Author Topic: Required reading for memetic theory?  (Read 3052 times)

Q. G. Pennyworth

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Required reading for memetic theory?
« on: February 05, 2012, 02:31:03 am »
I have some ideas on the subject, but I don't have the academic background to flesh them out fully. Anyone have some good suggestions to get started?

Placid Dingo

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Re: Required reading for memetic theory?
« Reply #1 on: February 05, 2012, 02:52:12 am »
Absolutely Art of Memetics.

http://artofmemetics.com/

Edit; Cram started developing cliff notes for this work-

http://www.principiadiscordia.com/forum/index.php?topic=26428.0
« Last Edit: February 05, 2012, 04:01:05 am by Placid Dingo »
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Re: Required reading for memetic theory?
« Reply #2 on: February 05, 2012, 03:27:26 am »
I haven't read that much on memetics, but perhaps an interesting book would be the Selfish Gene (by Richard Dawkins) while most of it is based on genetics, the final chapter is where Dawkins coined the term meme, and examines how memes replicate in a very similar to genes. It is also an interesting read in general, and you don't need to know much biology. But I guess it depends how in depth you want to examine the subject.
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Q. G. Pennyworth

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Re: Required reading for memetic theory?
« Reply #3 on: February 05, 2012, 04:32:34 am »
Maybe if I give you guys the basics that'll help explain the direction I want to take this.

Memetic Immune Deficiency Syndrome

Like bacteria, memes can be harmful, neutral, or beneficial to their hosts. The most successful memes are not necessarily the ones that are the best for their hosts, but those that are most likely to survive long enough to spread and survive. As such, we cannot assume that a meme -- even a very established one -- is beneficial, or even non-harmful. As a result, our minds have developed defense mechanisms against foreign memes: our memetic immune system.

Like the body's immune system, our memetic immune system is developed over time primarily through exposure to new potential threats. One example of a developing memetic immunity would be someone's exposure to knock knock jokes. At first, they may become severely infected with the idea, but it quickly passes and in the future they're likely to be more hostile to a potential knock knock joke (unless it is a successful mutation).

Some people have stronger memetic immune systems than others. Some have such a strong hostile reaction to new memes that they are unable to gain the benefits from "good" ones, but some people have such a weak reaction to new memes that they are susceptible to constant infection.

My theory is that some types of mental illness are memetic in nature, and that there are people who catch them more frequently and with more dramatic symptoms than average because they suffer from a weakened memetic immune system. If it could be proven to be an underlying cause for certain mental illness infections, it may be possible to identify at-risk people and provide them with the mental tools necessary to identify and eliminate harmful memes from their system manually (much like mildly autistic people can learn to consciously read social cues that others get instinctively). More importantly, it would make it possible to prevent a number of moderate to severe cases of mental illness before they start.

My instincts right now are that the most likely candidates for memetic mental illnesses would be Depression (recurrent, acute, possibly seasonal, not constant low-grade or depression associated with bi-polar disorder); Anxiety; Eating Disorders; Suicidal thoughts and actions; and Phobias.
 
Potential other symptoms of memetic immune deficiency may be: susceptibility to cults and religions; decreased sense of personal identity; bad/disorganized taste in music; excitability after exposure to movies; increased placebo reaction; and gullibility.


What I'm not saying: I am not saying that mental illness is not a real thing, nor am I denying a biochemical component to mental illness contracted memetically.


So, while that's all well and good from a "bullshit forum post" standpoint, it's nowhere near ready to throw at people who might have the degrees necessary to do research on these kinds of things. I need a more in-depth understanding of memetic theory as it stands now to be sure that I'm using the appropriate vocabulary (where it exists) and that my ideas mesh well with the whole theory, and not just the basic "memes are idea viruses" understanding that I have right now.
« Last Edit: February 05, 2012, 04:52:29 pm by Queen_Gogira »

Placid Dingo

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Re: Required reading for memetic theory?
« Reply #4 on: February 05, 2012, 05:37:13 am »
I think, first, read AoM. It's pretty fundamental in this area.

