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

Brett Lane Robertson (
Fri, 08 Aug 1997 01:51:30 -0500

Prof. Tim,

Water is made up of hydrogen and oxygen but after it becomes "water", it is
no longer hydrogen and oxygen. The same with a meme. Yes, it has a
content, but its components are superceded by the fact that this is now a
"virus", a non-living entity which requires a host and *it's* contents in
order to replicate. I agree this is semantics--is there a content or is
there not--I forsee more complications arrising from the use of the former
than the later.

I thought I explained my position--that there is "content" but not "specific
content". Assuming that there is specific content allows for a broader
interpretation of meme than can be accounted for theoretically; which is to
say, I can posit a theory as to the generalization of a meme from one
content specific location to another content specific location if the meme
itself is not content specific (ie. the pattern is transferred and the
content adapts): I can not theorize that a meme can be content specific and
adapt to different environments without assuming that the meme mutates from
one location to another (or perhaps I can...that is, the content remains the
same but the pattern changes to fit into it's new environment; but in this
case, the content would be the key and a specific lack of content the
lock--which sounds more like learning or nutrition than a virus: I like
this idea as a model for learning--the spread of information and its
nutritive absorption by its new host environment--doesn't seem as
appropriate for a meme).

I wonder what niche the meme is being groomed to advertising psychological warfare. I see its greatest potential as
fighting the nihilistic mutative thrust of the theory of competitive
survival: I like the idea of a "helpful" virus which carries evolutionary
information like the gene (but unlike the gene is not mutative nor
competitive nor an arbetrary/chance recombinant). I like a meme which
carries successful patterns that successively grow more complicated as
evolution progresses so that they come closer and closer to eliciting
content specific responses from their hosts (and this stage in the evolution
of the meme may have occurred--where the content of host #1 is elicited in
host #2 upon the transfer of a memetic pattern; but, I still cannot see how
the content itself would be transferred memetically). I think that some
would like to believe that memetics promises that every untruth has an equal
chance of surviving if it is wrapped in a pretty enough package (and I can't
condone that line of reasoning). And, no, I do not buy into the idea that
memes are "abstract concepts".


At 09:50 AM 8/7/97 -0700, you wrote:

>On Wed, 6 Aug 1997, Brett Lane Robertson wrote:

>> 2. No, content doesn't get passed along with a meme.

>I disagree. Strongly.

>Content is as much a part of the package as anything else. In the Kurt
>Vonnegut/Sunscreen example content was the _one_thing_ that did get passed
>on unchanged. The viral shell, meme format, or whatever you wish to call
>the mechanisms of replication, *adapted* to better transmit the content.
>Different content in a different media would have required a different
>adaptation to fit the niche.

>(If, for instance, it was a talk about C++ or Windows 98, Bill Gates would
>have been a better attribution than Kurt and much more successful *for
>that content*)

>Saying content is irrelevant is akin to saying the genetic code of a virus
>is irrelevant. It isn't. If that were the case the common cold would be
>as dangerous as AIDS (or vise-versa). Part of that code determines
>*where* the virus attacks and, as we see in the case of AIDS, that can
>make all the difference in the world.

>The memes success is not a function of its content, but the content relates
>to the niches the meme _can_be_ successful in.

>-Prof. Tim

>P.S. If your argument is that *nothing* is passed on by memes (including
>the memes format) you'll have to make a stronger case for that. But
>before this devolves into debate about transmission mediums versus
>transmitted information (there's plenty of this in the archives already,
>if you have a hunger for it, you might look there), remember that memes
>are abstract concepts. When I write down 23+16 and you read it, did I
>make 39 somethings exist somewhere?

Rabble Sonnet Retort
When men grow virtuous in their old age,
they only make a sacrifice to God of the devil's leavings.

Jonathan Swift