virus: Applying the meme concept to culture
Thu, 14 Jan 1999 11:03:23 -0800

Hi Jake,

Greetings. Saw yours of 12 Jan. At last something with which I could connect. Concur with the gist of what you said - that the concept of the meme can be pursued into the realms of obscurity.

Let's go back back a bit. If I understand Dawkins as he put forward his idea idea on page 206 of my edition of "The Selfish Gene", all he was doing was something simple: noticing that in the cultures surrounding us many features are replicated. So that we could look at this phenomenon more closely Dawkins invented the term 'meme'.

Right, revision over. For reasons that are irrelevant here, my challenge is straightforward - I have to answer the question "Why are we the way we are?" in the context of family history. Clearly some of the answer is genetic. The rest of the answer, I am sure, is bound up in memes. That is our learned behavioural features such as language, speech rhythms, tastes, know-how, body language, traits, skills and the like -- that wittingly or unwittingly, we have acquired from others whom likewise, wittingly or unwittingly, transmitted to us -- much say, as genes are transmitted down the generations. Memes may well be scientific poetry but the concept works for me.

Since I can find no work on the use of memes in family history studies, though the book you mention may well be useful as you suggest, I'm having to study the memes on our family empirically.

Results so far have provided a deeper understanding of how my family has come to be as it is, and I've gone some way to answering my opening question "Why are we the way we are" And significantly, I've been able to get a sharp grasp on the personalities, traits and behaviours of past ancestors long dead in their graves. One meme (or bunch of them) can be tracked back to the 1820s.

And surely Jake, personalities, traits and behaviours and a part of our culture - or do we get lost in semantics again?


in a sunny, crisp, cold, clear Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, England - where there is talk of moving the concrete cows.