of Memetics -
Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
In this issue we continue to see debates about foundational issues in memetics. In particular, all three papers and the letter in this issue have the definition of a `meme' as one of their central themes. There are now many different such definitions. Given this explosion several questions naturally arise, including:
Let me hazard a guess at some of the answers. To do so I will take an (appropriately) evolutionary view of the development of such ideas.
To the first question I would give a conditional `yes' - variation generally helps an evolutionary learning process, but only if it does not overwhelm the forces of selection and does not destroy the effective continuity of the items being evolved. The adequacy of the former brings me to the second question.
To me the answer to the second question is the crux. How the field develops will depend on the answers that we collectively develop. The formation of this journal can be seen as one attempt to supply the needed forces of selection. Papers and ideas on memetics would have continued to develop anyway - this journal is a vehicle for applying the traditional process of peer review to these (as well as collecting them all so they are accessible as a coherent collection).
However the mere existence of a process of selection by peers is not enough. The criteria used by the reviewers are also important. Here I am not talking about the official criteria, but the unofficial ones that are inevitably often critical in the review process - those implicit in our judegments of quality. If we do not develop criteria that are grounded in the success of the field and the usefulness of the ideas, we will be left with the default `membership' criteria so prevalant in academia. This is the criteria that says: Does the paper/author belong in this group? It seems that as a species (homo sapiens) we are particularly good at assessing group membership - and almost any grouping of us immediately and automatically starts to develop the styles and signals that denote it.
The answer to the third question will depend on the extent to which we manage to avoid this default selection criteria. A failure to do so might well result in a continual (and ultimately sterile) stream of new definitions of `meme' - for the political subtext of these definitional disputes are nothing more than the leadership and membership rights of the tribe of memeticists.
Back to Issue 1
Bruce Edmonds, Centre for Policy Modelling, July-1998 © JoM-EMIT 1998