virus: Lack of respect

Ben Mack (
22 Jan 99 14:04:08 -0800

I signed on to your e-mail group with the intent of being edified. Frankly, I am underwhelmed. I have enjoyed the conversations about consciousness. I enjoy most of the discussions about memes and artificial intelligence.

I was recently offended. I sent out a broadcast e-mail about contagious memes. I received no responses. fine. Maybe I wasn't engaging. I included a P.S., asking if there were classes at any college on memetics. I received two snide replies, both mocking me in terms of not considering psychology. My reply to each was that psychology does not address inter-species memetic replication, nor does it address structure. This is minimally irritating. It just shows somebody trying to be witty and exposing their ignorance.

I know I'm full of shit fairly often, so please don't think that that is what I'm preaching about. What is a lack of respect is the spam of "me too" mails on the t-shirts and the public corrections of spelling and grammar. Like I care. I work in advertising. I consider advertising an intrusion. However, I trade these intrusions for entertainment, most of the time.

I'm against discounted rates for solicitous bulk mailing. I think this is wrong because of the intrusion factor. As a form of etiquette, please don't send me too emails or personal pissy emails. They are not welcome. Maybe you think this e-mail is pissy. You are right. I'm hoping to provoke some good discussion.

In regards to the matters I brought up in my e-mail entitled "contagious memes," I've included two relevant emails I received at work. Funny, I would have thought memetologists to have come up with the smartest thinking. I've tacked these emails on to the end of this one, see below.

I was surprised to hear Brodie mention "contagious memes." Maybe I contracted that meme from his announcement e-mail. By-the-way, thank you Brodie for alerting us. I liked watching you. I liked watching Oprah yesterday. I liked it the same way I liked watching Fox's Mystery Magician special. Finding out that one of those shows beat Monday Night Football was cool. I'm a fan of magic, and making it popular is good, even if it means revealing how stuff works.

Brodie, my issue with your appearance is with your use of "contagious meme." You say that contagious ideas are memes. This is a subset. Anything replicable/replicated by a mind is a meme. I'm glad that you are getting meme "meme" out there. Thank you.

In terms of contagious memes, here are some thoughts:

zenboy (his comments are interspersed)
> What are the elements of a highly communicable meme?
> I have two areas of inquiry here:
> 1) what are the parameters of a highly communicable meme? What are the
> elements necessary to have an idea take on an elevated life, where the
> from the commercial or movie or news or what-have-you continues through
> culture when the source is no longer present.

I have never considered books, TV shows, or commercials "memes" because while
they appear to contain information, they don't have the dual capacity that a
meme has: both as carriers of information and as creators of behavior. I use
Von Neumann as a yardstick for making self-replication possible.

An example, is universal constructor of John von Neumann. We can regard this as
an extension of the logical concept of universal computing machine. In the
cellular environment proposed by von Neumann both computing and constructive
universality can be achieved. Von Neumann proved that in his cellular lattice
both a Turing machine and a machine capable of producing any other cell assembly, when fed with a suitable program, can be embedded. He called the
latter machine a "universal constructor" and showed that, when provided with a
program containing its own description, this is capable of self-reproducing.

Self-reproduction takes place through two different processes: during the first
the program is interpreted so as to generate a copy of the constructor; during
the second a copy of the program is produced and attached to the copy of the
constructor. In this CA simulator are available three different universal constructors. The first, constructor, is embedded in lattice governed by the
original von Neumann's transition rule, collects just one bit of information
from the tape at a time and needs to store a quintuplet of those bits in order
to direct a single constructive operation. The second, constructor, is implemented with an extended transition rule possessing signal crossing capabilities and is capable to read nine tapes at a time, so it is much faster
than the first and does not need to use any dynamic memory. The last constructor, is capable to attach a copy of what was read to the cell assembly
produced and to activate the assembly with a starting pulse. So this constructor performs all the operation indicated by von Neumann for a universal

Von Neumann's conceptual extension is relevant from a bio-theoretical standpoint as it affords the logical basis necessary to define the conditions
under which a system is capable of self-reproducing. Unfortunately, because of
the rigid determinism governing the automaton evolution and the lack of a minimum of fault-tolerance, von Neumann's automata are not good models of living beings, contrary to what would be expected. The structure of a cellular
automaton lattice makes it possible to arrange several computations in parallel. However, since von Neumann's proof about the computing universality
of his automata consisted of the effective implementation of a Turing machine,
the information processing proposed in his book "Theory of Self-Reproducing
Automata" is not efficient from a computational standpoint. However, it is
relevant to the memetics argument Ben proposes.

> 2) what are the waves of structure that breed a highly communicable
> there elements of the source that make a meme more contagious?
> media weight comes into play, in terms of exposure, but are there
> patterns in terms of how powerful memes spread the fastest? For
> Starbucks uses a build out plan that mirrors growth of stones as seen
a go
> board.
> I'm not talking about memes in terms of "effective" advertising. Ads
can be
> very effective without taking on the type of life I'm referring to. I'm
> talking about stuff like The Energizer Bunny, "Where's the beef?" or
Big Mac
> Attack. Last summer, we had the phrase, "Show me the money."
> These are ideas that became emblematic of something larger than their
> My first take as to the source of their life-spring is that these ideas
> express an emotion or a shared perception where their hadn't been a way
> communicating these notions before.

The use of contagious is what interests me here. This would imply degrees of
susceptibility to memes. Therefore, if we accept Ben's proposition than we
must postulate that there are common elements of natural law that would indicate global susceptibility to memetic contagions. And this being true;
each strain (or meme) would therefore gain or accept greater contagion based
on its relevance to this natural law or commonality.

Commonalities here would include memes relating to all shared human experience
(i.e birth, death, hunger, loneliness, etc. ). Those things which are indelible traits in the human condition would therefore breed a more highly
communicable meme.

e-mail # 2 JM
on the movie rushmore:
i got a free pass to a showing last night, and when i walked into the theatre, there were people handing out passes for another showing next thurs. clearly, they're trying to create an underground buzz about this picture. i had actually seen it before christmas, when it was on a limited engagement run at one theatre in LA, so that it would qualify for the oscars. and i'd heard about that via LA weekly. those shows sold out very quickly, and the audiences were peppered with celebrities (e.g., ben stiller, jon lovitz, julianna marguiles).

what's also interesting is that an article in USA today yesterday about the sundance film festival (yesterday was the first day) raised the issue if indie films were becoming too mainstream. the article specifically referenced rushmore, because it's a touchstone-distributed film, and touchstone is a division of disney. plus, although it visually looks like an indie film, and its only well-known actor is bill murray, its budget was actually closer to a mainstream film than an indie film.

one other observation: the audience was pretty divided demographically -- teenagers/college students (lots/most), and then grey-haireds. very few people mid 20s-early 50s. interesting.

me again: Don't get me wrong guys/gals, i like the discussions, but a good portion of it feels like mental masturbation. I'm all for masturbation, i'm just afraid that they are right and it leads to blindness. (agnosia if you will)