Second, there's a reason it's called Art of Memetics, not Science.

Memes inhabit the mental software of our minds, not the hardware. Generally mental illness has some kind of physical basis.

I agree that there are Memetic elements to certain conditions, or may contribute. If you're talking depression someone 'infected' by the idea that the world sucks, or they are powerless or *group I identify with* are *negative stereotype* may be more at risk perhaps.

I guess what I feel is memetics is a useful model for navigating systems of ideas because it is a practical model, not an expkanetary model. I don't think its complex and detailed enough to explain mental illness.

As a practical model though, the idea of immunity (personally I feel 'filter' is the better expression of this) is quality. We start as unconscious of our role in navigating memespace, though we all have filters that accept certain memes and reject others; a lot like what you're talking about. To be aware that we do this can help us or others by giving them the tools to tweak their filter/vaccinate themselves against unhelpful memes; in this way I see how you're making the link with mental illness; a vaccination against 'skinny is sexy' would help to pull someone out of the anorexia danger zone- but I don't think it really works so well backwards (using memes to explain anorexia) because other models explain it more accurately.

That may have rambled a bit but I hope you get what I mean.
« Last Edit: February 05, 2012, 05:39:02 am by Placid Dingo »
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Re: Required reading for memetic theory?
« Reply #5 on: February 05, 2012, 06:41:23 am »
My theory is that some types of mental illness are memetic in nature, and that there are people who catch them more frequently and with more dramatic symptoms than average because they suffer from a weakened memetic immune system...

A meme is a "unit of cultural information."  There is some link between culture and mental illnesses - there are some mental illnesses that only happen in some cultures, and some mental illnesses that are expressed differently in different cultures - but it's still a leap to say that the cultural knowledge itself caused the psychological illness.  Not saying that it's not possible, but it's a hypothesis that needs to be informed by a lot of research.  You'd also need to show how your new theory does a better job of explaining something than the other more standard psychiatric models.


---


As far as books, On the Origin of Tepees is a good introduction to the "meme's eye view" way of looking at things.
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Q. G. Pennyworth

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Re: Required reading for memetic theory?
« Reply #6 on: February 05, 2012, 05:50:49 pm »
My theory is that some types of mental illness are memetic in nature, and that there are people who catch them more frequently and with more dramatic symptoms than average because they suffer from a weakened memetic immune system...

A meme is a "unit of cultural information."  There is some link between culture and mental illnesses - there are some mental illnesses that only happen in some cultures, and some mental illnesses that are expressed differently in different cultures - but it's still a leap to say that the cultural knowledge itself caused the psychological illness.  Not saying that it's not possible, but it's a hypothesis that needs to be informed by a lot of research.  You'd also need to show how your new theory does a better job of explaining something than the other more standard psychiatric models.

It does need a ton of research done, but I think there are some interesting historical examples that support the possibility of memetically transmitted mental illness. Suicide in particular has already been identified as something that has a memetic component (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copycat_suicide and this awesome research paper http://cfpm.org/jom-emit/2001/vol5/marsden_p.html) and this understanding changes the way that journalists and others handle the meme, in an attempt to limit the spread of the contagion.

If it could be proven that it was an underlying disorder in non-biological origin mental illnesses, then it would provide a better option for diagnosis and treatment for at-risk people. As it stands right now, talk therapy is not covered by the majority of insurance carriers in the absence of a diagnosis. This means that people who know "something's wrong" are either cut off from potential help because they have yet to develop the symptoms ("Go home until you get sicker!"), or they have a loose diagnosis slapped on their file so that treatment can begin. Both of these options obviously are not ideal for the patient: either they're getting a label that may or may not accurately describe their problem, a label that can be internalized and potentially lead to further self-identification as "crazy" and even inhibit the treatment process; or they don't get help until their mental health has already been significantly compromised, with all the problems that come along with that.
The need for a diagnosis may also lead to people being medicated for mental illnesses based solely on the biochemical model. I AM NOT SAYING MEDICATION IS BAD. It is possible, however, that people with memetically contracted mental illnesses may require lower doses or shorter drug treatment periods, due to the fact that the biochemical imbalance was a symptom and not the root cause.

