Saturday, April 26, 2008

On Memes

A few things have got me thinking about memes this weekend. The term "meme" was coined by Richard Dawkins to describe:

any unit of cultural information, such as a practice or idea, that gets transmitted verbally or by repeated action from one mind to another. Examples include thoughts, ideas, theories, practices, habits, songs, dances and moods and terms such as race, culture, and ethnicity. Memes propagate themselves and can move through a "culture" in a manner similar to the behavior of a virus. As a unit of cultural evolution, a meme in some ways resembles a gene. Richard Dawkins, in his book, The Selfish Gene,[1] recounts how and why he coined the term meme to describe how one might extend Darwinian principles to explain the spread of ideas and cultural phenomena. He gave as examples tunes, catch-phrases, beliefs, clothing-fashions, and the technology of building arches. (Wikipedia)

You can get a much better understanding of the concept by reading Harold Bloom's Lucifer Principle

ROLFcon, a gathering devoted to memes is happening right now.
"Mix up a bunch of super famous internet memes, some brainy academics, a big audience, dump them in Cambridge, MA and you've got ROFLCon."

One of the gems from the conference, Tron Guy.

One of my theories is that humans go through a development stage that shifts from "meme spreading" to "seed spreading". The role of biologically mature humans is to reproduce progeny. The role of children, teens and young adults it to be efficient, rapid exchangers of memes. They perform a cultural refresh in the same manner that having offspring refreshes the body count.

At the point of having children people go from being meme spreaders to seed spreaders. The increased responsibilities of "child rearing" usually result in a decreased ability to participate in cultural exchange. The is also physiological changes and stages of imprint vulnerability that lessen "meme spreading" ability. (Most great mathematicians created their contributions before the age of 27).

The other thing that has me thinking about memes is the story about the man who received a suicides victims heart, met the donors wife, fell in love with and marries her and years later committed suicide in tha same manner as her previous husband. Could there be a biological embedding of memes, a sort of assembly language code for memes that gets passed on via organ transplants?


Nixta said...

When I saw the Simpsons episode when Snake's scalp took over Homer, I didn't believe this stuff. I still don't now, though it's mighty intriguing. However, the evidence so far is just a bit too vague.

Who knows what went through this guys head. He must have known everything about the original donor after living with his wife for years. And the woman who read Dostoyevsky could be little more than someone grateful for a new lease on life and more conscious about frittering it away.

People who experience a close call with death tend to reassess the way they live their lives.

I really want to believe this. I want to believe in cellular memory. I want to believe that the body works like a holographic plate where each bit remembers stuff that overlaps with the other bits and together makes a whole, but I cannae do it. Ah just cannae! said...

The dude is absolutely right, and there is no question.