virus: The Life of a Virus

gary dickson (
Sat, 26 Sep 1998 12:48:56 -0700 (PDT)

A while back I posted a rought draft of my thesis proposal here and
while the input was less than hoped for it was none-the-less a great
help in defining the propsal that I finally submited. Anyhow, I am
very pleased to sat that my proposal was approved and so I have been
pushing forwared with it. Probabbly the most difficult issues I have
had to deal with have been with definitions e.g. what exactly is a
meme or a mind-virus or for that matter an idea? In conjunction with
this struggle with definitions I have also been trying to clarify the
analogy between mind viruses and biological viruses. With that in
mind, last week I sat down and wrote the following (mostly for my own
peace of mind). Please excuse if itís a bit rough. Any comments
would be very, very welcome!!!


Viruses exist in many forms, at the core of each lies a code. This
code is actually a complex idea or ideas (memes) which have been
externalised from inside of a mind out into the world. The code is
incorporated into a vehicle. There are an almost limitless number of
vehicles into which a meme may be coded These vehicles are in a sense
physical manifestations of the memes. A vehicle may be either
artifact -- visual or aural, or observable behavior. The vehicle
together with the code which it embodies constitute a virus. A virus
is lifeless. It requires nothing to merely sit and exist. It may lay
about for days, weeks, even centuries or longer waiting for a host.
In order to take up residence in a host a virus is covered with a
sticky coating which has a series of sharp peaks or valleys which are
shaped in a very specific way, like a key or its repective keyhole.
These peaks and valleys in biological viruses are called antigens.
With no life of itís own the virus bounces around sticking to this and
that until it finds a male or female match to its antigen. The
antigen fits a matching receptor within our existing meme complex or
belief system and the memetic code is injected into our mind.
A new idea may be born when an existing idea is not copied into the
host correctly or when two or more ideas enter a host and merge
together either in whole or in part. At this point the idea may sit
dormant for weeks, months or decades. It may remain in the host
hidden from the world and continue to mutate. At some point this new
idea will emerge from the host and be manifest to the outside world in
the form of some behavior or in the form of an artifact -- it is coded
into a new vehicle and let loose into the world as yet another virus.
As host organisms we may sometimes ingest a noxious virus and still
the virus may not find a susceptible cell to infect. Just because a
meme may reside in our mind does not mean that we are bound to
incorporate it into our active belief system. At this point however,
caution must be taken to not propagate this virus. These memes have a
life of their own and even if we do not incorporate one into out own
belief system doesnít not mean that it cannot use us merely as a
carrier until a less immune host may happen along.

Gary Dickson
Get your free address at