On a whole, I think any time we discover an underlying cause for a public health issue, it's good for everyone. If this turns out to be something that's real (and something that has reliable treatment options) there are potentially hundreds of thousands of people who would otherwise contract mental illnesses that could avoid it entirely. Less strain on hospitals, less missed work and school, and ultimately less suffering.

Placid Dingo

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Re: Required reading for memetic theory?
« Reply #7 on: February 06, 2012, 03:12:57 am »
Reading the article now. Some thoughts

Quote
 The above experiment is a simple example of applied memetics operationalised as the study of infectious acts, opinions and emotions. Now, the critic could argue that this understanding of memetics adds little to the already established field of social contagion research, apart from providing a useful label for the object of contagion. However, from the understanding of memetics proposed here, this is not a problem because memetic research is social contagion research.

I guess this is my issue. If memetics is another word for 'social contagion research', what is it adding to the field (other than, as mentioned, a useful term.)

Also, I'm not sure if memes-genes is a great comparison (even though thats the origin of the term) because a meme does not have to increase an individuals likelihood of survival to spread, it just has to offer them something of value. 

The research itself, while it more or less confirms what we already know (I think it's Blink by Malcolm Gladwell where subjects reading words associated with old age behind to move slower and act older) is certainly very interesting.

His hypothesis is lost me a little

Quote
 Whilst a genetic `enablement' of suicide may well be feasible, it is possible to apply an alternative cultural model using a similar logic. Specifically, if cultural variations, such as those that enable suicide, persist based on their likelihood of being adopted, then the inclusion of suicide in a culture as a meme is only viable over time if it has no systematically deleterious effect on its own reproduction. Now, one way that this could be possible is if those committing suicide were not significant contributors to the propagation of suicide themselves, so that their deaths would not negatively impact on the persistence of suicide. It is this point that provides a selectionist hypothesis for susceptibility to suicide contagion insofar as such susceptibility might be contingent on a reduced residual capacity to pass on culture. In such cases, suicide would not be maladaptive, because the suicidal individual would not be culturally `viable'.

This model leads to an empirical prediction pertaining to those most at risk from suicide contagion. The model would predict that those susceptible to suicide contagion should be those with a reduced residual capacity to spread culture, that is, those who become socially isolated and culturally disenfranchised. Indeed, over and above the possibility that suicide may be used as a strategy for increasing a waning cultural fitness, the fact that cultures are shared means that the suicide of those whose capacity to reproduce their culture has become compromised could actually increase the overall capacity of cultural relatives to pass on shared culture, including any suicide meme. In fact, if an individual actually represented a cost to the overall reproductive potential of the shared culture to which suicide is a part, then suicide could actually have a positive effect on the likelihood that that some `suicide culture' gets reproduced. In this model, differential ownership of the means of cultural reproduction, or simply put, marginality, would be a key variable in susceptibility to suicide contagion, and to suicide in general.

I read that three times and I'm still not sure I get it. Are we saying an individual who is very receptive to Memes but does not see their own memes spread (so, someone who doesn't have a lot of social influence) is more likely to commit suicide? I didn't follow the logic here.

Now for some confirmation bias. I feel that memetics is best used as a practical tool for navigating information systems. The author's suggestion that media avoid reporting on suicide (or at least avoid reporting on suicide AS suicide) is a good example of applying a Memetic model in practical ways to effectively manipulate the flow of information. I'm not sure where the author comes from, but I'm actually pretty sure news media in Australia already restrict their coverage of suicide cases, for the reasons mentioned.
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Q. G. Pennyworth

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Re: Required reading for memetic theory?
« Reply #8 on: February 06, 2012, 12:24:57 pm »
Reading the article now. Some thoughts

Quote
The above experiment is a simple example of applied memetics operationalised as the study of infectious acts, opinions and emotions. Now, the critic could argue that this understanding of memetics adds little to the already established field of social contagion research, apart from providing a useful label for the object of contagion. However, from the understanding of memetics proposed here, this is not a problem because memetic research is social contagion research.

