The birds do it, the bees do it and everyone in Second Life® is doing it, communicating. One of the great places to go in Second Life® are the many universities or SIMs that are supported by universities that dot cyberspace like stars in the night sky. You can sit as a noobie philosopher for hours and listen to discussions on the meaning of life, love and the universe inworld. One of the hottest topics that is being discussed right now in places like Thothica, is the retro 70’s concept of ‘Memes”.
In 1976 the year when StarWars was being filmed, when Agatha Christy died and Rocky made it up the infamous steps, Kenyan born atheist ethologist, evolutionary biologist, Richard Dawkins, who had also made an appearence in Doctor Who, published a book entitled The Selfish Gene inventing the term meme. He proposed that memetics are the language equivalent to human genes where thoughts and concepts in human culture are replicated and repeated from person to person the evolving to form new memes.
Another proponent on memes is Susan Blackmore. In her book the Meme Machine, she points out that language behaves as a ‘Universal Darwinism’ and suports the concept that memes are true evolutionary replicators and under go evolutionary change. This lingustic form of Darwinism is met with a similar resistance as did Darwin’s theory of evolution.
The argument is firmly argued by others such as Dan Sperber in his paper An Objection to the Memetic Approach to Culture. Sperber, to illustrate his point, takes the example of laughter. He suggests at first laughter is a meme in that it is triggers by laughter in others, is contagious, differs in style, (think of a sweet melodic laugh, to a rowdy braying, to the all too humiliating swinish “snort”). Laughing is influenced by cultural factors in what individuals or groups find amusing and it crosses age differences and cultural differences. But Sperber argues laughter is not a meme because it is not copied. Babies do not copy laughter, they don’t replicate it, (they just “get it” when they see something that tickles their new born funny bones). Also rolling on the floor laughing when others around you laugh is not imitating them, we laugh from within ourselves.
But, it made me wonder as I sit at my screen reading IM’s or in Local Chat if the letters ‘LOL’ describing the act of laughing is a meme. We all learn at some point what the actual letters represent, some fortunately sooner than others. I remember responding to news from a friend something bad happened in her life and wrote words of condolences ending with LOL, thinking it was Lots of Love. I only knew something was wrong when I noticed her name missing from my friends list. It also makes me wonder how all of the other terms concepts and ideas in Second Life® are going to evolve, and how they will influence our RL lives. To TP someone has nothing to do with bathroom tissue, yet because we are so used to the concept here in Second Life® will it speed up the possibility of actual RL teleportation in the same way that we are now using day to day items that were once used in the scienc fiction tv series Star Trek. What evolutionary social path are we going to wander down if we all chime ‘Welcome Back’ in real life when someone returns to the room with a cup of coffee.
If you find yourself in the middle of a conversation asking ‘Are memes mathematically proven to be evolving ?’ ‘What do they mean to us in world?’ Or ‘Do they warrant our respect?’ you can always do a search for memetics on Google Scholar and find a wealth of articles on the subject, or you can pop over to Thothica for Monday night discussions under the volcano with some pretty Memeish people.