Memes and Mind Viruses
The purpose of the Meme Manual is to provide a conceptual understanding of the important field of memes. Memes, mind viruses and media viruses are important and useful concepts. Memetics (the field of the study of memes) provides a foundation for understanding the evolution of society up to now, and provides real tools for change, a technology through which we can engineer the future that we want.
We live in a momentous time in the evolution of humanity. Changes are happening so fast that is becoming more and more difficult to keep track. What it means to be human will be redefined over the next decade. Recent scientific discoveries are raising profound and alarming questions about how our minds have been programmed since we were children. It is disconcerting, to say the least, when we first are exposed to the provocative memetic perspective that much of our mind may be in use as a replication system for the memes/mind viruses that we were infected with as children.
Of course our fascination with memes, as well as human evolution goes beyond the issue of how will it effect us and our lives. We are interested in learning how to quickly and pervasively influence these changes.
Memetic theory suggests that humanity is out of the genetic evolution phase of its development, now humanity is evolving memetically. What used to take consciousness to evolve (through genetics) over millions of years, now takes decades or years (through memetics).
In 1995, Brett Thomas published a small limited edition booklet entitled, Meme Manual: A Cybernaut's User's Guide to Mind Viruses. The following is an excerpt from the actual manual. The definitions provided should give you a basic conceptual understanding of the field of memetics. These are followed by a reading list (including URL's) where you can learn more.
(Biological definition from Dawkins)
(Psychological definition from Plotkin)
(Cognitive Definition from Dennett)
(Simplified working definition by Brodie)
Additional Definitions and Descriptions of memes:
1. Memes are a metaphor and theory for understanding the spreading of ideas.
2. Memes are the fundamental replicating units of cultural evolution. A contagious information pattern that replicates by parasitically infecting human minds and altering their behavior, causing them to propagate the pattern. Individual slogans, catch-phrases, melodies, icons, inventions, and fashions are typical memes. An idea or information pattern is not a meme until it causes someone to replicate it, to repeat it to someone else.
3. Memes represent the basic building block of culture in the same way the gene is the basic building block of biological life. On the macro scale, memes are the building blocks of culture and languages, societies, and religions. On the micro scale they are the building blocks of each human mind.
4. An idea considered as a replicator, especially with the connotation that memes parasitize people into propagating them much as viruses do. Use of the term connotes acceptance of the idea that in humans, cultural evolution by selection of adaptive ideas has superseded biological evolution by selection of hereditary traits.
The study of memes. A theory for understanding the spreading of useful information patterns (ideas). Memetics is the study of the workings of memes: how they interact, reproduce, and evolve. Memetics is analagous to genetics, which studies the same things about genes.
A virus is anything that takes external copying equipment and puts it to work making copies of itself.
A mind virus is something out in the world that infects people with memes. Those memes, in turn, influence the infected people's behavior so that they help perpetuate and spread the virus.
A media virus is a type of mind virus. It utlilizes a media message that is a carrier of memes.
There are three types of media viruses:
The field that examines the biases and mechanisms in our minds that evolved to support our survival and reproduction.
A form of intolerance; a condition which causes a person to react in an unusually extreme manner when exposed to a specific semiotic stimulus, or "meme-allergen." Exo-toxic meme-complexes typically confer dangerous meme-allergies on their hosts. Often, the actual meme-allergens need not be present, but merely perceived to be present, to trigger a reaction. Common meme-allergies include homophobia, paranoid anti-Communism, and porno phobia. Common forms of meme-allergic reaction are censorship, vandalism, belligerent verbal abuse, and physical violence.
A set of mutually-assisting memes which have co-evolved a symbiotic relationship. Religious and political dogmas, social movements, artistic styles, traditions and customs, chain letters, paradigms, languages, etc. are meme-complexes. Also called an m-plex, or scheme. Types of co-memes commonly found in a scheme are called the: bait; hook; threat; and vaccine.
The full diversity of memes accessible to a culture or individual. Learning languages and traveling are methods of expanding one's meme pool.
One who intentionally devises memes, through meme-splicing and memetic synthesis, with the intent of altering the behavior of others. Writers of manifestos and of commercials are typical memetic engineers.
1. Successful encoding of a meme in the memory of a human being. A memetic infection can be either active or inactive. It is inactive if the host does not feel inclined to transmit the meme to other people. An active infection causes the host to want to infect others. Fanatically active hosts are often membots or memeoids. A person who is exposed to a meme but who does not remember it (consciously or otherwise) is not infected.
A host can indeed be unconsciously infected, and even transmit a meme without conscious awareness of the fact. Many societal norms are transmitted this way.
2. Some memeticists have used "infection" as a synonym for "belief" (i.e. only believers are infected, non-believers are not). However, this usage ignores the fact that people often transmit memes they do not "believe in." Songs, jokes, and fantasies are memes which do not rely on "belief" as an infection strategy.
Any memetic strategy which encourages infection of a host. Jokes encourage infection by being humorous, tunes by evoking various emotions, slogans and catch-phrases by being terse and continuousl repeated. Common infection strategies are "Sense of Community", "Villain vs. victim", "Fear of Death", and "we must defeat the enemy" i.e. "war on drugs". In a meme-complex, the bait co-meme is often central to the infection strategy. (See replication strategy.)
The realm of memetic evolution, as the biosphere is the realm of biological evolution. The sum total of the entire memetic ecology. The health of an ideosphere can be measured by its memetic diversity.
Mediasphere or datasphere:
Just as ecologists view the life on this planet to be part of a single biological organism, media activists see the datasphere as the circulatory system for today's information, ideas, and images. An extension of the planetary ecosystem, the datasphere serves as a breeding ground for new ideas in our culture. Minds are exposed to the datasphere whenever they come into contact with communications technology such as television, computer networks, magazines, video games, fax machines, radio shows, CD's, or videocassettes. Media viruses spread through the datasphere the same way biological viruses spread through the human body, or a community. But instead of traveling along an organic circulatory system, a media virus travels through the networks of the mediasphere.
A person/mind who has been successfully infected by a meme.
The part of a meme-complex that urges replication (to duplicate itself in order to spread more copies). The hook is often most effective when it is not an explicit statement, but a logical consequence of the meme's content. (See bait)
The part of a meme-complex that promises to benefit the host (usually in return for replicating the complex). The bait usually justifies, but does not explicitly urge, the replication of a meme-complex. Also called the reward co-meme. (In many religious meme systems, "Salvation" is the bait, or promised reward; "Spread the Word" is the hook. Other common bait co-memes are "Eternal Bliss", "Security", "Prosperity", "Freedom".) (See also infection strategy.)
Any memetic strategy used by a meme to encourage its host to repeat the meme to other people.
Meme Resource List
Alphabetical List of Resources Related to Memes:
Bartley, W. W.
Bible, The Holy
Churchland, Paul M.
Clark, Stephen R. L.
Dennett, Daniel C.
Drexler, K. Eric
Forste, Eric Watt
Gazzaniga, Michael S.
Guthery, Scott B.
Hofstadter, Douglas R.
Hofstadter, Douglas R. and Daniel C. Dennett
Lumsden, Charles J. and Wilson, Edward O.
Patterson, Marvin L.
Principia Cybernetica Project
Vajk, J. Peter