Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A-Z Challenge: M is Message and Meme.

What is a meme? What is a message? What is a gene? What is the basic denominator of life?

If you consider on a broad scale, information is what is conveyed or represented by a particular arrangement or sequence of things. That covers all scales, from a phone call, to nanoparticles and electrons, to sound, to firing neurons, to light traveling the universe. Any thing conveyed from one point to another, the 'message', is a transfer of information.

A unit containing information can be thought of as a message. For example, the well-known and greatest significance for the gene is its information transfer in living material. The content of this message carries instructions; it is what determines the structure and function of life. The exchange between a hormone and an organic tissue is an active and dynamic process of information transfer. 

The same can be said of any interaction at any scale and reduced to the laws of physics: for every action there is a reaction. The degree and direction of both action and reaction are dependent upon the information that is exchanged between the two points. Our attempts to understand that information is analogous to decoding the 'message'.

To add another related word to the 'M' box for the day, the information transfer in human social life contains messages that we may or may not be aware of, and which propagates through the social hierarchy like a gene. It is called the 'meme'. A meme is an idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture.

In the 1980's, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins likened our social information transfer to genes in that our ideas can replicate, mutate, and evolve. It was Dawkins that coined the use of the term, 'meme'. Just like in physical and biological systems, information is actively communicated in a network, transmitted and received, coded and decoded. Messages that we receive are processed in our brains and then transmitted into the same or another network where it exponentially mutates, evolves and replicates. 

Dawkins wrote:
“Memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain via a process which, in the broad sense, can be called imitation. They compete with one another for limited resources: brain time or bandwidth. They compete most of all for attention." (The Selfish Gene)
Messages, memes.....They all transmit, replicate, and evolve information. “All life evolves by the differential survival of replicating entities.” (R. Dawkins)

It's a meme life out there.

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