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Memes
(Perhaps a bit disingenious to include in WordPlay, since they are more, . . . so much more)

 

Memes are defined as self-replicating units of cultural meaning. Transmitted socially among individuals of different generations, Memes evolve through processes of mutation and natural selection. Thus, jingles sung by children while skipping rope, the conventional standards for fashionable dress, and the notions comprising the "common-sense" view of the world are all passed on through time, gradually modifying without any deliberate guidance are all simple instances of Memes. Memes, like genes, are replicators - they copy themselves - an amazing property, when you think about it, the basis of life itself. Again like genes, Memes endure and copy themselves with variations, which are naturally selected, and thereby evolve. Like genes, they may be metaphorically characterized as "selfish" - since one of their primary functions is to self-organize themselves in order to maximize the possibilities of their own survival and propogation. Computer viri make a good analogy the workings of Memes. In fact, a computer virus, being merely information stored in, and transmitted between, information processsing systems, is more like a Meme than it is like a biological virus (which is a self-contained physical entity that actually moves between organisms, carrying genetic information with it). Richard Dawkins says that as with genes, we track Memes through populations by their phenotypes [ways of being physically expressed]. Unlike genes, only human (and possibly some primate, cetean, and electronic) brains carry Memes.

 

There is some controversy over whether the concept was first defined for the world by Richard Dawkins in The Selfish Gene (1976): as "a unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation"; or by anthropologist F. T. Cloak, who discussed it in his 1973 paper "Elementary Self-Replicating Instructions and Their Works: Toward a Radical Reconstruction of General Anthropology Through a General Theory of Natural Selection" presented at the Ninth International Congress of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences, as an 'Evolutionary Replicator Theory of Culture". Though the credit for the actual word Meme and associated terms does go to Richard Dawkins. There is much more information available about Memes and Memetics at http://www.Memecentral.com/ especially the current and emerging currents in thought about the field. There is also a widely quoted paper posted in innumerable places on the internet by H. Keith Henson, titled "Memes Meta-Memes and Politics", which contains a lot of good basic introductory information.

 

Mr Henson included a diagram in his paper which is helpful in understanding these all of these Meme related concepts:

Quoted from H. Keith Henson's paper: "Memes. Meta-Memes, and Politics":
The study of Memetics takes the old saw about ideas having a life of their own seriously and applies what we know about ecosystems, evolution, and epidemiology to study the spread and persistence of ideas in cultures. If you come to understand Memetics, I expect your view of politics, religions, and related social movements to be changed in much the same way the germ theory of disease changed the attitude of the medical profession about epidemics. Memetics provides rational explanations for a lot of seemingly irrational human behavior.

 

A Meme survives in the world because people pass it on to other people, either vertically to the next generation, or horizontally to our fellows. This process is analogous to the way willow genes cause willow trees to spread them, or perhaps closer to the way cold viruses make us sneeze and spread them. Collections of organisms make up ecosystems. Human culture is a vast collection of Memes, a Memetic ecosystem. The diagram below is in terms of increasing complexity.
 
                                          Memes (groups form culture, stabilized by MetaMemes)
                                    Organisms (groups form ecosystems)
                              Cells
                        DNA (informational though embedded in material)
                  molecules
            atoms
      sub atomic [components (editorial addition)]

 

Once the informational boundary is crossed, biological models of replication and survival become applicable. Most of the Memes that make up human culture are of the shoemaking kind. A rationale for the spread and persistence of these ideas/skills seems obvious: they aid the survival of people who in turn teach the same ideas and skills to the next generation.

 

 

Common examples of Memes are
      * tunes, like "Happy Birthday to You" or your national anthem (four notes is thought to be the minimum)
      * catchphrases, like "Like father, like son" or "blood, sweat and tears"
      * myths, like George Washington chopping down the cherry tree, or the tooth fairy
      * folk beliefs, like "We only use 10% of our brains" and
      * customs, like tossing spilt salt over your left shoulder and genital mutilation.

