Types of Memetic Information

Three types of memetic information:

  • memetic-invariant information remains constant in value if more people learn it
  • memetic-cooperative information becomes more valuable if more people learn it
  • memetic-competitive information becomes less valuable if more people learn it


Most simple facts are memetic-invariant. That the sky is blue or that water takes the shape of its container continue to be true and have similar value no matter how many people learn it.


Sometimes we are lucky enough to discover memetic-cooperative information, which becomes more valuable the more people learn it. Most of our society is built upon the fact that memetic-cooperative information exists, is easily socially transmissible, and can lead to stable equilibria built upon common knowledge.

The rule of law has value because of the social consensus that it will be enforced. When a crime is committed, it is often because someone thinks they will get away with it. If everyone stops believing that the rule of law will be enforced, anarchy may break out, and society may cease to exist.

Similarly, centralized fiat currencies are able to be used at scale and over long periods due to the mutual information between market participants that the currency has value. It is in both of our interests that we believe the dollar has value, as that allows us to easily transact with each other (See also: network effects, common knowledge, social equilibrium, minimum viable superorganism).

The general principles of how to found a company are usually memetic-cooperative: it is good for us if we make it easy to found businesses and create new things, generally speaking.


Much of the most useful information, however, is memetic-competitive: its value decrease the more people that find it. If you have ever thought of an idea that was so good that you were reluctant to share it with anyone, that’s a sign it was memetic-competitive.

An obvious example of a memetic-competitive idea is a market undervaluing an asset. If you have an easy way of making money by finding under-priced assets, this will stop working if you share it with enough people, as eventually the inefficiency will be fully exploited. You have a true idea that may literally cease to be true if you share it with enough people.

Those knowledgeable of the basics of game theory may find that some (but not all) cases of memetic-competitive ideas map onto defection. I could discover that if I cut to the front of the line, no one will stop me, and I can selfishly save myself time. If everyone implements this strategy, the entire queuing system will break. But even if they don’t, I am taking time away from them in order to give it to myself. Systems usually solve defection like this by making games iterated: if everyone in my town knows I’m the type of person to cut in line, the reputational hit may harm me enough to serve as deterrence (See also: iterated prisoner’s dilemma, free-rider problem, the virtue of silence).

Memetic-competitive information is a subset of anti-memetic information (information which ‘does not want’ to be shared). Another example of anti-memetic information is information which has little or negative value to a majority of agents in an ecosystem (if I posted a long random string on social media, it would probably not be picked up by any meme-promulgating algorithms and is thus anti-memetic).

Execution specifics of recently successful go-to-market strategies for consumer startups are often memetic-competitive. While it’s common to share generally good sales and advertising advice, it is uncommon for the specific tactics that startups tediously searched for and executed upon to be fully divulged to potential competitors (See also: things I wish more founders would understand about b2c marketing).

Social Media

Most social media (and the broader information economy) exists to propagate memetic information. As memetic-competitive information is anti-memetic (no one wants to spread it, lest it loses value), it follows that it is not something which will be easy to find on social media (See also: alpha used both in its original financial context, but also in non-financial contexts of finding strategies which give you an edge over competitors).

For an uncommon enough individual, it may be challenging to find the most useful information, because you first have to find a community of other individuals that value the same thing. Furthermore, if the information you are after is memetic-competitive, this can only exist in small communities, so you will have to hunt them out. Unfortunately it follows that it will be hard to hunt them out, because if the community has no barriers to entry and lets anyone join, then all the memetic-competitive information they share will quickly lose its value and the community will cease to exist. Luckily not all information is of the memetic-competitive type, although there’s still many other dynamics of virality to consider (See also: geeks, mops, and sociopaths in subculture evolution on the dynamics of community change over time as new actors with different incentives join, the melancholy of subculture society on internet subculture, and border stories: why is it that every unit of life from the cell to the immune system to the country to the planet all seem to have borders).

Further Complexity

Some information can move between different memetic information categories depending on its truth value. For example, take the sentence “AI is going to kill us”. If this sentence is true, then it is memetic-cooperative: we want everyone to know about it so that we can work together to stop it. If this sentence is false, however, it could be (partially) memetic-competitive: perhaps I want you to believe AI is dangerous so that I am able to profit from AI while you are not (I don’t think this is currently the case for most actors).

Things get complicated when we introduce the fact that not only do different agents have different values, but the perceived truth value of statements will also differ between agents (and especially) groups. If we anted to we could also construct a model of memetics which is separate from the delta of informational value that propagation of the meme causes, if we wanted to get closer to fully modeling modern information exchange (See basic reproduction number R0, which is in my opinion the best way to model internet memes).

I’m going to stop the post here before this attempted formalism is over-extended, as my primary motivation is only to publicize the three labels I choose for future reference. My hope is that this post is memetic-cooperative!

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