Saturday, April 08, 2006

How does a meme manifest in the physical world?

In the Level 3 (objective) world, a meme must take a physical form to survive. It has four options:
  1. Action.
  2. Document.
  3. Artifact.
  4. Symbol.
The simplest choice is usually an action. For example, demonstrating the tango. Or taking part in a ritual, such as Holy Communion. Or reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. Or building a table.

A document is a storage facility for the meme. For example, a video on "How to Dance the Tango," or a pamphlet that describes communion, or a recording of the pledge, or a how-to book on building tables.

An artifact is an object that aids in demonstrating the meme or that demonstrates the meme on its own. For example, a hula-hoop is not a meme. Instead, it is an artifact that aids in the demonstration of the meme, "Play with a hula-hoop." Another example: A house built in the Tudor style is not a meme; it is an artifact that demonstrates the design of a Tudor house for others to copy, and demonstrates the meme, "Build a Tudor-style house."

The most complex form is the symbol. A meme appears as a symbol in the objective (Level 3) world by taking any or all of three forms:
  • Icon: A visual representation of the meme.
  • Probe: A verbal representation of the meme.
  • Earworm: An audio representation of the meme.
The symbol reminds the human mind to think of the meme and to consider taking an action. Consider the patriotic meme, “Love your country.”

In the United States:
  • The icons include the American flag, George Washington, the bald eagle and Uncle Sam.
  • The probes include “Give me liberty or give me death” and “Land of the free and home of the brave.”
  • The earworms include “The Star-Spangled Banner” as well as John Philip Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever,” George M. Cohan’s “Grand Old Flag” and Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America.”
Copyright 2006 by W.O. Cawley Jr.

What are qualities found in every successful meme?

To outlast and outwit its trillions of competitors, the successful meme must have three basic qualities:

  • Fidelity: The meme must produce accurate copies.
  • Fecundity: The meme must produce many copies.
  • Longevity: The meme must have staying power.

In addition, it must appeal to at least one basic human desire:

  • Sex.
  • Love.
  • Food.
  • Protection.
  • Status.
  • Power.
  • Variety.
  • Excitement.
Copyright 2006 by W.O. Cawley Jr.

What is the memetic ladder?

The memetic ladder is a model for understanding how the meme moves through a population of hosts and prospects. On the bottom rung is the cultural fringe, where prophets, artists and lunatics reside. On the top rung is the cultural center, where the majority of the population resides.

Cultural Center

Cultural Fringe

The goal of every meme is to replicate itself within as many minds as possible. Thus it always seeks to climb as far up the memetic ladder as it can. Over time, the meme may move up and down the ladder, depending on changes in the physical world as well as in the subjective minds of its hosts and prospects. Or it may simply slip entirely off the ladder and fall into oblivion. The successful meme will follow a predictable path to mass replication.

As an example, consider the memeplex "Christianity."
  • The meme “Worship Jesus as the Messiah” began with Jesus of Nazareth, with some help from John the Baptist. They were the source.
  • When the meme spread to the 12 Apostles, that was a cluster. (Often a cluster is described as a cult.)
  • The Apostles and their heirs spread the Gospel through action (preaching), documents (the letters of Peter and Paul, and eventually the New Testament), artifacts (the chalice) and symbols (the crucifix).
  • Eventually, they spread the meme to enough of the Mediterranean population that Rome’s emperors felt compelled to suppress and oppress the Christian movement. When a secret Christian society formed within Rome itself, that was a trend.
  • When the Emperor Constantine finally declared Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire, the meme became mainstream, where it has remained for 1,800 years

Now consider the religion that Christianity replaced, the multi-god faith of ancient Rome. One need only study the ruins of countless Roman temples to grasp how mainstream the meme of “worship the Roman gods” had become by the time of Jesus Christ. The Romans devoted incredible resources to appease this meme.

And yet today, as a religion, this meme has fallen entirely off the memetic ladder. Rather than tumbling into oblivion, however, the meme as mutated into “study the Roman gods.”

