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Friday, September 19, 2008

More Memes

Form The Daily Meme

"# A meme is: An idea that, like a gene, can replicate and evolve."

In other words, it is just an idea, not some special category of ideas, since what idea cannot "replicate" (be passed around) and "evolve" (change)? Phony biological metaphors do not give 'meme' any added intellectual heft!

"# A unit of cultural information that represents a basic idea that can be transferred from one individual to another, and subjected to mutation, crossover and adaptation."

Oh, so societies have customs, practices, traditions, and mores, and those spread, are subject to cross-cultural influences, and change according to circumstances? Gee, before some weenies started saying 'meme', no one had realized this!

"# A cultural unit (an idea or value or pattern of behavior) that is passed from one generation to another by nongenetic means (as by imitation); "memes are the cultural counterpart of genes"."

Well, yes, except that there is no "DNA" of memes, no molecular biology of memes, no Mendelian laws of memes, etc. etc.

In other words, a 'meme' is a bunch of pseudo-scientific horse droppings.

12 comments:

  1. I didn't read this post before my reply on the other post. Even though I personally don't find this way of looking at society, or what some have called "noosphere", it seems difficult deny it is a unique perspective and as such may have it's own vocabulary. To the degree that meme is overused, such a detached pseudo-scientific perspective that is much more common that you might thing, is to blame.

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  2. Should read "Even though I personally don't find htis way of looking at society, etc, *particularly interesting or illuminating*, it seems..."

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  3. I kinda agree with John. I think it's goofy when people talk about memes, but it is an interesting viewpoint.

    You're coming dangerously close, Gene, to saying that unless a framework yields new predictions, it is useless.

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  4. I think it's pretty relevant that that the page that you're referencing starts with:
    "First off, technically most of the sites here are not memes. The fact that most of these sites create new questions all the time removes the whole evolving viral concept of a meme."

    and ends with:
    "The lack of a consistent, rigorous definition of what precisely a meme is remains one of the principal criticisms leveled at memetics, the study of memes"

    Of course the stuff in the middle can pretty easily be discredited/criticized.

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  5. Well, yes, except that there is no "DNA" of memes, no molecular biology of memes, no Mendelian laws of memes, etc. etc.

    When Darwin developed his theory of evolution, he had no concept of DNA and did not understand the mechanism behind inheritance, and yet we still think he had something valuable to say.

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  6. "When Darwin developed his theory of evolution, he had no concept of DNA and did not understand the mechanism behind inheritance, and yet we still think he had something valuable to say."

    Yet we had some hope that his programme one day would reveal such things -- does anyone really think we're going to turn up the DNA of ideas?

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  7. Oh, yeah, here's the other thing -- The Origin of Species actually increased our understanding of its subject even without Darwin nailing down a biochemical basis for his theory. 'Memes', instead, actually clouds our understanding of things we understood fairly well already. (E.g., Plato was quite aware that "ideas spread" -- he did not need a pseudo-concept like 'memes' to know this.)

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  8. Okay, now I'm kind of seeing what Gene's saying: "Meme" is just a gratuitous attempt to bring over ideas from biology, when in reality, that just limits your insight, since there are strictly more constraints on the spread of genes than the spread of ideas. Is that about right, Gene?

    Anyway, the point about DNA was one of my favorite topics when smacking evolution fanboys on youtube. They would always make claims about how Darwin "predicted the structure of DNA", indicating that they meant the intricacies we know about today. I would respond by saying, "Okay, if you explained modern understanding of DNA to Darwin, what probability would have assigned to it (given that he thought cells were really simple)? Well then I guess he didn't really predict it, now, did he?"

    Certainly, Darwin came up with a theoretical framework that allowed DNA to be later discovered, but that's a far cry from having "predicted the structure of DNA".

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  9. Exactly so, Silas, e.g., viruses and ideas both spread, but viruses spread by taking over the genetic material of their hosts, while ideas spread because they are somehow palatable to the person who adopts them.

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  10. ...just as (successful) viruses are palatable to the cell.

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