Kate Distin's 2005 book, "The Selfish Meme". Review by me, circa 2009.
Wednesday, 27 April 2011
Memealogy seems to be one of the more neglected terms that arises out of the gene-meme substitution pattern for manufacturing cultural evolution terminology out of the existing gene-based terminology.
I am not sure how to explain this term's poor penetration to date. Maybe it has something to do with the difficulty of pronouncing it.
Anyhow, Memealogy is a fine term, and I recommend that it be more widely adopted.
There are some existing sites devoted to Memeaology. The best-known one is KnowYourMeme - which specialises in Internet Memes. Other sites with some Memeaology content include Wikipedia, TVTropes and UrbanDictionary.
Douglas Hofstadter had a nice section about memes in his 1985 book Metamagical Themas - the book which arose from his Scientific American column of the same name, in the chapter entitled: On Viral Sentences and Self-Replicating Structures.
The common types of co-memes are now considered to be:
Readers of the January 1983 Scientific American column replied, with more examples of bait and hooks. Hofstadter attributes the "bait" and "hook" terminology to one of his correspondents, Donald R. Going.
Hofstadter's analysis stands up pretty well, in my opinion.
Bait and threats represent the carrot and the stick, which are needed to provide the motivation for action on the part of the host. The hook contains the component of the metabolic content of the meme that helps it to reproduce, and the vaccime helps the meme fend off competitors.
An exaample of a threat would be: “If you do not believe then you will burn in hell”. An example of a vaccime would be: "thou shalt have no other gods before me". This helps resident religious memeplexes to fend off boarding parties from other religions.
What else is there to say?
Ways of sub-dividing the concept of bait further are covered in my bait-breakdown article.
Incidentally, the whole "On Viral Sentences and Self-Replicating Structures" chapter seems to be currently available on Google Books.
Monday, 25 April 2011
A commonly-used marketing and advertising technique involves forming a link between a common phrase - or a catchy song - and your product. I call this product triggering, or sometimes just triggering. Famous examples of the technique include:
Some catchphrases manage without including the product name - e.g.:
Many catchphrases receive special legal protection from trademark law - to allow those who register and pay a government office a legally-enforced monopoly over the catchphrase. For example, the phrase "Where do you want to go today?" is "owned" by Microsoft.
For the most part, triggering is not really a form of viral marketing. It does not normally rely on repetition of the advertising slogan by consumers, but rather works through conventional display advertising.
The slogans are carefully crafted memes, though - and surely have some potential for spreading between consumers.
Triggering is closely related to the concept of memetic hitchhiking. A self-help video that deals with the topic:
Sunday, 24 April 2011
Major news outlets are regularly covering internet memes these days. Here is CNET:
The news outlets are attempting to exploit memetic hitchhiking.
Saturday, 23 April 2011
Here is Dan Zarella's talk: The Science of Social Media: Engineering Contagious Ideas. Blurb:
I go to a lot of social media conferences and read a lot of social media advice and most of it is what I call 'unicorns and rainbows.' Stuff like 'engage in the conversation' or 'hug your followers.' It's good-sounding advice, and hard to disagree with – I'm not going to tell you to punch your customers in the face. The problem is that it's not based on anything more substantial than what 'feels right' typically. I like to get beyond the unicorns and rainbows into the real data, the real science of social media about why people behave the way they do online and how we as marketers can leverage that behavior to engineer contagious ideas.Dan Zarella's web site: http://danzarrella.com/
The Streisand Effect is the term used to describe the way in which attempts to supress or censor content can sometimes have the paradoxical effect of promoting its spread.
People have a natural interest in things which other people want to keep secret. Also, the censor is usually percieved as a big bad organisation; the censorship is seen as a violation of free speech rights - and the Goliath effect kicks in.
Is it possible that the Streisand effect could be used for marketing purposes?
One possibilty is the censoring organisation may conduct the censorship - in order to produce publicity for themselves. Usually, censorship shows them in a bad light - but if they believe that there's no such things as bad publicity, things might still go well for them. Ralph Lauren seems like one example of this:
They issued DCMA takedown notices to prevent their impossibly-slender model from being spread around on the internet. The result was an explosion of their content on the web. Ralph Lauren apparently liked the effect so much that they repeated the trick with another model. These days if you search for Ralph Lauren model copies of those images head the list.
The other possibilty is that the censored organisation may release controversial content deliberately - in the hope of generating publicity. Controversial content gets circulated for many reasons besides the Streisand effect - but if the content is censored, that is sometimes the icing on the cake.
An example of this:
But of course Moore was playing a very clever game: “I thought I lived in America, how could this happen!” he was saying, while laughing all the way to the bank. This is the best PR his film could have ever gotten – being censored was the best thing that ever happened to Fahrenheit 911.
Between them, stasis and invasions explain most of the jerky progress observed in the fossil record.
This post is about cultural invasions.
Superficially, the abrupt starts and stops of creatures in the fossil record does not suggest gradualistic Darwinian evolution. What is responsible for it?