Universities around the world now devote massive resources to documenting and analyzing the pantheon of Roman gods through archeology, anthropology and literature. Indeed, the mutated meme has climbed right back up the memetic ladder to the mainstream of human thought.

Copyright 2006 by W.O. Cawley Jr.

What is the meme cycle?

The meme cycle describes how the meme travels across the memescape from human to human.

To fully cycle, a meme must begin its journey at Level 1 (memetic) of its first host. It passes through the host’s Level 2 (subjective) and into the physical world at Level 3 (objective). The host demonstrates the meme to a prospective host in some overt way.

For example, the host may demonstrate to the prospect how to perform the Hokey Pokey. He might sing and dance the Hokey Pokey. Or he might hand the prospect the meme embedded in a manifesto, such as sheet music:

Now let's say that the prospect's Level 2 rejects the Hokey Pokey. Perhaps the song and the dance make him feel silly. Perhaps he relates the Hokey Pokey to a tragic incident in his life. Perhaps he is a Southern Baptist and rejects dancing in general. Perhaps he speaks only French and doesn't understand what you are saying. For whatever reason, he rejects the Hokey Pokey and the meme fails to replicate with this prospect.

But if the prospect’s Level 2 accepts the meme, the meme will pass through the filters of Level 2 to reach the prospects Level 1. Having observed the meme, the prospect now imitates the meme. He does the Hokey Pokey. The prospect becomes a host. The meme will then urge the new host to demonstrate the meme to yet another prospect.

In brief, the meme cycle may be described as:
  • Demonstration: The meme travels from the host’s memetic storage through his subjective mind and into the physical world, where it will take the form of an action or an artifact.
  • Observation: The action is observed by a prospective host. The prospect may ignore the demonstration. Or the prospect’s own subjective mind may reject the demonstration.
  • Imitation: If the prospect’s subjective mind will allow it, the prospect will imitate the host’s action. The meme thus convert the prospect into a host.
Copyright 2006 by W.O. Cawley Jr.

Friday, April 07, 2006

What is the memescape?

The memescape describes the realms (both mental and physical) that store, shelter, accept, reject or mutate the meme as its journeys from one human to another. There are three levels to the memescape :
  • Level 1: Memetic.
  • Level 2: Subjective.
  • Level 3. Objective.
Level 1 exists in the human brain. This is the memetic realm, where memes are stored as heuristics or as algorithms.

Level 2 also exists in the mind. This is subjective realm, where the mind stores instincts, emotions, perceptions, desires, fears, experiences and opinions. These are the filters that decide whether a meme will be allowed to pass from Level 1 to Level 3, or from Level 3 to Level 1.

Level 3 is the physical world. Here memes take a different form. They may manifest as human actions or be stored as documents, artifacts and symbols.

For example, let’s take the meme, “Hit a baseball.” The information for taking this action is stored at Level 1, the memetic mind. The meme would include instructions such as “Stand in the batter’s box with your shoulder toward the pitcher,” “Keep your eyes on the ball,” “Cock your bat back just as the pitcher delivers the ball,” “Step forward as you swing,” and so on.

Whether you actually decide to take the action is determined by your Level 2, the subjective mind. You may simply have no interest in hitting a baseball. You may have been hit by a baseball and actually fear standing in the batter’s box. You may be of the opinion that baseball is for children and that, as an adult, you would look silly hitting a baseball. Or you may enjoy the action and revel in opportunity to smack a ball with a bat. In this last case, you would likely grab a bat and start swinging.

Thus the meme manifests itself at Level 3, the physical world, as an action for others to observe and imitate. If you are a father, you may pass the meme to your son through careful instruction. If you are a coach, you may pass the meme to your players.
If you are a major league star, you might decide to store your knowledge in a book or in a training video. Here, the meme finds storage in the physical world. The book and the video are documents that, if studied, will pass the meme to a new host. As for the baseball and the bat, these are the artifacts that allow the meme to manifest in the physical world. The documents and the artifacts work in concert to assist the survival of the meme “Hit a baseball” as well as the larger memeplex we call “Baseball.”

