Re: virus: Re : Complexity was TT and Absolute Truth

Eva-Lise Carlstrom (
Sun, 8 Dec 1996 13:01:26 -0800 (PST)

On Sat, 7 Dec 1996, David McFadzean wrote:

> The implication is "if memes are not encoded in speech then
> memes cannot be transmitted by speech." Why is that unreasonable?
> (Keep in mind that despite what you and others have suggested in this
> thread, "encoded" does not mean self-contained.)

The problem is one of semantic slippage. If the meaning itself is not
contained somehow within the signal (which apparently no one here is
claiming it is), then the meaning itself cannot be directly transmitted by
the signal. However, it is true that meaning can nonetheless be created
in the mind of the signal's receiver, even though the signal does not
directly transfer the meaning from mind to mind, and can only prompt
imperfect reconstructions. I am simply wary of David McFadzean's
presentations because they seem to me to blur this distinction, which can
be a vital one. I am gathering that we agree on the facts, but not on the
optimal presentation of them.

Here's another thought about memes:
Even using a genetic model, a given meme varies in form from mind to mind,
and sometimes mutates drastically in the course of its life in a population.
If no two minds hold exactly the same idea, on what basis do we call
several ideas in different minds the 'same meme'? Well, we do the same
thing with different individuals, calling them members of the same
species, and exactly how to do that is sometimes controversial in biology;
at what point do we decide that two individuals are different enough to
qualify as different species? One standard criterion is whether the two
can interbreed. Is this applicable to memes? Can some memes 'interbreed'
and some not? I have noticed that some people are what I call 'mutually
insane', that is, if they try to converse about certain subjects, each of
them will think the other is irrational and incomprehensible, and they
will be unable to communicate anything like their intended ideas (A third
party can sometimes see this happening). This would seem to be, if
anything, a demonstration of incompatible meme-complexes (populations)
rather than memes (individuals), though. Individual memes battling it out
is roughly what we get in a simple argument, while meme-complexes in conflict
is more like a religious war. Another criterion is degree of genetic
difference--for memes, this would be degree of semantic difference, if
it's possible to measure such a thing. Yet another would be closeness of
hereditary lines, which is related to but not quite the same thing as
genetic similarity, in biology; for memes, it may be even more different.
We might track an animal population and find that two subpopulations
diverged drastically after entering into different environments. The same
happens with memes. Similarly with parallel evolution. I would posit, in
fact, that it is far more possible for two courses of memetic evolution to
end up at the same spot (same meme, as represented by a statement in
language) than for the same thing to happen in biology. While of course
there is parallel biological evolution, it has, so far as I know, never
produced the same species from independent bloodlines.

Thinking with her fingers,


PS--If my ramblings have been thoroughly traversed already, I'd appreciate
a pointer to the appropriate spot(s) in the archives.