Memes: Me, myself and I think.

What is a meme?
More on Memes: The Teeming Millions lose their minds

Ok, good subject, for those with the capacity to hang on for the ride. There are several tangential issues that naturally segue into a “whoa dude, that’s deep!” dialogue (or assemblage of memes). Intelligence, consciousness, sentience, symbolism, language, and deliberation all germaine to this talk, but as you will see, I won’t address many of them here. Think “Coffee Talk”.

Brains are not created equally, nor are personalities. Look at our society, for example. Not only is there a very big schism between the smartest and the most knuckle-dragging cretins, but there’s also a huge disparity in the ability of people to “think for themselves”. I know some really, really smart imbeciles, so the correlation between the two is not linear. The ultimate beef people have with the notion if memes is that it threatens their self-image as being at the helm of their own destiny. Well, we are, relax.

Here’s the thing: Culture is a meme, and language is a subset of culture, and a very potent and pervasive one. The bulk of any given society’s constituents lack the ability to break from their native social norms, mores, and customs, including the way they think about various subjects, but some do, particularly if they read, travel or are smart and questioning. Those that are sheep are so because they are relatively stationary geographically speaking, uneducated, and were not encouraged to question as children. A “mode of thought”, such as proper sexual conduct, proper ways to make a living, what’s “good” and waht’s “evil”, etc. are all coded for by history and the persuasiveness of competing groups of people within a society. Religion is not universal, nor is how to dress, how and what to eat, how to give birth, what to do with your body when you die, and so on.

Being “brainwashed” is simply the state of having a person submit to the strong pressure of a mode of thinking, and some people are less brainwashing prone than others. Memes are not really analogous to genes, as a person has no ability to reject any of the genes they are exposed to or programmed by, be they their own or others that invade their body (i.e. viruses). You can choose what memes you reproduce and follow. You can move, drop out, resist, and think for yourself. Take iconoclasts. Are these people meme resistant, or is their rebellion from the status quo just another meme? Well, both.

We are learning much about the brain, but some things should just be obvious by now. Without sensory exposure, we can’t form symbolism or thought pertaining to the stimuli in question. Blind people don’t understand the concept of color. Deaf people don’t get the idea of music in the same was as hearing people do. “Wild children” have very different ideas about who they are than you or I do. Exposure to information, be it conceptual or directly sensorial, gives us a template for thought, not to mention language, but it is not self-limiting like the model of a meme. If you are an eskimo, your would is frozen and you’ll learn the subtleties of various kinds of frozen water that an Amazon Yano Mamo would simply dismiss as all being “ice”, if he/she knew what that was at all. Therefore, the Amazon has a different culture and the significance, understanding of and diversity of ways water can freeze is lost on him/her. Get it? It is this way with all things. Beer connoisseurs have a different language regarding malted grain beverages than do wine snobs. And, get this, I can pick up a beer and decide all by my little self whether it is good or not, even if I have been bombarded by advertising, but not everyone can (or wants to).

Moreover, all brains are different because they have different genes that are their blueprint and all of them have had different exposures to stimuli, both of which change they way it grows and develops. A meme is a concept, a program, a stimulus, like any other. Not all brains will process them in the same way, and the owner of the brain has a say in how, to an extent. Original thought and free will is certainly possible because of the uniqueness of perspective and experience. I have a set of experiences different from anyone else’s, though perhaps no single unique sense or experience. Understand? Ideas come from combinations of symbols and experience. The symbols (stimuli) may be universal (or at least prefectly consistent), but the combinations are unique. The more diverse the experiences, the more complex the template for thought. And so it is with memes. True believers of most religions are so not because they have got it right, but more likely because they know little else. I for one think you can break someone’s faith in god or a soul or whatever religious notion you can think of with a solid education, provided that the person listens and can process the new info intellectually, a prerequisite that sadly many are incapable of.

A meme is a word, an idea. You can use it, discard it, fight it, or suck on it like mama’s sweet tit.

All this being said, there are certain near-universals that we can’t escape. Being a human being means that we have some nearly exceptionless attributes which will effect how we think. Everyone must breathe, eat, defecate, urinate and sleep. Try to think about nourishing oneself without food, water or air. These are the true memes, and are hardwired into us. Buck those concepts and you’ll find yourself on the list of Darwin Award winners. Pretty much everything else is up to you, if you have the gumption and are willing to be ostracized (or jailed, murdered, etc.) for deviating from your culture’s “norm”.