If you are playing on a sandlot, and your all-time favorite hitter is Reggie Jackson, you might wear a New York Yankee cap and a replica of Jackson’s jersey. The stylized NY on the cap and the 44 on the jersey are symbols of the meme, “Hit a baseball.” They trigger deep-seated memories of Jackson’s swing, as well as his confidence at the plate. Though other players see the symbols you wear, the symbols (and the memes they represent) speak more to you than to the others on the field.

Copyright 2006 by W.O. Cawley Jr.

What is a memeplex?

A memeplex is a combination of memes that work better in unison than they do separately. Just as we identify a meme as a directive, we identify a memeplex as a proper noun.

For example, the memeplex of “Roman Catholicism” would include the memes

  • “Attend church on Sunday.”
  • “Go to confession.”
  • “Baptize your newborn child.”
  • “Genuflect before you enter the pew.”


“Make the Sign of the Cross":

All of these memes acting in concert will have a much more powerful effect on the mind that they could ever have when acting alone.

We are each the sum of the memeplexes that acquire our minds. When one memeplex supplants another, we become different than we were before.

Copyright 2006 by W.O. Cawley Jr.

What is the Rule of the Mode?

To spread itself through a population, a meme will assume one or more of seven basic patterns, or “modes.” These modes allow the meme to travel vertically through families or horizontally through cultures. These modes are:
  • Fertility: Giving birth to large numbers of children, who can then be raised in contact with the meme.
  • Tradition: Providing guidance and training at formative stages of human life.
  • Advocacy: Actively spreading the meme through communication, presentation, ritual, iconography and documentation.
  • Resistance: Avoiding contact with competing memes.
  • Sabotage: Attacking and destroying other memes.
  • Reason: Appealing to the prospect’s instincts, emotions, perceptions, desires, fears, experiences and opinions
  • Motivation: Convincing prospects that the meme will improve their lives.

This leads to the Rule of the Mode:

'A meme increases its power whenever it adds to the number of modes it employs.'

Copyright 2006 by W.O. Cawley Jr.

What are the Three Laws of Memetics?

They are:

  1. The Law of Intention: Memes replicate for their reasons, not ours.
  2. The Law of Propagation: A meme thrives only through a frequent cycle of demonstration, observation and imitation.
  3. The Law of Gravitation: A meme tends to move from the cultural fringe toward the cultural center.

Copyright 2006 by W.O. Cawley Jr.

Is the 'meme' real ... or just a clever analogy?

Memes are real. They exist in two forms:
  • Instructions stored as heuristics or as algorithms in our brains.
  • Instructions stored as actions, artifacts or symbols in the physical world.

Copyright 2006 by W.O. Cawley Jr.

How do we identify a meme?

A meme appears in the mind as a directive in the form of,

'Do this!'

(For example, “Support the war” or “Drive a Volvo” or “Learn to play golf.”)

This directive may be:

  • General (a heuristic).
  • Specific (an algorithm).

An example of a heuristic would be, “Bake a cake.” This is a general directive that could result in one of thousands of variations of “cake,” based upon such influences as culture, experience, technology and available ingredients.

An example of an algorithm would be, “Brew 20,000 liters of Coca-Cola.” This is a specific directive. The Coca-Cola Co. follows a specific recipe that results, day after day, in the creation of its world-famous beverage. Hundreds of employees take part in the process, yet the result is the same over and over.

Heuristics are far more common than algorithms.

In the physical world, a heuristic manifests as an archetype, a general pattern to be followed. But an algorithm manifests as a formula, such as a recipe or an equation.

Copyright 2006 by W.O. Cawley Jr.

Who coined the word 'meme'?

