1990-00-00: Memetics

From the time I read The Selfish Gene (before 1980) I confidently expected other smart people to pick up the notion of the meme and develop it into a field of study that would probably be called memetics. By 1990, I had lost patience and decided to start developing my own approach to the subject. I was not expecting to be recognized as the pioneer of the field, and didn’t take an academic tone toward it. Rather, I saw myself as potentially a gadfly, with the possibility that I could arouse someone else to take enough interest to more fully develop the ideas implicit in Dawkins’s notion. I started organizing my thoughts around three aspects of the subject, and tentatively titled my work Memetics: Introduction, Applications, Manifesto (MIAM).

I worked on it sporadically for several years, without getting anywhere near a complete work. During this period, much of my reading and many other unfinished projects were more or less deliberately related to MIAM. I began recording my thoughts about books I read in ‘book reports’, which mostly recorded aspects of them that I thought relevant to MIAM, either to assist in explaining the notion of memes, or to illustrate how memes and their propagation have contributed to the advancement of arts and sciences. My collection of quotes serves a similar purpose.

The fundamental assertion of MIAM is that memes are replicated from mind to mind by the generation and interpretation of behavior, i.e., by communication. I specialize the term community to mean a collection of people who communicate, and hence share, some set of related memes. For instance, members of the scientific community share memes about the aims and methods of the scientific enterprise.

A basic thesis of MIAM is that our actions arise from urges, feelings, beliefs, desires, and values. Non-controversial, I think. Part of the Manifesto is to establish a catalog or repository of the memic content of various communities. Making explicit the sets of memes shared by various communities, and giving them unambiguous identifiers, might make it easier to facilitate discussions between people who tend to talk past each other.

I have long been interested in the memic content of some eastern religion/philosophies, primarily Zen and Taoism, but also aspects of some others. I think that a memic catalog of these  might prove interesting. Along those lines, I was inspired to (informally) develop a portrait of a person with certain characteristics. This led eventually to Marie and Claude, which in turn led to the establishment of my Castle Knob (CK) publishing enterprise (to use the term loosely). CK, in turn, led to more publishing, especially the works related to Harry Gant, and some so-far-unfinished publishing projects.

The notion of using modern tools to convert memes into bits, in formats that can be realized in physical form, was implicit in the CK project, and exploration of that led to some projects with 3D animation and printing, with still others unfinished. I have been interested in 3D graphics since college days, but the tools are becoming so accessible now that I have begun implementing a facility to allow the display of the relationships among information items, such as memes. The facility is tentatively called the Meta-Dimensional Inspector (MDI).

One obvious Application of memetics is literary translation. Reading about eastern philosophies involves reading translations, and in some cases looser re-realizations. When I first read Njal’s Saga, the best of the Icelandic and Norse sagas, I was struck by how it describes a critical point in the memic evolution of a society. I wondered if an analogous society could be found or invented, and the story transposed to it. I even suggested to my mother that she might want to try, using Harry Gant’s voice and a setting like the Old West; I’m sure she found this suggestion bewildering. Eventually, I adopted the Neal’s Story project.

A non-meme-related interest of mine has been the space program, going back to my early teens and reading science fiction. A few years ago, I came across the Orbiter space flight simulator, and the community of the Orbiter Forum. It is full of people sharing and disputing memes related to rocket science (in the broadest sense). A thread in the forum mentioned that Richard Dana’s Two Years Before The Mast might make a good book if re-set in the asteroid belt. Assuming I ever finish Neal’s Story, I intend to tackle Two Years At The Hot End.

Rocket science is a big subject, and the interests of the Orbiter community span all of it, though each individual member typically has a fairly narrow set of interests. I had the idea that it might be useful to collect some of the more persistent memes related to Orbiter in a somewhat organized form under the title Rocket Science For Amateurs. At first I set up a dedicated web site for that purpose, but soon decided to move the content under the already-established OrbiterWiki. This is a large project, and I hope to recruit some of the Orbiter community to participate in adding content.

< I hope to add more projects, and identify some of the memic links among them. >


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