The main answer is that it is the result of invasions. Intermediate fossils are not seen because there weren't any. Rather than one species evolving into another one, new species displace other species by invading their territories.
The new species were still the result of standard gradualistic Darwinian evolution. The speciation is often far from the resulting invasion. Also, speciation often takes place on islands, where fossil preservation is less likely because islands are often small, and they are often eroded into the ocean.
Cultural invasions take place too. For example:
Cultural invasions sometimes correspond to actual organic invasions - as took place when the English first invaded America. However, cuture can also propagate itself independenly from the genes of the people that transmit it. To help protect native cultures from cultural imperialism - and avoid Americanization - various organisations practicing cultural protectionism have been established. These promote cultural diversity in many parts of the world.
The fact that stasis and invasions also exist in the cultural realm should help to illuminate and understand these phenomena.
Between them, stasis and invasions explain most of the jerky progress observed in the fossil record.
This post is about cultural stasis.
In biology, stasis refers to the observation that some living things do not change for extended periods of time. This phenomenon is probably caused by the existence of adaptive peaks. Adaptive peaks are mountains in fitness landscapes, where hill-climbing optimisation processes - like evolution by natural selection - can become stuck.
It has been hypothesised that adaptive peaks occur in cultural evolution too. For example, Dan Sperber refers to them as cultural attractors.
Looking at the evidence, it does appear to be true that some cultural entities persist for extended periods of time. For example:
It is not just simple ideas that can resist change. Alice in Wonderland has resisted change for many decades - as has Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. In such cases, respect for the original seems to be largely responsible for the stasis.
Phylomemetic inertia and stabilizing selection are two of the most common explanations offered for stasis.
Memes appeared recently on an episode of The Big Bang Theory. "The Herb Garden Germination" (Season 4, Episode 20).
Sheldon and Amy decide to test "meme theory". They circulate rumours and then examine how they spread.
See here for a slightly longer version - with more prelude [5:41].
Lots about memes here. The blurb reads:
Daniel Dennett describes how Darwin introduced the idea of natural selection by comparing it to the selective breeding of domestic animals; including intentional selection as well as unconscious selection. Dennett also introduces a fourth category, genetic engineering. He then goes on to show how these categories also apply to the evolution of cultures.
Breaking the Spell is also the name of Dennett's most recent book. The section on memes starts at 15:30.
A similar video - where the memes section begins at 16:35.
Probably the best and most famous Dennett meme lecture on video.
Memes are mostly about 20 minutes in.
The blurb from an associated playlist reads:
Thursday, 19 March 2009 18:30 For the second event in the British Humanist Association's (BHA) Darwin 200 series of events, Dan Dennett is being welcomed to London. Philosopher and humanist Dan Dennett will speak on "A Darwinian Perspective on Religions: Past, Present and Future" at Conway Conway Hall, 25 Red Lion Square, London WC1R 4RL, on Thursday 19th March at 6.30pm. This event will be chaired by Professor Richard Dawkins. Eminent philosopher Dan Dennett addressed a packed-out Conway Hall last night, as he spoke in the second event in the British Humanist Association's Darwin 200 series of events. BHA Vice President Professor Richard Dawkins chaired the event, and described Mr Dennett as one of the "great explainers". This description was quickly realised as Mr Dennett embarked on a fascinating lecture on 'A Darwinian Perspective on Religion', in which he drew on and developed the "memetic" approach -- in a way that was understandable even to the beginner. Taking an historical and multi-discipline perspective, Mr Dennett explained how the evolutionary process of adaptation was the only way to explain not solely life, variety, species and so on but language, communication and, crucially, religions. Religions have developed in many ways and different parts of religion have evolved for different reasons. In an analogy with Dumbo's "magic feather", religion was described as a "crutch", it is an illusion that we need it in order to have morality, or to make sense of the world and so on. Mr Dennett encouraged us to get rid of that crutch, just as Dumbo got rid of his feather and found he could still fly without it. Mr Dennett powerfully - but typically humorously - concluded his lecture with explaining why religion and the promotion of it is harmful and damaging to the rational, scientific world in which we live.
Friday, 22 April 2011
Alex Mesoudi's forthcoming book on cultural evolution is scheduled to be published later this year (2011). The book looks set to be called:
Cultural Evolution: How Darwinian theory can explain human culture and synthesize the social sciences.It seems likely to be a fairly major academic work on the topic.
Alex Mesoudi is a lecturer in Psychology at the University of London. He has been working hard on the study of cultural evolution since around 2002 - and has published numerous papers on the topic.
His 2005 PhD thesis on the topic is a fine document - especially part 1 - which summarises the evidence for cultural evolution.
Some links to Alex's pages:
This is the full 2001 interview with Susan Blackmore which was filmed for the TV show Evolution: "The Mind's Big Bang". We have previously posted the excerpt from the show containing the bits about memes.
Susan explains the theory of "memetic" evolution and describes some of the implications for the development of human intelligence, society and culture.
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