The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, June 15, 2001



Talk to us

Many people think that the only way to express an opinion to this newspaper is by happenstance, by bumping into an editor or reporter at the transfer station or Daisy's Market, the library or the post office. Not true. We have always held the annual editorial review meeting in April, a meeting where the public is invited to come and share their thoughts about the paper, but if you have a suggestion in October, it might seem stale by spring. So, with this issue, we inaugurate our e-mail address to allow the public to send us their comments and suggestions in a more timely manner. If you read something you like or don't like, tell us why. If you think a topic would make a good feature or news story, let us know. The editors want to hear your opinions. More than likely, though, the e-mail messaging will not be a two-way street. If you want to communicate promptly with an editor and get a response, use the phone. If you want to share your message with the town, write a letter to the editor. And here's a caveat: do not send letters to the editor via e-mail. Our bylaws state that the Mosquito must have a signed copy of every letter we print in our files. You can mail your letter (ever mindful of the Monday noon deadline), fax it to us with a signature, or hand-deliver it to our office or the drop box at Daisy's Market.

Every so often, we receive a well-written opinion that far exceeds the 350-word limit of the letters to the editor, but which expresses a point of view that hasn't been heard in the paper before. For just such unsolicited submissions, we created Carlisle Comments, an occasional column that offers another way the reader can voice a concern or give praise where it is due. We welcome written musings of 750 words or less, and will print as many as we have space for.

So, drop us a line, however you prefer. We constantly strive to improve your town newspaper, and your feedback will help us do so.


Memes in Carlisle

If you are like most people, you have never heard of memes, but you are destined to hear more about them. In fact, if you finish reading this article, you will have undergone a meme implant. Sorry, but it can't be helped.

Memes were first named by Richard Dawkins, an expert on evolution, who wrote a book in the 1970s called The Selfish Gene. In it, he observed that evolution was the consequence of three necessary conditions: replication, variation and selection. If there is something that replicates itself (as do genes), but does so imperfectly so that offspring are not always identical to parents (as are genes), and the offspring are subject to a selective mechanism so that some have an advantage (as have genes), then there must be evolution. The awesome array of living creatures on the earth is nothing more than the inevitable consequence of replication with variation and selection. Furthermore, Dawkins suggests, genes themselves can be thought of as quite uninterested in the creatures they encode. Genes only care about making more genes. It is a restatement of the observation that a chicken is only an egg's way of making more eggs.

Of course, attributing volition to genes is unreal. Real genes just go around in tight little spirals, tediously gibbering about A, G, T, and C. But giving them a will can be a useful way of characterizing their function. Having undercut the breathtaking spectacle of evolution, Dawkins went on to observe that there could be other replicators besides genes, and he suggested that ideas, which he called memes, behave in a manner analogous to genes.

Memes are born in our brains, and, once created, they can be transferred to other brains through demonstration, speaking, writing, and the myriad other forms of communication now available to us. Like genes, memes replicate and they do so imperfectly because the person hearing a new idea may not hear accurately and may adapt the idea to conform to prior ideas. Like genes, memes are subject to selection, since uncongenial ideas will be rejected and unimportant ones will be forgotten. But like genes, some will be robust and will spread to many brains and survive over long periods of time. Memes may be simple ideas, like nursery rhymes, or complex constellations of ideas, like Christianity or communism. If you have read this far, the meme of memes is now implanted in you.

A more recent book, The Meme Machine, by Susan Blackmore, a psychologist in Bristol, England, expands on the idea. Ms. Blackmore believes that evolution now has entered a new phase, where adaptation of human genes for the sake of physical survival takes a back seat to adaptation of memes. The growth and adaptation of memes can take place far more rapidly than growth and adaptation of physical beings. Where it will all lead is almost anyone's guess. In the swirl of modern communications through telephone, television, e-mail, CDs, movies and computers, it is easy to imagine that we are in the midst of an evolutionary free-for-all that operates beyond our control, even though we are now the vessels that enable it to take place.

Brooding about these matters, I have noticed that there is even a meme for Carlisle that becomes evident when we vote: good schools; historical preservation; environmental conservation; and the resulting tax increases be damned.

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