Memetics – the real bogeyman?

Frankie Boyle sums it up nicely most recently here, most magnificently here:

“it’s difficult to explain why an
ingrained assumption is wrong
in a soundbite”

Contrasted with Margaret Beckett patiently explaining the labour party review of its post-Ed-defeat policy problems on BBC R4 Today – resisting the demand for a single “thing” to “blame”.

The point is, it really is DIFFICULT to “explain” (ie argue, understand, convince, change) in a sound bite, you have to put in the effort, but having implanted the message (right or wrong) it is VERY EASY to capture and spread it in a sound bite. A meme.

The more people accept that (say) science is right because it is logically consistent with objective evidence, the more being “scientific” becomes a positive tag or branding to associate with an idea you’d like to spread (acting on AGW / climate change say). Not all science is good, and anyway logical consistency is highly over-rated. Try explaining that in a sound bite. Ben was able to communicate it to me in a tweeted sound-bite, …

… but then we’ve already done the homework and studied Gödel and memetics. [Anthropic effects on our shared cosmos must be taken seriously, but the science is a vanishing small part of the problem.]

So, when I first heard this story about (modern European) Fairy Tales really being the latest versions of 2, 3, 4 or 5 thousand year old folk tales – my reaction was; Obviously. Doh! Did they really need anyone to spend any time and resources to research that, and having done it, how on earth is it news? But then if you already know Joe Campbell (The Masks of God) or Brian Boyd (On the Origin of Stories) then you know why these stories work and why they stick in our human psyche from generation to generation, evolving in the telling, but with patterns of meaning replicated. Sure we may associate the stories with Grimm and Anderson and later film adaptations of these, but this is more to do with written histories, the printing press and these later media technologies. The content of stories (the semantics, meaning, intent, purpose) long underly the medium (the syntactical and phsyical implementation technology) and remain independent, forever (*).

People may deny memes as not being well defined objectively, they’re not “things” you can easily get a handle on, but they really are there, and they really are the basis of all our knowledge.

They reason they’re a problem – as opposed to simply being a fact of life – is because the ones that spread and persist most, are the ones that are easy to communicate. These are our lowest common denominators, NOT those that are necessarily good or right. That requires homework.


[Post Note : (*) Also a “PIE” (Proto-Indo-European / Indiana-Jones) languages and culture aspect to the original Fairy Tales story. Another research topic here and and more.]

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