The word “meme” was coined and defined in a 1976 essay by British biologist Richard Dawkins, “Memes: the new replicators”. You can read Dawkins’ case by going here or you can read the essay in his book, “The Selfish Gene.” Here is the essence of Dawkins’ original argument:
  1. Culture evolves in much the same that life evolves. “Cultural transmission is analogous to genetic transmission in that, although basically conservative, it can give rise to a form of evolution.”
  2. There are many examples of cultural evolution that cannot be tied to genetic evolution. These include language, fashion, diet, ritual, custom, art, architecture, engineering and technology. “All evolve in historical time in a way that looks like highly speeded up genetic evolution, but has really nothing to do with genetic evolution.”
  3. We must expand the meaning of evolution. “For an understanding of the evolution of modern man, we must begin by throwing out the gene as the sole basis of our ideas of evolution.”
  4. Something new is at work. “A new kind of replicator has recently emerged on this very planet. … It is still in its infancy, still drifting clumsily about in its primeval soup … the soup of human culture.”
  5. Dawkins calls this replicator a “meme” (rhymes with “cream”). “Examples of memes are tunes, ideas, catchphrases, clothes fashions, ways of making pots or of building arches.”
  6. Memes reproduce. “Just as genes propagate themselves in the gene pool by leaping from body to body via sperms or eggs, so memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain via a process which, in the broad sense, can be called imitation.”
  7. Memes are alive. “Memes should be regarded as living structures, not just metaphorically but technically. When you plant a fertile meme in my mind you literally parasitize my brain, turning it into a vehicle for the meme's propagation in just the way that a virus may parasitize the genetic mechanism of a host cell.”
  8. Memes demand a good chunk of our lives. “Any time spent in doing other things than attempting to transmit the meme may be regarded as time wasted from the meme's point of view.”
  9. Survival of the fittest applies to memes. “Selection favors memes that exploit their cultural environment to their own advantage.”
  10. Like genes, memes replicate for their reasons, not ours. “Once the genes have provided their survival machines with brains that are capable of rapid imitation, the memes will automatically take over. We do not even have to posit a genetic advantage in imitation, though that would certainly help. All that is necessary is that the brain should be capable of imitation: memes will then evolve that exploit the capacity to the full.”
All memetics begins (or should begin) with Dawkins and his essay. To stray from Dawkins’ definition – as have so many writers both inside and outside the field – is to render the word “meme” meaningless.

Copyright 2006 by W.O. Cawley Jr.

Is every thought a meme?

No. To qualify as a meme, a thought must:
  • Include instructions for carrying out a specific action.
  • Be stored in our brain as an impulse or in the physical world as a document, an artifact or a symbol.
  • Be passed along to other brains through the process of demonstration, observation and imitation.
Copyright 2006 by W.O. Cawley Jr.

What is a meme?

Just as the gene is the building block of the human body, the meme is the building block of the human mind. It makes human thought possible by connecting our ideas with the physical world.

A gene is a set of instruction for building proteins. Likewise, a meme is a set of instructions for taking a specific action. Without an action, the meme dies. It must find a physical form to survive and to thrive.

Like a gene, a meme is a replicator. It meets all three criteria:

  • Variation: When the meme is passed on, the copying is seldom perfect.
  • Selection: Some memes are accepted by a mind while others are ignored or discarded.
  • Retention: Something of the original meme remains despite the lack of fidelity in the replication process.

Beyond these factors, memes and genes have little in common.

Copyright 2006 by W.O. Cawley Jr.

What is applied memetics?

Applied memetics is the science of persuasion through demonstration, observation and imitation. It takes the lessons of pure memetics and puts them to use in the real world.

It recognizes that we persuade not through logic, but rather by appealing to the human mind in ways that resonate with that mind.

Copyright 2006 by W.O. Cawley Jr.

What is memetics?

Memetics is the science that asks,

'How do ideas acquire people?'

According to memetic theory, ideas are passed from human to human through a continuous process of demonstration, observation and imitation.

Copyright 2006 by W.O. Cawley Jr.