virus: Meme Definition

Brett Lane Robertson (
Mon, 15 Sep 1997 01:51:01 -0500

Meme: "That which produces a more evolved form through the process of
dichotomy and saltation: The form produced which is a complex arrangement
(of information) crystallized within a shell, or "carrier"--carrier being a
viable form of the meme in that the arrangement of said form is still
subject to change (through replication)." (Date: Sat, 13 Sep 1997 18:49:40
-0500,To:, From: Brett Lane Robertson, <>,
Subject: RE: virus: Existence and Ego)


I wanted to comment on some of the difference in this definition and the
Dawkins definition (from Brodie, I think) that Eva posted; but, didn't have
the Eva post on my clipboard. So--from memory--Dawkins said something like
a meme was the mechanism for social transmission of information which works
through imitation?

My definition is slanted more toward a psychological than the sociological
perspective I glean from Dawkins. While I agree that the social organism
(group) may have a need to pass group characteristics on to individuals; I
wonder if the group--being averaged--needs a mechanism other than chance
recombination of genes to pass the totality of possible traits on to the
individual. I assume that the role of the individual is more instrumental
in formulating self-organizing principals--that there is a greater need for
the individual to pass on memetic information to the group and to other
individuals than the other way around. Further, I see the actual
application of Dawkins' theory to occur between individuals rather than
between the group and the individual as implied. For these reasons, I see
the psychological perspective to be more accurate. Still, I have left the
definition open to a sociological interpretation.

Though my definition allows for a meme-state (that of "carrier") to be open
to individual manipulation, it places a limitation on the structural
definition of the meme proper; that is, while environment (social) specific
determinants...advertising, content specific information dissemination,
jingles, songs, etc...may have some influence on the meme-shell, the
inflexibility proposed by a non-viable, crystallized, meme allows for it's
structure and function to be more accurately defined. I see such terms as
"learning", "modeling", "teaching", "coaching"...even "brainwashing" and
other behavior modifying techniques as more than adequate explanations for
the social phenomenon approached by the Dawkins definition. I see a need,
however, to propose a non-behavioral mechanism (not "by imitation") for the
transmission of information.*

*"Non-behavioral" may be mis-interpreted to mean having nothing to do with
one's actions. I would limit the term "behavioral" to mean that which is
open to conscious manipulation: "Non-behavioral" is therefore used to mean
NOT open to basic conscious manipulation; thereby, limiting the meme to that
which compels the host to act upon memetic information.


Rabble Sonnet Retort
Goto, n.:
A programming tool that exists to allow structured
programmers to complain about unstructured programmers.

Ray Simard