Welcome to the Straight Dope Message Boards, SatyaRaven’sDad, we’re glad to have you with us.

When you start a thread, it’s helpful to other readers if you provide a link to the Column or Staff Report. That way, we’re all on the same page, people can quickly read the Column to read what you’re commenting on. So, it makes for more coherent posting and threading, and is a convenience to others.

In this case, there are two:

What is a meme?
More on Memes: The Teeming Millions lose their minds

I’ve edited them into the first line of your post, since it’s a long post.

No biggie, you’ll know for next time, and we’re glad to have you with us.

Huh? :eek:

um no, language is not a subset of culture. Far from it. You can be English-speaking without following English culture one bit.

What?? No, people are not sheep-minded because they don’t travel. It’s mostly a lack of critical thinking and rational discourse, which can be difficult concepts for an adult brain to adapt if it never had these thinking systems embedded early enough.

They’re not coded for by history, some ideas are simple self-evident truisms (e.g.the golden rule), others are flexible and adaptive (e.g.acceptable clothing for women), some develop as culture and technology requires (e.g. forum etiquette)

Natural selection, not persuasiveness of people.

It’s a limited analogy, as most analogies tend to be; it has its explanatory uses, but obviously it can’t be maintained through all aspects of either discipline.


This statement contradicts itself.

They are not “true” memes, or memes at all - they are biologically required behaviours.
What would separate a “true” meme from a “false” one?

I don’t think it’s helpful to suggest ridicule and punishment as a possible reward for thinking for oneself.

Overall, SatyaRaven’sDad, while I can see how you’re trying to help here, I don’t think you’re being very helpful (good intention, poor execution). Anyone reading your post who does not understand memes (your target audience?) would come away more confused and probably more negative towards the idea than they were before.
Much of your post was incoherent, and some fundamental posits, as I’ve pointed out, plain wrong. Please undertake to understand a topic like this better yourself before attempting to educate others. It IS an extremely powerful and complicated matter, and it requires a lot of analyzing, questioning, and rethinking.
Peace and good thoughts :slight_smile:

Traveling might not be the only reason somebody is a sheep, but in my experience, people who have traveled abroad, or even better, have stayed and worked in a foreign country for an extended time, are generally more broad-minded.

I respect you taking exception to my discourse on the subject of memes, but I must honestly disagree with you. You also ahve chosen to wite in a particularly condescending manner which is to say the least, impolite.

What you refer to as contradictory in what I have written regarding the ability to reason with the religiously faithful is not the case. Intelligence is not the direct result of education. IQ is allegedly a constant, even if test performance can be improved with practice. Specifically, intelligence is processing speed, the flexibility of one to comprehend complex concepts, and the ability to make connections in the relationships between concepts. This can be measured in athletic ability, musical aptitiude, linguistic ability, mathematic skill, etc. A person without exposure to a subject or idea will be able to handle it if the time is available for them to process it and if they are not resistant to new ideas that challenge their accepted world view, of course only so long as they can understand intellectually the new details being given to them.

While I was certainly guilty of rambling, I was not in any way incoherent. Perhaps the post was both too long and too short at the same time. I failed to limit the discussion to a narrow topic, and I did not delve particularly deeply into the ones I did bring up. Sorry.

My understanding of language, culture, memes, and the rest of the subjects I wrote about is not scant in the least.

The criticism which prompted me to write the entry in the first place was over the comparison of memes with genes, which is baseless, though I made an attempt to show some similarity between the two with my discussion about biological impulses and their origin. By the way, biological imperatives, like eating and breating are programs, as I stated, hard-wired into nearly all of our brains, transmitted by genes. A meme is the same in that it is information deciphered by the brain and can be acted upon or not. Some such “programs” are advantageous, but not all. Homophobia, racism, nationalism and cultural arrogance are all memes. Phobias are memes too. But understand what a meme really is, it is a concept, passed from one person (or group of persons) to another.

Lastly, I was not suggesting that people seek out ridicule in some masochistic fashion, but should know (and already do, quite well) that rejecting memes in the form of cultural nomrs and mores will have consequences, but to do so is often a moral imperative.