I guess this is my issue. If memetics is another word for 'social contagion research', what is it adding to the field (other than, as mentioned, a useful term.)

I need to learn more about social contagion research before I could give you a solid answer for that. I will say that I believe memetics will provide a better background for this type of research, and will give researchers a better grasp of what is being transmitted, how to manage the spread of unhealthy memes, and also give them the opportunity to identify and even utilize healthy "social contagions."

It's the difference between "germ theory" and being able to discuss bacteria and viruses. Yes, the two are nearly identical, but the more detailed vocabulary gives us the tools to prescribe appropriate treatment based on the "germ" and even to promote healthy "germs" in our systems.

Quote

Also, I'm not sure if memes-genes is a great comparison (even though thats the origin of the term) because a meme does not have to increase an individuals likelihood of survival to spread, it just has to offer them something of value.

The research itself, while it more or less confirms what we already know (I think it's Blink by Malcolm Gladwell where subjects reading words associated with old age behind to move slower and act older) is certainly very interesting.

His hypothesis is lost me a little

Quote
Whilst a genetic `enablement' of suicide may well be feasible, it is possible to apply an alternative cultural model using a similar logic. Specifically, if cultural variations, such as those that enable suicide, persist based on their likelihood of being adopted, then the inclusion of suicide in a culture as a meme is only viable over time if it has no systematically deleterious effect on its own reproduction. Now, one way that this could be possible is if those committing suicide were not significant contributors to the propagation of suicide themselves, so that their deaths would not negatively impact on the persistence of suicide. It is this point that provides a selectionist hypothesis for susceptibility to suicide contagion insofar as such susceptibility might be contingent on a reduced residual capacity to pass on culture. In such cases, suicide would not be maladaptive, because the suicidal individual would not be culturally `viable'.

This model leads to an empirical prediction pertaining to those most at risk from suicide contagion. The model would predict that those susceptible to suicide contagion should be those with a reduced residual capacity to spread culture, that is, those who become socially isolated and culturally disenfranchised. Indeed, over and above the possibility that suicide may be used as a strategy for increasing a waning cultural fitness, the fact that cultures are shared means that the suicide of those whose capacity to reproduce their culture has become compromised could actually increase the overall capacity of cultural relatives to pass on shared culture, including any suicide meme. In fact, if an individual actually represented a cost to the overall reproductive potential of the shared culture to which suicide is a part, then suicide could actually have a positive effect on the likelihood that that some `suicide culture' gets reproduced. In this model, differential ownership of the means of cultural reproduction, or simply put, marginality, would be a key variable in susceptibility to suicide contagion, and to suicide in general.

I read that three times and I'm still not sure I get it. Are we saying an individual who is very receptive to Memes but does not see their own memes spread (so, someone who doesn't have a lot of social influence) is more likely to commit suicide? I didn't follow the logic here.

Now for some confirmation bias. I feel that memetics is best used as a practical tool for navigating information systems. The author's suggestion that media avoid reporting on suicide (or at least avoid reporting on suicide AS suicide) is a good example of applying a Memetic model in practical ways to effectively manipulate the flow of information. I'm not sure where the author comes from, but I'm actually pretty sure news media in Australia already restrict their coverage of suicide cases, for the reasons mentioned.
Yes, most places teach journalists not to report on suicides. We also learned in the US to stop giving bomb scares at schools any air time.

Placid Dingo

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Re: Required reading for memetic theory?
« Reply #9 on: February 06, 2012, 12:51:01 pm »
Some of that sounds good. Like I said, I dont think memetics is effective at explaining those phenonom, but certainly could be used to navigate it in the way you're suggesting.

QG, let me know when you've read that work; it's a favourite of mine and I found it really valuable and would love to get knee deep in this stuff with you.
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Re: Required reading for memetic theory?
« Reply #10 on: February 06, 2012, 02:57:12 pm »
Absolutely Art of Memetics.

http://artofmemetics.com/

Edit; Cram started developing cliff notes for this work-

http://www.principiadiscordia.com/forum/index.php?topic=26428.0

Definitely, Art of Memetics is key. It was written by Discordians, and in many ways is written FOR Discordians, so it's worth a read if you're into this kind of stuff.

