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Exploring the science and magic of Identity and Access Management
Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Memes, Ideas and Empty Chairs

Author: Mark Dixon
Monday, September 3, 2012
9:35 pm

Meme: “an idea, behavior or style that spreads from person to person within a culture.

The Wikipedia article on Meme further states:

A meme acts as a unit for carrying cultural ideas, symbols or practices, which can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals or other imitable phenomena. Supporters of the concept regard memes as cultural analogues to genes in that they self-replicate, mutate and respond to selective pressures.

The book I recently finished, “The Information,” devoted an entire chapter to the meme concept, with an intriguing title, “Into the Meme Pool (You Parasitize My Brain)”.  The chapter starts by quoting Douglas Hostader:

When I muse about memes, I often find myself picturing an ephemeral flickering pattern of sparks leaping from brain to brain, screaming, “Me, me!”

Jacques Monod, the Parisian biologist who shared the Nobel Prize for working out the role of messenger RNA in the transfer of genetic information opined that memes were somehow independent of the organisms (we humans) who create, distribute and alter ideas:

Ideas have retained some of the properties of organisms.  Like them, they tend to perpetuate their structure and to breed; they too can fuse, recombine, segregate their content; indeed they too can evolve, and in this evolution selection must surely plan an important role.

I can’t quite buy into the philosophy of memes being the controlling entities looking for willing hosts in which to perpetuate, morph and re-launch themselves, but there is no doubt that memes can quickly emerge, travel and transform rapidly into new memes that capture the popular consciousness.  The empty chair meme, launched by Clint Eastwood at last week’s Republican National Convention (or was it the other way around), has taken flight around the world in many forms in a few short days.

I didn’t put an empty chair in my front yard or otherwise take part in today’s “#EmptyChairDay,” but find it intriguing how quickly this meme has spread.  Just take a look at Google images for “empty chair“:

So, if you have some time, pull up an empty chair and have a chat with the President.  And of, course, publish a photo of your conversation on Facebook!



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