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

David McFadzean (
Mon, 9 Dec 1996 23:43:01 -0700

> From: Eva-Lise Carlstrom <>
> Date: Sunday, December 08, 1996 2:01 PM

> 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
> 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
> optimal presentation of them.

I agree entirely and I'm not trying to blur this distinction. The
meaning of a signal is in the effect caused by the signal which is
an interaction between signal and interpreter. The disagreement
appears to be in what part of the process is assigned the term "meme".
We have the signal, the information (or perhaps data) contained in
the signal, the meaning generated by that, the ideas and beliefs
caused by the meaning, and the behaviour caused by the beliefs. May
I suggest that we keep with Dawkin's original intent and define memes
as whatever it is that is transmitted culturally in the same way that
genes are transmitted genetically? If that means that ideas are not
in fact memes (as I think Alex Williams has been suggesting), then I
agree and would support that position before I redefined meme.

> Here's another thought about memes:
> Even using a genetic model, a given meme varies in form from mind to
> and sometimes mutates drastically in the course of its life in a
> 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

The genetic analogy is useful here. Biologists agree that Mendel's genes
have a molecular basis, ie. at some level the gene is "implemented" as
a sequence of DNA base pairs. However when they talk about a gene "for"
something, like a gene for a certain type of cancer or a gene for blue
eyes, there are not suggesting a one-to-one relationship between the
phenotype (expression of gene) and a DNA sequence. I wouldn't be surprised
if it turned out that the gene for blue eyes was radically different
humans and dogs at the base pair level. So memes, like genes, are defined
by their respective expressions. (Can any molecular biologists in the
audience back me up on this?)

I think it would help if there was a term analogous to phenotype in
memetics. I've seen 'memotype' and 'phenomeme' but neither has caught
on as far as I know.

> thing with different individuals, calling them members of the same
> species, and exactly how to do that is sometimes controversial in
> 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
> and some not? I have noticed that some people are what I call 'mutually

It may be possible that any meme can breed with any other. In any case
I don't think it makes a reasonable criterion for categorizing memes into
species. Memes and genes are more like cars and books in that they don't
have to interbreed with others of their kind in order to be the "same".

> 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

"Mutually insane"... now there's a valuable meme. Or should I say
an expression of a valuable meme? That sounds too cumbersome. How
about infectious idea?

> diverged drastically after entering into different environments. The
> happens with memes. Similarly with parallel evolution. I would posit,
> fact, that it is far more possible for two courses of memetic evolution
> 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.

I'm sure everyone has experienced having the Great Idea(tm) only to find
that some joker had the nerve to publish it a century before you were born.
Perhaps this humbling situation can be attributed to cryptamnesia (hearing
or reading the idea, then forgetting that it has an external source), but
sometimes it is as you describe, an example of parallel memetic evolution.

David McFadzean       
Memetic Engineer      
Church of Virus