We've also got an "Anatomy of a Meme" thread in which we discuss the basic properties of a successful meme: http://www.principiadiscordia.com/forum/index.php/topic,13437.msg429277.html#msg429277

Memetics is one of the most useful things I've studied. I am very interested in the ecology of ideas, how ideas spread, how an idea grows and transforms into better ideas.

The Art of Memetics also talks about the structural similarity between memetic networks. There's this idea that an individual, an organization, a religion, a group of friends, are all memetic networks, and therefore all have some common traits. Memetics is the art of understanding how a small idea becomes a gestalt change in a system. The way that an individual decides to change some aspect of themselves is basically the same process that a company or religion uses to change itself into something better. We're looking at the same process, but though a different degree of magnification.

My interest as a Discordian is that I don't just want to jailbreak myself (my own mental network), I want to jailbreak the other networks I belong to, incentivizing self-awareness and metacognition in all things.

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Re: Required reading for memetic theory?
« Reply #11 on: February 06, 2012, 03:19:47 pm »
I'd like to toss out a derivative idea that struck me while reading this thread:

There is utility in treating some behaviors like treatable diseases.

For example, the Anti-Vaccine meme... if you've ever talked to somebody at length about why they think vaccines are bad, you end up encountering a lot of other memes that seem to be driving that idea. One is paranoia about the government. Another may be a [justified] fear of mercury. Another is skepticism towards medical science. There is an iconoclastic component too, personalities who maintain an outsider-relationship with mainstream ideas.

And these [emotional] ideas are what's driving their [(irr)rational] conclusions about why they don't want their kids immunized against polio. You can talk to them about herd immunity, or any number of great rational reasons why taking a small risk helps everybody out, or how they personally have benefited from herd immunity, but it won't work. Talking about the idea directly is akin to treating the symptoms instead of the cause of the disease.

-

Robert Anton Wilson says that "What the thinker thinks, the prover proves".. We don't read evidence and then come up with a conclusion... we come up with a conclusion, and then we select the evidence that supports it post hoc.

So perhaps when you're trying to convince somebody of something, we should be looking at the memetic factors which made them arrive at their conclusions. I mean, has anybody EVER convinced a birther that Obama was born on US soil? You can't. But if you put on your right wing hat and say "The birth certificate angle didn't work, continuing to push it will cost us 9% of our voters," they drop that shit like it's hot (there's a great Frank Luntz speech where he does exactly that).

Q. G. Pennyworth

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Re: Required reading for memetic theory?
« Reply #12 on: February 07, 2012, 12:27:46 am »
Quote
Is it smooth?
After someone's been exposed to an ideavirus just once, they're not likely to actually catch it. We've made our brains bulletproof and ideaproof. There's so much clutter, so much noise, so many ideas to choose from that the vast majority of them fail to make a dent.

Think about the last time you walked through a bookstore (the home of ideaviruses waiting to happen). How many books did you stop and look at? Pick up? Turn over? And how many of those books ended up in your shopping basket? Got read? Led you to tell ten friends? Precious few, that's for sure.

Compare this to the Harry Potter phenomenon... the bestselling books of the last few years, created just because kids told kids. A classic ideavirus, and one that initially grew with no promotion at all from the publisher.

It's difficult to get from awareness to the "sale" of an idea, to convert a stranger into a friend and a friend into a carrier of your ideavirus. An ideavirus succeeds when it pierces our natural defenses and makes an impact.
This is exactly where I was going! Too bad it's being used by dickbag marketers  :argh!:

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Re: Required reading for memetic theory?
« Reply #13 on: February 07, 2012, 01:25:57 pm »

Placid Dingo

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Re: Required reading for memetic theory?
« Reply #14 on: February 07, 2012, 01:48:39 pm »
 I actually like Seth Godin.

Unleashing the Ideavirus would also count as essential reading.

I also love his work on 'Tribes.'
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