||[Jan. 10th, 2006|12:02 pm]
You know, I really wonder about memes.
I don't mean the types of memes that you see being passed off as memes (see my meme tag for examples), but what was originally the definition of a meme... or maybe something a bit more than that. The original definition of a meme was during a thought experiment about life, and artificial life. What life forms are there? What about a thought? Could that be a type of life form? Obviously a thought is only alive as long as the thought is alive, so what about a thought that spreads or seeks to perpetuate itself. A thought organism that spreads itself from host to host - a kind of 'thought virus' (which was how it was originially put).
A good example (and was also in a book I read that introduced me to the subject) is about Zen Druids, and amused me greatly. I'm not sure if it's a true meme, but is closer to what you find in most people's LJs ("What fruit are you today?" or "Which of your friends would be what in your fruitbowl?" or "If you friends were tins, which would the TinOpener of Justice open first?"). Actually thinking about it, it's essentially what Viral advertising has been about, trying to get whatever message they want into a subculture, or mainstream culture (either as a whole, or as a collective of (semi-)independant subcultures)... Is that done by exploiting life forms in the forms of memes? Do you put a creature to death each time you refuse to send on something like this? Does God kill a creature every time you don't tell people that god kills a kitten every time you masturbate? (Corrollary: Does God kill a creature every time you don't tell people that God kills a Domokun if he doesn't kill a creature?)
In a sense, it is a culture that grows. But what I'm really interested in is if there are individual memes? Y'see, I'm not sure if I've come across them... but this is a sort of meme that doesn't reproduce. It doesn't spread, instead it just finds another host and moves entirely to the new host. I'm wondering if they exist at all?
Of course, if they did, such a creature would be incredibly hard to pin down and examine. Actually thinking of such things, I wonder if there is an ethics board in existence that could rule on whether it was ethical to examine and dissect any sort of meme, as a creature, as a scientific experiment? I'm just wondering if such things exist. Could they could move trans-species (how do we know they don't? - I'm thinking more about the singular meme, as opposed to the viral/culture kind)?
Then I wonder if there's a type of meme between the two. One that reproduces rarely, but more than the singular meme, but far less than the viral/cultural memes. Is there one that just spreads to a few people, even without conscious effort on the part of the host?
I think that's something that defines a 'true' meme for me, the lack of a wholy-conscious effort to spread the meme. A semi-conscious effort to me would be more acceptable as it wouldn't be 100% governed by conscious thought as to whether to spread the meme or not... which would then knock virals out of the running as a type of thought creature - which could actually be denying a status of life to something used frequently in advertising (which would indemnify them of any responsibility to said creatures... I'm now thinking of H. Beam Piper's Fuzzy Papers).
But I wonder if certain mindsets and ideas that spread are simply ones that are held in a specific meme (singular or otherwise) that spreads to keep itself alive? Do certain memes just use a host, and move onto the next when a more viable host presents itself or when all resources of the current host are spent?
It's something I'd love to study but, unfortunately, would never credibly be seen as anything more than a thought experiement.