Tuesday, April 11, 2006

When is a crucifix a crucifix?

Take a look at the items to your right. Each one is considered a crucifix. Yet none is exactly like another.

Yes, they have similarities. Each is in the shape of a cross of the kind used in Roman crucifixions. Yes, each bears an image of the broken Jesus. (Yet note that the Jesus nailed to the center crucifix on the top row appears oddly ... triumphant.) Some have the sign reading "King of the Jews" above the Christ's head; others do not. Some are wood, some are metal, some are masonry. Some of the Christs are emaciated, others are powerful. Some heads tilt left, others tilt right.

And yet each is a crucifix, a crucial icon in the memeplex "Roman Catholic Church."

How can this be? Shouldn't the replication be exact?

First, the crucifix is an archtype, not a formula. It is subject to interpretation by the meme's new host.

Second, the crucifix is a heuristic, not an algorithm. The command "build a crucifix" provides a pattern to copy, not a recipe to duplicate. We see this all the time in our daily lives.

For example, what are these?

They are "keys," right? And yet do the "keys" above look like the "keys" on the right?

So when we are dealing with the meme, "Cut a key," we are dealing with a general heuristic that can be interpreted in many ways. However, when we are dealing with the meme, "Cut a key for a 1997 Ford F-150 with this specific VIN number," we are dealing with a specific algorithm that will produce a specific key:

Or maybe not ...

Is this a "key?"


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