Thursday, 24 September 1998 00:00
The "ecology of memes" refers to the concept that Memes, or ideas,
are much like Genes (or viruses) in how they spread and replicate,
in summary that they:
Personally I'm fascinated by this because of its relevance to how
key concepts - like recycling - spread through a population and become
well established. It seems that Memes have a number of characteristics
that influence how widely they proliferate. Including:
- Replicate - copied from host to host (human brains)
- That as they replicate they mutate and change
- That they breed - combine with other memes.
- That natural selection and evolution naturally produce memes
that live well and spread widely through their human hosts.
- Infectiousness: How easily they spread from one person to another,
adaptations for this include:
- Transmissability: How easy it is to communicate an idea -
This includes such things as
- Compressability: Can the idea be communicated in a few
words (or bytes), this includes
- Symbology: Does the meme use understood symbols, or does
it require communication in longhand.
- Incrementality: Does the meme easily build upon component
memes that the recipient already has, or do those memes
have to be as well.
- Understandability: How easy it is for the recipient to receive
it. This includes things such as
- Simplicity: complex memes are harder to understand
- Memorability: How long is it likely to stay within a carrier,
- many of the same things as Infectiousness, especially Symbology
- Refreshability: Does the meme refresh itself in memory because
it is triggered by other things in the environment.
- Teaming: Does the meme naturally build teams of people who
continue to communicate it to each other
- Feelings: Does the meme interact with human emotions
- Immortality: Does the meme outlast individual carriers.
- Independence from originator.
- Integrety - the opposite
- Assimilatability - assimilating other memes
- Exclusivity - excluding other ideas
- Parasitology - attach to other memes, so carried by them,
this includes the concept of memes banding together into cultures
- Crutch - make itself crucial to another meme which will then
- Symbiosis - finding another meme which it can support
Of course, the summary above doesn't do justice to the idea, and I'm
no expert. So below are some useful links.
- Richard Dawkins coined the idea, back in '93 or thereabouts in a paper "Dawkins R. 1993. Viruses of the Mind. P. 13-27, in: Dennett and his Critics, Blackwell Publishers." If there is an online version, I'd love a reference.
- The Journal of Memetics - subtitle "Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission" has pages of Overview/History, Links, the Memetics Mailing list,
- and a good list of papers,in which the following papers caught my eye, though I haven't read them yet (24Sept98), feel to ask me for comments on which were good at a later date.
- Adam Westoby developed the idea into a long paper: The Ecology of Intentions: How to make Memes and Influence People: Culturology
- The New Style of War -- a Struggle among Memes: David Brin .
- Memes Meta-Memes and Politics By H. Keith Henson
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