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  Hofstadter on Detachment


When one believes some memes in a bundle but not others, the bundling meme leads one to experience the unpleasant feeling of cognitive dissonance. Recently, while working on this site, I discovered a meme that can be used to remove this type of cognitive dissonance.

I am always allowed to detach memes from their bundles.

Since all good memes need names, I have given it one: “detachment”. The name isn't quite perfect, since it suggests indifference, but it also suggests objectivity, and objectivity regarding meme bundles is what it's all about.

I considered and rejected a couple of other names. I didn't think “unbundling” was quite right, since the idea isn't to deny that the bundle exists, or to dismantle it, just to deny that the contents must be taken as a whole. “Eclecticism” would have been just about perfect, but it doesn't have any corresponding verb. Also, according to my dictionary, “eclectic” has the implication, which I don't want, that the detached memes should be the best.

Choosing what appears to be the best from diverse sources, systems, or styles.

My original application of detachment was to books in series. In some cases, when books are in a series, the entire series can justly be considered a single work. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings and Wolfe's Book of the New Sun are good examples of this kind of series. In other cases, however, books that are not really part of a single work are declared to be so. As an example, I'll pick on one of my favorite authors, Roger Zelazny. His original Chronicles of Amber is brilliant beyond description, but the later Second Chronicles of Amber didn't do much for me. In fact, until I came up with the idea of detachment, the existence of the second series actually diminished my enjoyment of the first. Now I simply think of the two as separate works, and all is well.

By the way, my first instinct was to lay the blame for bundled works on the publishers, the idea being that they probably push authors toward writing more of the same. The idea may be correct, but I don't think the assignment of blame is. The publishers are just being good capitalists—if readers reliably prefer bundled works over untested new works, well, that's what will be produced. So, it's really all our own fault. Perhaps if we as readers get smarter about bundling and detachment, bundled works won't be such a sure bet any more, and we will be able to see more untested new works.

Detachment is really a handy little thing; I like to think of it as being one of the blades in my Swiss army knife of memes. As one more example of what it can be used for, consider the case of Windows and Internet Explorer. Microsoft wanted people to accept the bundling meme that the two components were really one whole, and even went so far as to instantiate the bundling meme in software, but people didn't accept the meme, and insisted that the two should be detachable.


  See Also

  Excerpt from Walden Two
  Matrix Redacted, The
  Rating Composite Works
  Review of X-Men 3
  Specific Memes
  Universe-Mixing Disease
  Works by Wolfe, Categorized

@ March (2000)