 

A cluster of related Memes may be termed a MemePlex. (Dawkins called it a "co-adapted Meme-complex", but the name of the MemePlex Meme has evolved.) Examples of MemePlexes are
      * languages, and subsystems of languages such as alphabets, fonts, dialects and regional accents
      * clusters of customs, such as Holiday celebrations
      * systems of thought, such as philosophies and religions [except your own, of course]

 

At their website relating to the book Lifecycle of Memes, By Henrik Bjarneskans, Bjarne Grønnevik and Anders Sandberg, much information is available, including: "In Memetics, ideas are viewed as almost independent creatures in a symbiotic relationship with human minds and cultures. It is quite common that Memes are confused with ideas/thoughts. Both are cognitive structures, but an idea is not self-replicating and is spread passively (i.e. for extrinsic reasons) if it is spread beyond its initial host at all. The difference is sometimes hazy; the idea "Isn't it time for us to eat?" can easily spread in a small group, but will not spread well outside the group and will disappear once the question is settled, while a Meme usually can spread generally and does not have any limited lifespan. In a many-to-many medium such as the Internet there are multiple Meme sources, and the Memetic diversity is high."

 

A whole vocabulary has risen from the field of Memetics to aide in the ease and accuracy of discussing the ideas involved. Glenn Grant, Memeticist at his website has published and updated A Memetic Lexicon (version 3.5 the last time we checked), though this field is a constantly and rapidly evolving one, perhaps more than most. We are posting that version of the Lexicon here, we believe within the "ShareRight" rules:

A Memetic Lexicon

 

Auto-Toxic: Dangerous to itself. Highly auto-toxic Memes are usually self-limiting because they promote the destruction of their hosts (such as: the Jim Jones Meme; any military indoctrination Meme-complex; any "martyrdom" Meme). (GMG) (See exo-toxic.)

 

Bait: The part of a Meme-complex that promises to benefit the host (usually in return for replicating the complex). The bait usually justifies, but does not explicitly urge, the replication of a Meme-complex. (Donald Going, quoted by Hofstadter.) Also called the reward co-Meme. (In many religions, "Salvation" is the bait, or promised reward; "Spread the Word" is the hook. Other common bait co-Memes are "Eternal Bliss", "Security", "Prosperity", "Freedom".) (See: hook; threat; infection strategy.)

 

Belief-Space: Since a person can only be infected with and transmit a finite number of Memes, there is a limit to their belief space (Henson). Memes evolve in competition for niches in the belief-space of individuals and societies.

 

Censorship: Any attempt to hinder the spread of a Meme by eliminating its vectors. Hence, censorship is analogous to attempts to halt diseases by spraying insecticides. Censorship can never fully kill off an offensive Meme, and may actually help to promote the Meme's most virulent strain, while killing off milder forms.

 

Co-Meme: A Meme which has symbiotically co-evolved with other Memes, to form a mutually-assisting Meme-complex. Also called a symMeme. (GMG)

 

Cult: A sociotype of an auto-toxic Meme-complex, composed of membots and/or Memeoids. (GMG) Characteristics of cults include: self-isolation of the infected group (or at least new recruits); brainwashing by repetitive exposure (inducing dependent mental states); genetic functions discouraged (through celibacy, sterilization, devalued family) in favor of replication (proselytizing); and leader-worship ("personality cult"). (Henson.)

 

Dormant: Currently without human hosts. The ancient Egyptian hieroglyph system and the Gnostic Gospels are examples of "dead" schemes which lay dormant for millennia in hidden or untranslatable texts, waiting to re-activate themselves by infecting modern archeologists. Some obsolete Memes never become entirely dormant, such as Phlogiston theory, which simply mutated from a "belief" into a "quaint historical footnote."

 

Earworm: "A tune or melody which infects a population rapidly." (Rheingold); a hit song. (Such as: "Don't Worry, Be Happy".) (f. German, Ohrwurm= Earworm.)

 

Exo-Toxic: Dangerous to others. Highly exo-toxic Memes promote the destruction of persons other than their hosts, particularly those who are carriers of rival Memes. (Such as: Nazism, the Inquisition, Pol Pot.) (See Meme-allergy.) (GMG)

 

Hook: The part of a Meme-complex that urges replication. The hook is often most effective when it is not an explicit statement, but a logical consequence of the Meme’s content. (Hofstadter) (See bait, threat.)

 

Host: A person who has been successfully infected by a Meme. See Infection, Membot, Memeoid.

 

Ideosphere: The realm of Memetic evolution, as the biosphere is the realm of biological evolution. The entire Memetic ecology. (Hofstadter.) The health of an ideosphere can be measured by its Memetic diversity. Totalitarian regimes attempt to enforce Memetic monocultures which, like monocrops in agriculture, are inherently unstable.

