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

Eric Boyd (
Sat, 09 Aug 1997 00:57:36 -0500

Brett Lane Robertson wrote:

> Why do slogans catch on? Because we already have the content within our
> lives, we just need something to hang it all on. If I had always been one
> to sing silly songs, then the slogan tells me "just do it"...the same if I
> were one to sing meaningful songs. The pattern translates, the content is
> particular to the host.

hmmm. I think you see what I'm about to say, but here goes anyway...

It occured to me that the only reason that "Nike... just do it" is
propagated from mind to mind (the only reason it's a "meme") is that we
are *already* familiar with it.

Perhaps Nike isn't the best example here. Lets say I started humming a
jingle (like the theme song to The Flintstones). If another person
starts to hum it as well, then the jingle could be called a meme (under
Brodies definition). But I don't think that it really is. You see, the
only reason that the other person was able to hum it *at*all* is because
they *already* knew the song. That is, the meme didn't transfer right
then and there, it just "activated" the song, which was already present,
in their minds.

Now, exactly how that song *got* there in the first place is another
question. But I for one don't think that these little jingles deserve
the name "meme". The biggest reason we know them is becuase of the
*repeated* exposure, right? Not becuase, somehow, the jingle makes us
want to sing it.

In this way, I propose we limit[1] memes to things which (can be said
to) *intentionally* spread themselves. Like the f. Christian
"meme-complex", which *embodies* the idea of "evangalism".

<faith> <your message here> <evangalize>
This is the part that makes the idea a meme: when it spreads *itself*,
allbeit by a "host"

> The way we know a meme from a content-specific "cancer", is by noting if it
> reorganizes material we already claim as relevant to our life or if it
> introduces a new element; and if it introduces a new element, is this
> element situation specific or is it a universal element which--alone--would
> have an effect upon us (unlike "Nike" to a villager) in which case the meme
> is most likely a mem- within-a-meme ("Meta Meme?" How are others using this
> term?).

Meta-meme. This one is used in Brodies book to describe memes *about*
memes. That is, a "meta meme" is analgous to "meta-physics", where by
the meta stands for "above or about"... a theory explaining theories.

That's why a call like "Go Meta" is so powerful: it's about seeking a
platform that *unifies* all of our understanding; looking at the big
picture instead of the specific details.


[1] Limiting the "meme" in this way is not that good a thing, actually.

I think the most important insight into ideas that I've seen is this:
ideas and idea-spheres are *evolutionary* equivalents to genes and their
environments. I therefore think that we should move away from
"contagion" science and towards an evolutionary model of ideas.

You see, as I've defined it above, a "meme" is only a specific *type* of
idea: one which has evolved to propagate itself. Like a virus.

But the field could be much bigger than that.

I was talking to one of my friends, his girlfriend was all worked up.
Seems she suspects him of cheating... and lying, and avoiding her, and

So I gave him a little bit of memetics as advice.

I told him that our minds are *evolutarionary* playgrounds, and that his
girlfriend, in deciding that he was a cheater, had *made* her mind into
an environment which would support ideas about him cheating. That is,
her mind is now very vunerable to ideas like "he spent last night
sleeping with _____". Even if she has no evidence, her mind may be
convinced by -- or even *make* evidence out of -- every little thing
that is said or done around her.

This is also the "bug" that makes conspirecy theories so "convincing".
The power of faith. If you beleive, your mind begins to "find" evidence
to support you.

So I recommened that he bring her to "level 3". A little bit of
education can go a long way...


BTW, Wade: this is why belief is so powerful and prevalent.