Re: virus: Will the real meme please stand up.

Brett Lane Robertson (
Tue, 05 Aug 1997 14:38:46 -0500

At 09:29 PM 8/4/97 -1000, you wrote:

>ERiC wrote:
>> "A meme is a unit of information in a mind whose existance influences
>> events such that more copies of itself get created in other minds."
>> (Richard Brodie, Virus of the Mind, pg.32)

>Good start. But what exactly is this *unit*? With a gene, this
>was easy, because a gene is a gene. A part of a gene is not a gene,
>but a part of a meme can be. Also, a collection of genes is not a gene,
>(I think. I may be wrong - I'm not a biologist) but a collection
>of memes can be a meme (or meme complex, but I see the two used

>Also, by this definition, anything expressible in any language is
>a meme. That is any >idea<. I don't have a particular problem with
>this, but it does rather leave the debate wide open.

>> that is, a meme is a specific *type* of idea, one which is
>> self-propagating. Any other use of the word is *abuse*[1].

>Interesting. So all those ideas that float around my head and I wish
>I had time to write down or work on more but don't, are not memes...
>Aren't they just unsusccessful memes? Like genetic sports, not viable
>so they don't reproduce.



First, a meme is patterned: It has a recognizable form. This form has a
function which is to maintain the form's stability. This makes the meme a
specific entity, a "thing"--which is discernable from other entities. The
meme's stability allows it to be transferred to other situations and still
maintain it's integrity.

Second, the meme must have no specific content; which is to say, it may have
content but the content must be non-specific enough to move from one content
specific location to another content specific location--preferably without
regard to the content itself. This non-specificity is what allows it to be
transferred. It's lack of specific content would render it a non-specific
entity, a not-thing (nothing), were it not for the fact that it has a
recognizable pattern. Content specific entities ("Tim", for example) can
only be generalized to other, similar, content specific situations (other
"Tims") so that neither their original pattern ("the specific member of
virus-l with certain distinguishing characteristics") nor the behavior ("to
maintain the integrity of the original") is contained within the pattern
denoted (The word "Tim" doesn't contain the pattern for the person "Tim" and
therefore doesn't produce the behavior of maintaining the integrity of
"Tim-ness" because it is too specific in contrasted from
another word--"man", for example, as used in the context : "Be a man").

On the other hand, a meme obviously has content; for something must produce
and maintain a patterned behavior. An entity must have characteristics
which causes it to be recognized. Something must infer "to look like
*this*"... "to behave like *this*". Some examples of patterned, non
specific entities might include generic terms like "house" or "chair", if
the idea of house and/or chair can be passed along so that a specific person
constructing a specific object can produce the object and it can be
recognized as a house or a chair even though it is not the specific house or
chair which provided the original pattern But, the generic term "house" is
not a meme according to the above definition because it doesn't produce the
behavior of creating houses. "House", is content specific as opposed to
pattern specific: It does not specify a behavior. "Building" or "living"
might be two function specific entities which produce a behavior; but, they
are not form specific--do not produce a pattern (in this case, the pattern
of "house" or of producing houses). A meme must maintain both form and
function. *"pattern" and "content" are confused in this example as they are
terms which help define the example but are not specific enough to delineate
the characteristics spoken of and thus must be further defined in the above
example for clarity--to show how they are used in each case.

So a meme has content but the content is non-specific in nature while
remaining specific in both form and function. How can the *nature* of an
entity be non-specific if it's form and function are specific? "Behavior"
has been chosen as a distinguishing characteristic above (it produces a
"similarly patterned *behavior*"). The meme's content is *behavior*: It
produces behavior. A "habit" is a behavior pattern, so is a "preference":
The habit of turning left, for example, is indicative of the preference for
turning left--a "left preference". The above definition could be rewritten:
A meme is a habit (pattern) which produces a preference (behavior) which, in
turn, recreates the habit. A meme is not a behavior, however, it is a
pattern (according to the definition, the preference doesn't produce the
habit -- the habit produces the preference...the pattern produces the
behavior). In this example, both the preference and the habit reinforce
each other--one turns left because it is a preference and one prefers to
turn left because it is a habit. To be a meme, the pattern must be primary.

"Survival" is a meme. Survival is a pattern, not a behavior. But, the
pattern of survival produces observable survival behaviors. If one is
exposed to behavior which is patterned on survival, then one produces
behaviors which recreate the survival pattern. The content of the behavior
is not specified but the form "survival" and the function "survival" are
replicated. This is due to the fact that the survival meme has non-specific
content but specific form and function--it's function, again, is to recreate
it's form. Other examples of memes are "Freedom" (which recreates freedom
but is non-specific in content), "control" (which leads to control but does
not specify particular behaviors), "beauty" (which replicates itself in
different contexts maintaining patterns with are beautiful). A specific
ideal is a meme (honor). A particular essence is a meme (brute force).

A meta-meme would be both essence and ideal (force with honor,
"compassion"). In this example, "survival" is both idea and is
therefore a meta-meme. Within the meta-meme of survival may reside freedom,
but not beauty--which keeps the meme pattern specific, discernable from
another meta-meme, "art" (for example)...which may include beauty but not
honor. It would seem that if the essence is more essential or the ideal
more idealistic, then the meme is more inclusive and therefore "meta"--with
the most essential and idealistic meme being the most inclusive (and
therefore least specific and most easily generalized).

So all of those ideas, Tim, are not memes.


Rabble Sonnet Retort
Be content with your lot; one cannot be first in everything.