P.S. show some respect.

Oh, language is most certainly a subset of culture. To claim otherwise is quite ignorant of linguistics, cultural anthropology and common snese. Noam Chomsky wrote quite a bit on this subject as did so many other famous linguists. This one statement by you discredits the remainder of your criticism of my posting. Do a simply Google search and find a plethora of information on the topic.


Sorry to stack my posts like this, but I have to continue…
Speaking English does not make one a native of “English culture”. There is no such thing as English culture outside of England and the regions heavily influenced by it. American culture is about as different from English culture as the American dialect of the English language is from the British one. “Language” is not the same thing as is “a language”. Small but very significant distinction here. Yiddish is not German, Jamaican is not English, Creole is not French, etc. Language is the syntax, vernacular, gesticulations, vocabulary, idioms and slangs, etc. In this way, language is so strongly associated with culture that it is inseparable. Even the words we choose to label objects and titles we use to refer to classes of people show a high amount of historical legacy and the underlying attitudes and values of the culture in question.

These are the measures of a culture: the behaviors, attitudes, customs (including dietary), belief systems, and so on. Language is actually more than a subset of culture, it is the backbone, the skin and the internal organs of a culture. Watch what happens when someone begins to communicate with a significantly distinct dialect within a culture, they become a subculture or even a totally separate but embedded culture. This applies for Ebonics, “Spanglish”, the aforementioned Yiddish (within the German populace), etc.

On another point of contention you made:
While memes are controlled or propagated by natural selection, but remember, natural selection is, in part, competition within a population or between interacting populations. The persuasiveness of a group of people is one such form of competition, and in some instances memes can be emphasized by a dominant population and become a cultural norm, such as the meme that says you must be clothed while in public, while others can be shunned and forced into the recesses of society, such as the meme of anti-semitism.

Also, a meme is absolutely a concept (or a group of concepts), a program, a stimulus, like any other. I mean this to say that it is a “packet of information”, which can survive by propagation or die off by rejection. A stimulus is anything that evokes a response in the brain via the sensorial organs, including but not limited to speech, symbols, ideas, (taken in via the ears, eyes, and touch), and can be responsed to as negative or positive depending on the person exposed to it.

Those that are sheep are so because (in part) they are relatively stationary geographically speaking (you left out the rest of that sentence). You could not be more off the mark in your refusal to see the truth in this posit. Take an urban city-dweller and put him in a rural indigenous village and watch how the exposure to different values, cutoms, and attitudes starts a cycle of introspection which can (and often does) transform him. Broad-mindedness can be taught by parents, but exposure to different cultures is a prerequisite to worldliness and ability to think critically and to question one’s own culture (and hence think for one’s self).

What is accepted within a culture as “good” or “evil” is absolutely coded for by history, particularly the religious history of the people in question. Yourt ignorant statement refuting this shows that you were really on a roll with your criticisms of my commentary and got ahead of yourself. There are few if any “self-evident truths”, and even fewer that are universal. The Golden rule, sadly is applied in woefully few situations and is rare phenomenon amongst some people and some cultures. By the way, the Golden rule is a good start for a basis of human morality and ethical conduct, but it is also very flawed. If I am a masochist and want people to hurt me, does that mean I should hurt you as well? Tit-for-tat is regarded as a more appropriate, equitable and consistent basis for conducting one’s ethical decision making. This is so even in the face of the overstated proposition that “all religions have at their core the Golden Rule”.

Lastly, what I meant by a “true meme” was that geneticlly encoded behaviors are the most pervasive and potent of the “programs” to which we are exposed and copnsist of, but many are resistable. Drawing a line between one kind of “program” and another leads one to make false assumptions such as the premise you posited that there are self-evident truths. While there are some genes that we can’t resist, such as our reaction to uv light, there are other genes that we can resist, such as the propensity for violence, the sexual orientation we are born with (I am not suggesting that homosexuals force themselves to life hetero lives–but it is done and with remarkable frequency), and our natural hunger (anorexia, dieting, etc.)

