometimes if we are using the right language, if we are on
the right track, if there is any there there at all.

I tend to use the language of biology when discussing memes, but should
I? I speak of them as having life cycles, evolving, competing for
territory, being parasites or symbiotes, but does any of this really
apply? Biology deals with living things, things that have plans and
desires, things that care. Am I misleading myself with the very words
that I use to think about them?

Perhaps I should use the cool language of physics, think of them as
wave forms propagating through space. Scattered through this space are
objects. Some objects will pick up a wave form, resonate with it,
amplify it and send it back out into space. wave forms may overlap,
amplify, decay, or conflict with one another. They do not compete, they
do not breed, they do not care. They simply are.

Or perhaps I should look at them from a religious perspective, see them
as spiritual entities. “And the Demon Meme 125 entered into him, and he
fell upon his neighbors, and knew not his family, and terrible was his
visage.” “And the people sent forth one of their number to the Master
of Memes, and beseeched his aid.” “And when he came he cried out in a
great voice, and said prayers most strange and terrible to hear, and
the demon meme 125 was driven out into a flock of swine.” “And the swine
were driven off a cliff, that the demon meme 125 might spread no more.

Or could it be that we are savages plotting the course of sparks rising
from a fire, while the fire itself remains hidden? Perhaps what we call
“memes” are just sparks from the machine, natural byproducts of life,
something that we grow and shed as a dog sheds hair.

This would not be the first time that we have tried to build a science
around nothing. Look at the phrenologists with their maps and charts,
models and studies. They too thought they had something hot, and had
explanations for why these things were good and meaningful tools for
exploring and predicting what was. Where are they now? Could memetics
be the phrenology of the year 2000?

The only problem is that after you're done there's no way  to unteach a
dog how to use a hammock.