 

Immuno-Depressant: Anything that tends to reduce a person’s Memetic immunity. Common immuno-depressants are: travel, disorientation, physical and emotional exhaustion, insecurity, emotional shock, loss of home or loved ones, future shock, culture shock, isolation stress, unfamiliar social situations, certain drugs, loneliness, alienation, paranoia, repeated exposure, respect for Authority, escapism, and hypnosis (suspension of critical judgment). Recruiters for cults often target airports and bus terminals because travelers are likely to be subject to a number of these immuno-depressants. (GMG) (See Cult.)

 

Immuno-Meme: See Vaccime. (GMG)

 

Infection: 1. Successful encoding of a Meme in the memory of a human being. A Memetic infection can be either active or inactive. It is inactive if the host does not feel inclined to transmit the Meme to other people. An active infection causes the host to want to infect others. Fanatically active hosts are often Membots or Memeoids. A person who is exposed to a Meme but who does not remember it (consciously or otherwise) is not infected. (A host can indeed be unconsciously infected, and even transmit a Meme without conscious awareness of the fact. Many societal norms are transmitted this way.) (GMG) 2. Some Memeticists have used "infection" as a synonym for "belief " -- i.e. only believers are infected, non-believers are not. However, this usage ignores the fact that people often transmit Memes they do not "believe in." Songs, jokes, and fantasies are Memes which do not rely on "belief" as an infection strategy.

 

Infection Strategy: Any Memetic strategy which encourages infection of a host. Jokes encourage infection by being humorous, tunes by evoking various emotions, slogans and catch-phrases by being terse and continuously repeated. Common infection strategies are "Villain vs. Victim", "Fear of Death", and "Sense of Community". In a Meme-Complex, the bait Co-Meme is often central to the infection strategy. (See Replication Strategy; mimicry.) (GMG)

 

Membot: A person whose entire life has become subordinated to the propagation of a Meme, robotically and at any opportunity. (Such as some Jehovah's Witnesses, Krishnas, and Scientologists.) Due to internal competition, the most vocal and extreme membots tend to rise to top of their sociotype’s hierarchy. A self-destructive membot is a Memeoid. (GMG)

 

Meme: (pron. meem) A contagious information pattern that replicates by symbiotically infecting human minds and altering their behavior, causing them to propagate the pattern. (The word "Meme" was coined by Dawkins, by analogy with "gene".) Individual slogans, catch-phrases, melodies, icons, inventions, and fashions are typical Memes. An idea or information pattern is not a Meme until it causes someone to replicate it, to repeat it to someone else, or to otherwise expose someone else to it. (See Meme-complex).

 

Meme-Allergy: A form of intolerance; a condition which causes a person to react in an unusually extreme manner when exposed to a specific semiotic stimulus, or Meme-allergen. Exo-toxic Meme-complexes typically confer dangerous Meme-allergies on their hosts. Meme-allergic reaction can often be triggered even when a Meme-allergen is not actually present, but merely perceived to be present. Common Meme-allergies include homophobia, paranoid anti-Communism, and pornophobia. Common forms of Meme-allergic reaction are censorship, vandalism, belligerent verbal abuse, and physical violence. (GMG)

 

Meme-Complex: A set of mutually-assisting Memes which have co-evolved a symbiotic relationship. Religious and political dogmas, social movements, artistic styles, traditions and customs, chain letters, paradigms, languages, etc. are Meme-complexes. Also called a scheme (Hofstadter). Types of co-Memes commonly found in a scheme are called the: bait; hook; threat; and vaccime. A successful scheme commonly has certain attributes: wide scope (a paradigm that explains much); opportunity for the carriers to participate and contribute; conviction of its self-evident truth (carries Authority); offers order and a sense of place, helping to stave off the dread of meaninglessness. (Wheelis, quoted by Hofstadter.)

 

Memeoid, or memoid: A person "whose behavior is so strongly influenced by a [Meme] that their own survival becomes inconsequential in their own minds." (Henson) (Such as: Kamikazes, suicide bombers, Jim Jones followers, any military personnel). Hosts and membots are not necessarily Memeoids. (See auto-toxic; exo-toxic.)

 

Meme Pool: The full diversity of Memes accessible to a culture or individual. Learning languages and traveling are methods of expanding one's Meme pool.

 

Memetic: Related to Memes. (Should be pronounced "meemetic" to avoid confusion with "mimetic.")

 

Memetic Drift: Accumulated mis-replications; (the rate of) Memetic mutation or evolution. Written texts tend to slow the Memetic drift of dogmas (Henson).