Dude, you picked the wrong one to dicker with. You were correct to say that I was confusing (and not particularly well organized in my thoughts), but not incoherent or wrong as you claim. Perhaps you were just too quick to judge and didn’t actually attempt to understand what I was saying. I’ll make a better effort to make more linear entries that can easily be followed instead of writing in stream of consciousness. Thatway, people like you, with short attention spans won’t have trouble following me.

Also, who made you judge of whether or not my entry was useful to others? Talk about arrogant.

The Moderator blows his whistle: > TWEET ! < and cracks his whip > CRACK! <

OK, let’s cut down on insults and personal slams, OK? Those do NOT belong in this forum.

I don’t find D0pb0t’s post to be condescending. It’s always difficult with posts to read tone. You can read “Good morning” as an insult if you put the right inflection on it. So, while I think D0pb0t was going out of his way to be kind, I can see that it could be interpreted as “condescending.”

However, there’s no question of interpretation with SatyaRaven’sdad using words like “arrogant” and phrases like “Dude, you picked the wrong one to dicker with.”

So, I don’t know who started it, but I know when it’s ending: right now. Satyaraven’sdad, if you feel you are being personally insulted on these boards (outside of the forum called “BBQ Pit”), the proper response is to hit the button REPORT THIS POST (it’s the little exclamation point in the upper right corner of each post.) You do NOT respond in kind. You report it and let a Moderator handle it.

Is that clear?

I hesitate to post as I don’t know how useful this will be but I’ll go anyway…

My apologies; I was aiming for a tone of “neturally polite” but I can see how it would’ve been seen in a less polite view. Please understand I’m not in any way attacking you… it’s just our memes jostling :wink:

I want to state right away that I think much of the confusion so far, and what will follow, is a result of memetics being such a recent development… it is currently very unstructured, terms are loose to the point of being vague, many things remain undefined, and two budding memeticists may find themselves at odds over semantics while they actually agree on what they’re discussing. (cough)

Specifically, the matter of just what intelligence is, is something I wouldn’t poke with a very long pole. :smack: :wink:

No problem, and perhaps this is for the best as we’re both working towards the same point here - we now simply have more opportunity to elucidate our angles.

Ah I don’t know about that. It could be construed as baseless in a literal sense (although considering without genes there are no memes even that doesn’t hold up), but I think there is some value in comparing the two - particularly in aiding a person who understands the “traditional” (genetic) side and wishes to understand the new discipine (memetics).


No. Maybe? Kind of… for some people some phobic behaviours are imitated, but I’d think for many these are serious non-copied problems (i.e. a mental disorder). This begs the question - are mental disorders (such as depression) memes? Could they (or it) start off as non-memes and become memes?

I think we’re now arguing around a straw man. I think if we specifically delimited (in time periods) what (and when) we mean by culture and language -as both have obviously increased in complexity with time) we’d find that we agreed at the bounded levels. (i.e. I’d strongly disagree that modern culture and language are inseperable, but this was not the case a few millenia back)

These are different levels of selection, and clearly both are valid.

I still disagree with this point. The only travelling you need to do in order to begin questioning the mind and the world, is to the local library :wink:

Exposure to as much information as possible, is what I’d go with.

Quite correct, not the best example.

All right, I now understand what you meant by the good/bad delineation. This is an area that for me is a bit grey - e.g. is eating a meme? Certainly foods, restaurants, spoons, diets, etc. can be spread, but should biological functions be considered memes (obviously I don’t mean the function itself - I mean the imperative to perform it)?
(I would not consider hunger to be a meme.)

Perhaps… but consider that we could both turn out to be woefully incorrect in all our thoughts so far…

Think well :slight_smile:

…And the ‘meta meme’ lives on. ((For those slower on the uptake, we are witnessing and propigating a meme on memes))

Any one else just want to leave all of this to Hiro and Y.T. and pray we don’t end up like Da5id?
That of course comming from my first expousure (indirectly) to memes. I know fellow dopers know the book, I just wonder who will respond to it first.

Perhaps the moderator had an effect. I must say that while I think we would have both gotten our perspectives across to one another eventually, I am a bit embarrased that a third party came in to tone things down a tad. I am actually a level-headed and calm guy in person. Blogs, message boards and emails have a tendency to make people (myself included) more bold, tactless and rude. I apologize and am gld you moved on without further issue. Good brains should be able to do so…"nuff said.

I guess we have exhausted this topic, what’s left to discuss?