probably one of the biggest POS cecil has written to date.

I understand he’s like, 90 now, and probably doesn’t get out and investigate as much as he used to, but that really sucked. It was 5 minutes of crap about some garbage topic cecil must have been currently fascinated with.

Seriously man, go out and uncover some secrets, what am I not paying you for?

The column in question: What is a meme?

At least Cecil uses proper capitalization and, you know, grammar.

Venerable Hyunoong Sunim tells us, ``In any one moment, your body is alive, your energy is moving, your blood circulates; these things happen without any effort on your part. Look there, who is it who is doing that? It’s not a question we can answer by thinking.’’ (

Someone needs to embrace the essential void at the heart of the universal All. That, or a nap . . .

Does the definition of meme imply that the idea of organized religion is an evolutionary advantage to its carriers? If so, what is the advantage?

Or does it only imply that the idea of organized religion happens to be a strong idea due to some genetic construction of ideas that we’re not able to parse, and so has mysteriously fought its way to some level of dominance amongst other ideas?

There has to be some link between the carrier (human) and the virus (idea). Ideally the virus would want to infect a receptive and transmittive host, right?

If I think about this too long, I bet I could make my head explode.

Obligatory Dr. Fun link.

The thing that always bothered me about Dawkin’s Selfish Gene is the terribly anthropomorphic language he used to express his ideas. To hear Dawkins tell it, those little globs of organic compounds actually seem to possess volition. I’ll believe genes have free will when Fearless Leader takes Saddam out for a few brewskies.

Memes are in the same boat, except they don’t even have the corporeal reality of DNA. Practically speaking, it’s just a synonym for cultural ideas and the like, and we already knew that culture exists apart from our wee little noggins.


Well, according to the meme theory, Cecil had no choice but to write that column. He has no free will of his own. He was merely a slave to a meme that was trying to propagate itself. Clearly, you are in possession of some competing memes, hence your belligerent response. Having no free will’s a bitch, huh?

Like David Lynch, I feel inclined to state: “So what if it doesn’t make sense? - I like it!”

Consider me interested.

Not having read The Selfish Gene or The Meme Machine (but having read a couple of articles), I feel qualified to ask stupid questions.

If memes are analogous to genes, then what is analogous to some other concepts from biology: gene copying, organisms, organismic reproduction (mitosis and meiosis, distinct from gene copying)?

Strikes me this way:

Gene copiers (tRNA, Golgi apparati, and all that) become Xerox coupled with thought (process that leads to making a copy) or conversation coupled with voice synthesis and recognition (and so on) or keyboard+computer+thought (formerly paper+pencil+thought)…

Organism analogues, though, seem to be beyond the pale of memes. If we had a general-enough definition (such as semipermeable boundaries, encapsulation of reactions, I don’t know what…), would there be memetic “organisms” (call them “metamemes” for lack of a better term)?

Whatever a metameme might “be”, its boundaries certainly don’t coincide with any human boundaries – I certainly hold memes from many different cultures, participate to some extent in different subcultures; national boundaries certainly don’t define metamemes; organizational boundaries (e.g., a church organization) don’t, because its members belong to multiple organizations (e.g., families, workplaces, political units).

Perhaps the memological world is at the same level as the biological world was when all there was, was “primordial goo”. The goo had nucleic acids of various sorts (memes) that floated around and either aided in various biochemical reactions or somehow got copied. The goo just slopped around until it dried up (e.g., Druidism), split up (e.g., Christianity), or merged into some other goo (e.g., ancient Greek culture).

Frankly, I don’t see any need to propose metamemes; there really isn’t anything that has that distinctive a “structure” over time, so far as I can see.

But I could be wrong :wink:

Memologists beware! The meme memes are marching!

I don’t know what meme theory says about free will but science says that, if it exists, it probably is different from what we think it is:

``. . . researchers can now watch the decision-making “machinery” involved in what is commonly referred to as free will. A seminal experiment in this field was conducted by Benjamin Libet in the 1980s, wherein he asked subjects to choose a random moment to flick their wrist while he watched the associated activity in their brains. Libet found that the brain activity leading up to the subject flicking their wrist began approximately one-third of a second before the subject consciously decided to move, suggesting that the decision was actually first being made on a subconscious level and only afterward being translated into a `conscious decision.’ A related experiment performed later by Dr. Alvaro Pascual-Leone involved asking subjects to choose at random which of their hands to move. He found that by stimulating different hemispheres of the brain using magnetic fields it was possible to strongly influence which hand the subject picked. Normally right-handed people would choose to move their right hand 60% of the time, for example, but when the right hemisphere was stimulated they would instead choose their left hand 80% of the time (recall that the right hemisphere of the brain is responsible for the left side of the body, and the left hemisphere for the right). Despite the external influence on their decision-making, the subjects continued to report that they believed their choice of hand had been made freely. ‘’

When you feel things being done without feeling that you are the one doing them, that is Zen, is it not?


I have my own thoughts, here.

It seems to me that the meme theory, as well as the gene theory, are not exactly what many purport them to be.

The theories purport that there are actual entities, that are in a struggle with one another.

I feel that such is mostly wrong, but attractive for those people who are inclined to think in those terms (of entities in competition with one another).

To me, both theories are useful in that they form a mental-construct, or “block of understanding”, that is useful for us to talk about.

It is perhaps similar to trying to understand the world about us, as represented by a forest, made up of trees, made up of woody-material. The “meme / gene” block may be like looking at the trees, instead of the smaller or larger “divisions of understanding”.

