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Memetic Engineering

I don't really have much to say about memetic engineering, I just like the name 'cause it sounds cool.

The word “memetic”, of course, means “of memes”, so memetic engineering is simply the engineering of memes. To get a less circular definition, we can look up how the dictionary defines the analogous term, genetic engineering.

The intentional alteration of genetic material or gene-controlled processes to prevent or ameliorate hereditary defects.

Following the analogy, and omitting the part about motive, which I don't think belongs in the definition, we get something like the following.

The intentional creation or alteration of memes.

Unfortunately, I don't think there's enough of a science of memetics at present that we can even begin to think about calling anything we do memetic engineering. On the other hand, I can point out a couple of thoughts I've had that are at least in the right direction.

Antiviral Memes
The Rule of Correspondence

Finally, here are two variants of a single relevant and inspirational thought. The first is by Skinner. I noticed it while flipping through Familiar Quotations, but it's originally from Cumulative Record.

We are all controlled by the world in which we live, and part of that world has been and will be constructed by men. The question is this: are we to be controlled by accidents, by tyrants, or by ourselves in effective cultural design?

The words “control” and “cultural design” strike me as a little too strong, suggesting too much central control of what is really a decentralized system, but the basic idea, I think, is sound.

The second variant is by Brodie, from Virus of the Mind.

Scientific revolutions often bring with them profound philosophical questions. The memetics revolution is no different. We can't even talk about disinfecting ourselves and society from mind viruses without bringing up two very important ethical questions.

Here's the first question: I've entitled this chapter “disinfection,” but given that our minds are made up of genetic hardware and memetic software, what does it even mean to be disinfected? Certainly not to wipe out all of our memes! What memes do you want to be programmed with? This is the classic philosophical question “How should I behave?” brought to a new level: “How should I program myself?”

The second ethical question is one already being pondered by psychologists and NLP practitioners. What memes do you want to program other people with? “What memes should I spread?” The knowledge that you can actually have a huge impact on other people through the memes you spread carries with it a correspondingly huge responsibility.


  See Also

  Excerpt from Walden Two

o June (2000)
@ April (2001)