 

Memetic Engineer: One who consciously devises Memes, through Meme-splicing and Memetic synthesis, with the intent of altering the behavior of others. Writers of manifestos and of commercials are typical Memetic engineers. (GMG)

 

Memeticist: 1. One who studies Memetics. 2. A Memetic engineer. (GMG)

 

Memetics: The study of Memes and their social effects.

 

Memotype: 1. The actual information-content of a Meme, as distinct from its sociotype.
2. A class of similar Memes. (GMG)

 

Meta-Meme: Any Meme about Memes (such as: "tolerance," "metaphor").

 

Meta-Meme, the: The concept of Memes, considered as a Meme itself.

 

Millennial Meme, the: Any of several currently-epidemic Memes which predict catastrophic events for the year 2000 (or any date in the near future), including the battle of Armageddon, the Rapture, the thousand-year reign of Jesus, etc. The "Imminent New Age" Meme is simply a pan-denominational version of this. (Also called the "EndMeme.")

 

Mimicry: An infection strategy in which a Meme attempts to imitate the semiotics of another successful Meme. Such as: pseudo-science (Creationism, UFOlogy); pseudo-rebelliousness (Heavy Metal); subversion by forgery (Situationist detournement). (GMG)

 

Replication Strategy: Any Memetic strategy used by a Meme to encourage its host to repeat the Meme to other people. The hook co-Meme of a Meme-complex. (GMG)

 

RetroMeme: A Meme which attempts to splice itself into an existing Meme-complex (example: Marxist-Leninists trying to co-opt other sociotypes). (GMG)

 

Scheme: A Meme-Complex. (Hofstadter.)

 

Sociotype: 1. The social expression of a memotype, as the body of an organism is the physical expression (phenotype) of the gene (genotype). Hence, the Protestant Church is one sociotype of the Bible's memotype. (GMG) 2. A class of similar social organisations.

 

Threat: The part of a Meme-complex that encourages adherence and discourages mis-replication. ("Damnation to Hell" is the threat co-Meme in many religious schemes.) (See: bait, hook, vaccime.) (Hofstadter)

 

Tolerance: A meta-Meme which confers resistance to a wide variety of Memes (and their sociotypes), without conferring Meme-allergies. In its strongest form, Tolerance allows its host to be repeatedly exposed to rival Memes, even intolerant rivals, without active infection or Meme-allergic reaction. Tolerance is a central co-Meme in a wide variety of schemes, particularly "liberalism", and "democracy." Without it, a scheme will often become exo-toxic and confer Meme-allergies on its hosts. Since schemes compete for finite belief-space, tolerance is not necessarily a virtue in a scheme, but it has co-evolved in the ideosphere in much the same way as co-operation has evolved in biological ecosystems. (Henson.)

 

Vaccime: (pron. vak-seem) Any meta-Meme which confers resistance or immunity to one or more Memes, allowing that person to be exposed without acquiring an active infection. Also called an "immuno-Meme." Common immune-conferring Memes are "Faith", "Loyalty", "Skepticism", and "tolerance". (See: Meme-allergy.) (GMG.)

Every scheme includes a vaccime to protect against rival Memes. For instance:

Conservatism: automatically resist all new Memes.

Orthodoxy: automatically reject all new Memes.

Science: test new Memes for theoretical consistency and (where applicable) empirical repeatability; continually re-assess old Memes; accept schemes only conditionally, pending future re-assessment.

Radicalism: embrace one new scheme, reject all others.

Nihilism: reject all schemes, new and old.

New Age: accept all esthetically-appealing Memes, new and old, regardless of empirical (or even internal) consistency; reject others. (Note that this one doesn't provide much protection.)

Japanese: adapt (parts of) new schemes to the old ones.

Vector: A medium, method, or vehicle for the transmission of Memes. Almost any communication medium can be a Memetic vector. (GMG)

 

Villain vs. Victim: An infection strategy common to many Meme-Complexes, placing the potential host in the role of Victim and playing on their insecurity, as in: "the bourgeoisie is oppressing the proletariat" (Hofstadter). Often dangerously toxic to host and society in general. Also known as the "Us-and-Them" strategy.

"A Memetic Lexicon" is Share-Right (S), 1990-2004, by Glenn Grant, Montreal. <www.istop.com/~ggrant/> (You may reproduce this material, only if your recipients may also reproduce it, you do not change it, and you include this notice [see: threat].)

 

 

 

 
 

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