If we break down the structure even further (beyond genes and memes), we can get lost in the myriad details that chemistry (and thought-elements) present(s) to us. (We don’t see either tree or forest, but only examine bits of cellulose and such.)

Going in the other direction, if we look only at the much larger picture (the forest), we miss out on some of the understanding that can come from looking at a forest as made up of trees.

I argue that our collective understanding is improved by some of us looking at only the specific “levels” of understanding, while some of us (the “generalists”) try to look at all of the levels at the same time (as best as we can – a shifting gestalt).

Looking at memes (as a paradigm) can give us a fresh perspective for looking at the process of culture.

But its implications may be less than what many would hope.

For both memes and genes, we can argue that some persist because they are “useful” (they work to keep the process going); some are “weeded out” because they are deleterious (stop the process of replication); some persist because they are more trivial, and do not have much of any particular effect (under a given set of circumstances). It might even be argued that some (generally) “good” elements were lost, because they happened to have ocurred in untoward circumstances, and some “bad” elements persisted (at least for a time), because they happened to have occured in circumstances that were improbably propitious. We cannot come to a strict tautological conclusion of what is “good” and “bad”, but are left to consider a more complicated world to try and understand.

We can be sorely tempted to try and interpret more to our observations than are there, but we could be fooling ourselves.

We will never know what precisely a singular “truth” is, but we can work to seek the best understanding that is possible, while being aware of our desire for self-deception.

We will probably be “doing our best”, by working together, with open and inquiring minds (and let the cowchips fall where they May).

haha, good one, you nailed me.

anyway, i was critisizing Cecil (who has proper grammar and spelling because he writes a nationally syndicated column for a living, and has interns, editors, etc - as opposed to kvethcing on some BS message board to kill time) and not you, so chill out.

but thats all besides the point. doesn’t anyone else feel gyped by cecil’s latest offering? first of all, he grossly overstated the coolness and profundity of the topic. second of all, his column stunk! All he did was reference some books and say, “thots are like organisms: whoa.” please. next time just pick a random word and say ‘see dictionary for entymology’ if you’re going to phone it in.

hey, i’m the first when to get in line to extol the efforts of cecil and the stupendous work he’s produced, but even the great ones need to be told when theyre slacking.

and in case anyone was wondering, all grammar and spelling errors were made on purpose, duh.

Cecil catches up to the 80s. Woo. Hoo.

I’m not sure why Cecil thinks the suggestion that there is no free will is thought to be something novel or interesting about meme theory. There are, after all, plenty of other theories that dispense with free will. Furthermore, how does an outside observer distinguish between mutations in a meme (since clearly there has to be some way for memes to change over time) and “free will”?

Good to see many skeptics on this subject.

Memes don’t exist, pass it on… :wink:

It’s threads like this that absolutely cry out for an animated smilie that rolls its eyes *and * makes a masturbatory gesture.

“Jokes are memes.” No, jokes are transmitted in a more or less static form because if they were told differently, they wouldn’t be funny!!

Sheesh…what a bunch of bunk.

woot! My pet theory finally got some play.
I thought cecil’s answer to the question was fine it was an easy question considering the term was coined less then thirty years ago. All he had to do was give Dawkin’s definition and the general academic points of view on the subject both of which he did. Obviously when you start getting into subject’s like free will people’s personal beliefs are going to start getting bruised. That’s probably why Cecil couched his language.

Well-written overview, although I’ve always had problems with the “extreme” meme theories. (that they erase free will, etc) If nothing else, it strikes me as being hopelessly cyclic and\or reductionist. Any argument I make against the supremecy of memes can be countered with “Well, that’s just a meme talking!” and since memes can’t be disproven, I can’t win. As a matter of principle, I dislike theories which cannot be falsified.

I think one problem with arguing that memes define one’s life is that it makes no distinction about those who are AWARE of the influences surrounding them. Yes, there are the ignorant who float through this world, never thinking for themselves, basically allowing their lives to be dictated by what they hear.

But what about those who forcibly attempt to change the way they think? When I got to college, I started becoming aware of all these thoughts which had been programmed into me - memes, that is - which weren’t really MINE. And I began (and still do) seeking out any ideas which I held as true without any supporting evidence, breaking them apart, examining them logically, and then rebuilding a more cohesive and supportable theory in its place.

That sounds a lot like Free Will to me, tearing down memes and rebuilding them. Perhaps they were just being replaced with other memes, but then you just have memes piled upon memes. eg, I had a meme for homophobia, so the meme which made me question this caused the ‘logic’ meme to activate, so my reading meme brought me to memes penned by other people about the gay meme, which eventually conquered my homophobic memes and caused my new dominant meme to be pro-gay? That just seems needlessly complex.

Also, what is the prima mater? If there are no new ideas (ie all “new” ideas are just recombinations of existing memes), where did those memes come from to begin with?

this is the first time i’ve come across the concept of memes and it struck me like a lightning bolt. you know you go through these patches in your life when you don’t come across anything really novel and interesting and then one day - whoa! - memes!

i can probably label myself as a reductionist, as i see humans as collections of billions and billions of molecules. but i always stumble when trying to make sense of everything in the world and connecting that to the billions of molecules in a human brain. but the concept of memes just made me see things slightly more clearer. slightly.

if all our actions are dictated by memes then they must somehow posess some sense of “self”, pulling our strings all the time. and that would then give memes the free will we don’t have. wouldn’t it?

are there any memes out there that can answer this question my memes have?

Tom Wolfe says:

-from Digibabble, Fairy Dust, and the Human Anthill

Hey, the Little People aren’t on trial here!
Say what you will about memes but go easy on the Elf-bashing.

I’ve met one of those guys! Charming blokes, those memes…