The American Meme-ome Project

Nicholas Gessler (gessler@UCLA.EDU)
Wed, 2 Oct 1996 09:25:54 -0700

At 09:00 AM 10/2/96 -0500, gene o'regon wrote:

>it might be useful to define a nation's culture in terms of
>memes [see Dawkins et al]. it turns out that a nations memes are quite
>distinctive, and further, putting it in terms of memes [surely less than
>1,000 consensus memes for a complex culture such as America] allows us to
>define subgroups with the culture in the same way.

I like the idea. How do we proceed? The case has been made elsewhere for
studying the similarities and differences between cultural and biological
evolution. There are many fruitful analogies and some researchers, who take
the "strong epistemological stance," would argue that these are not really
analogies at all, but homologies due to their common ancestry as products of
the evolution of adaptive information processing. Certainly, "memes" are an
attractive idea, but when it comes down to identifying them and studying
their modes of transmission and inheritance, do we have anything new to
offer? Are we not right back to rooting out "traits?"

You state that a nations "memes" are quite distinctive and that there are
surely less than "1000 concensus memes" for America.
Could you provide us with some basis for this belief and also with some

Don't get me wrong; I have elsewhere made the "strong argument" for
homology. Because of this, I would like to see a sample "memotype" and
"phenomemotype" ("behavior" or whatever else serves as the cultural homolog
for "phenotype") for American culture. The biological quest to discover
genes giving rise to specific phenotypes is not simple. Complex gene
interactions and other environmental mechanisms come into play. The cultural
quest to discover "memes" giving rise to specific behaviors is, I expect,
equally elusive. Are the "memes" language, behavior, self-organizing or
generational cognitive structures, neural connections, or are they
informational and somewhat independent of the marker on which they're stored
or transmitted? We might look to Distributed Artificial Intelligence or to
evolutionary psychology for some hints. Failing this, the meme/gene
distinction often echoes some of the less productive spin-offs from the
mind/body and nature/nurture problem.

I await suggestions and proposals for a sequel to "The Human Genome
Project." Shall we call it "The American Meme-ome Project?"