Re: How Memes Work

Anders Sandberg (
Sun, 3 Aug 1997 17:40:00 +0200 (MET DST)

On Sun, 3 Aug 1997, JD wrote:

> Anders Sandberg wrote:
> > On Sun, 3 Aug 1997, JD wrote:
> >
> > > hypothesis....too bad Dawkins is not self-aware enough to know his
> > > reductionism is a hypothesis....actually he may be unconsciously
> > > carrying a meme of the currently dominant scientific establishment.
> >
> > Wasn't it he who first pointed out that memetics was a meme too?
> So? What does that have to do with his failure to look at the
> characteristics of the whole engendered by the meme? Memes that
> engender war, for instance, may create a successful Imperialist culture
> that spreads through military force. Just look at history.

Yes, so what? Dawkins isn't especially interested in memetics, his
speciality is evolution. But others are obviously aware that memes
create changes that in turn affect them, there is a lot of
co-evolution out there. An obvious example is how new media create
new forms of memes, and these memes affect the media.

> > > However, only the rich and powerful segments of a society can make
> > > a new meme operational through a whole culture (hypothesis alert!
> > > Begin testing it!).
> >
> > Counterexample: Kilroy was here. Was started by some soldiers, and
> > was so efficient that it spread across most of the western culture.
> But it wasn't important! "Kilroy" imparted no important
> characteristics to Western Culture.

OK, what about Copernicus theory? It was not supported by the rich
and powerful, yet it spread and eventually became dominant.

> > > Contrary to popular Extropian thought, then, the meme's
> > > "attraction" for the host is less important than the physical
> > > resources available for propagating the new meme.
> >
> > No. Let's make a BOTE mathematical model for memetic spread in a very
> > large population (assumed infinite in this case). Let x(t) be the
> > number of people infected with the meme at time t. They infect other
> > people at a constant rate k.
> Assumption is of diminishing returns sets
> spread slows down after a long time if there is no resistance, quickly
> if the establishment uses its power to squelch it early.

I was ignoring that, since I don't have the time to make a realistic
model right now. But the model can of course easily be extended to a
finite population, with resistance gradually building up. See any
standard epidemologic textbook.

> Notice how the Establishment periodically cracks down on
> "conspiracy theory memes"? Conspiracy memes are quite infectious
> (partly because there is a large element of truth) but the
> Establishment fights back hard through Foundation supported
> propaganda every time they start to gain momentum.

Conspiracy theory memes are interesting in themselves (lots of clever
strategies to replicate, including the ability to explain away lack
of evidence, "us vs. them", becoming stronger by being persecuted
etc.). But I think you are infected by a conspiracy theory meme
yourself in this case: what is the evidence that the estabilishment
cracks down on conspiracy theories more often than other memes?

> > There is also some agency which spreads
> > the meme deliberately, infecting new hosts at a rate l. Assume that
> > infections last for life. Then we get the differential equation:
> This second assumption is even more wrong than the first! New memes
> have no such staying power....seen many "Kilroys" lately?

I suggest that you read my paper about the lifecycle of memes for a
better discussion of it. My assumption above was of course an
oversimplification, but the model was intended to show my point, not
to be qualitatively correct.

> > x'(t)= kx(t)+l
> >
> > This has the solution x(t)=c exp(kt) + (l/k). Note that the first
> > term, corresponding to the exponential spread of the meme
> > person-to-person will overrun the second corresponding to outside
> > insertion quite quickly.
> So! The rationalization against "ruling class/conspiracy" theory
> fails. Admit it! You just want to be in memetic resonance with the
> powers that be! ...the manipulators of the State!

This is too bad, I don't have the time to analyse your statements
more in detail to show how your reaction easily could be deduced from
the conspiracy meme you are carrying. Anyway, what I believe doesn't
matter, look at the facts instead.

Anders Sandberg Towards Ascension!
GCS/M/S/O d++ -p+ c++++ !l u+ e++ m++ s+/+ n--- h+/* f+ g+ w++ t+ r+ !y