A. and Price, I (2001). Reconstruction of organisational phylogeny from
memetic similarity analysis: Proof of feasibility.
Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information
Reconstruction of organisational phylogeny from memetic similarity analysis:
Proof of feasibility
and If Price
Sheffield Hallam University, Unit 7 Science Park, Sheffield, S1 1WB, UK.
Character Set and Taxa
A successful phylogenic reconstruction of the known pattern
of descent of the main post-reformation Christian Churches has been achieved
from a computerised analysis of aspects of their present day memetic pattern.
The result confirms the feasibility of a new approach to organisational
memetics and conducts a first empirical test of the hypothesis that, if
organisations are construed as evolving, those with a common ancestor should
show greater replicator similarity than more distant relatives.
Memetics has debated at length the internalist versus externalist positions
and the question of whether the individual or organisation should be considered
as the memetic `phenotype'. We approach the topic from an organisational
stance (c.f. Price, 1995; Gell-Mann,
1996, Price and Shaw, 1998; Williams,
2000). In brief the stance holds that organisations evolve (Aldrich,
1999) and are constructed or enabled by shared patterns (Schien,
1985; