Meme Update #3
In this Issue:
What Is a Meme?
WHAT IS A MEME?
When Richard Dawkins introduced the word "meme" in his book The Selfish
Gene, he had the glimmering of a concept in mind -- a replicator akin to
the gene that would be at the center of the evolution of culture the way
genes are at the center of the evolution of organisms.
Since then, there has been a great deal of thought from many camps as to
the nature of the meme. Does it have a physical existence? Does a meme in
your head remain constant, or does it change over time? Are words written
down on paper memes. or are memes only memes when they're in your mind?
Since we want to come up with a useful definition for meme, there is no
True answer to these questions. While researching Virus of the Mind, I read
and spoke with many thinkers about memes. The most useful definition seemed
to be the one I called "A Working Definition" in Virus of the Mind:
A meme is a unit of information in a mind whose existence influences events
such that more copies of itself get created in other minds.
The key here is the link between mental programming and behavior. I take
the position that all our behavior is a combination of instinctual --
directed by our genes -- and learned -- directed by our memes. So when I
say that the presence of a meme in my mind influences my behavior, I mean
that I act differently because I have learned something. And when I act
differently, I change the world, if only subtly.
One argument that pops up from time to time is that it is possible to learn
something, but not have it be a meme, because it doesn't seem to replicate
itself. I reject this argument. Anything learned changes your behavior in
at least a small way -- otherwise, how do you know you've learned it? And
if it changes your behavior, it has the potential to affect the replication
of memes. Remember when Radar O'Reilly learned to recognize music by Bach
on the old TV show MASH? "Ah, Bach," he would say. And so the
distinction-meme for Bach would replicate.
I don't call books, TV shows, or other human artifacts "memes" because
while they seem to contain information, they don't have the dual capacity
that a meme (or a gene) has: both as carriers of information and as
creators of behavior. It's that Von Neumann-esque duality that makes
replicators so interesting and makes evolution possible.
POLITICS AS UNUSUAL DEPARTMENT
Rep. JOHN E. SUNUNU (R-NH) says, in the February issue of George magazine,
that the last books that changed his mind were Richard Dawkins's The
Selfish Gene and The Extended Phenotype, because they "made sense." Wow! Is
the enlightenment of the U.S. Legislature at hand? I'm sending him a
complimentary copy of VIRUS OF THE MIND...
THE MEMETICS BOOKSTORE turned a gross profit of almost $10 last quarter
($9.96). This actually translates into quite a few of you buying (and, I
hope, enjoying) books I've recommended. We don't actually make much money
from Amazon.Com on referral fees: just 8%, and that only on books that
aren't already discounted above the standard 10%. Since the most popular
memetics books are Amazon.Com bestsellers, when you buy one or all of them
The Memetics Bookstore makes zilch.
VIRUS OF THE MIND finished the year as Amazon.Com's #16
you for spreading the meme!