Friday, 9 August 2013

Meme classification by substrate type

In the chapter in my memetics book about classification I proposed classifying memes by substrate. Substrates can be usefully grouped into types as follows:

  • Memes
    • Neuromemes (brains)
    • Artimemes (artifacts)
    • Actimemes (behaviours)

This is proposed as a more modern-sounding alternative to the (rather dubious) mentifact / artifact / sociofact classification scheme - originally proposed by Julian Huxley.

We may additionally need names for memes inside computers (a subset of artimemes) and memes represented as signals.

For signals, there's maybe "vibramemes" - since most signals take the form of waves (audio, visual, radio and electrical signals are all mediated by waves).

Or maybe we could have a category that grouped memes inside minds and memes inside computers together.


  1. good classification, this clears up some of the "externaist"/"internalist" nonsense.

    it also reflects my classification of memes in mind, memes in matter, memes in motion and memes in meaning. which are another way of stating Aristotle's causes: the aitia

  2. One weakness is that I don't yet have a good name for your "memes in motion" - but we can work on that...

  3. When I read your article, I associated "memes in motion" with your "actimemes"; the distinction being in "meaning" (telos)
    The way I was looking at it was (translating into non-memes eye view):

    formal cause - memes in mind - neuromemes (Dawkins B): the abstract ideal structural blueprint (form) in the mind of the artificer
    material cause - memes in matter - artimemes (Dawkins A): that some ideal form is instantiated in matter by the artificer
    efficient cause - memes in motion - actimemes: instrumental/technique/method that is used by (or uses) the artificer
    teleological - memes in meaning: memes that generate purpose or justification (chose the word "meaning" just to be in-keeping with the m theme)

    I think these may be a classification by states of meme rather than some cladism; perhaps akin to states of matter {solid, liquid, gas, plasma} which would be kind of Aristotelian. Perhaps "telememes" might work as in tele-comm-unication: the intention of unification of ideas with the receiver.

    I wasn't aware of Huxley's scheme - thanks

  4. "Telememes" sounds nice, but the "tele-" prefix normally refers to electronic communications only. I think we probably want a category that includes sound and light waves.

  5. tele- has popularly drifted to come to refer to electronic communications (as in telly).
    However the origin of that tele- in such communications does actually comes from the end point; the receiver of the information and hence the intentionality of com+unication. So the prefix tele-memes would be appropriate for memes of meaning (which includes their self-important urge to be transmitted); alternativly teleo-memes might avoid the associations.

  6. I see what you mean: "tele-" originally meant "from a distance". In which case "telememes" could turn out to be be neat and appropriate.

  7. Yes, it is an excellent example of memetic drift, although I'm suggesting it in the Aristotelian sense of the aitia of telos - or final cause. It makes some inroads into the teleonomy vs. teleology argument.It concerns things in the mind around purpose, and value, meaning and motivation, justification and the reasons why we should do things.
    Even if we consider dysteleology, we still have the illusion of purpose, and I think that specific purposes may be communicable (family, society, friends, bosses, priests). Maybe even the base concept of 'purpose' itself might be a meme - an adaptation that promotes contagion. Hence: telememes are the memes of meaning.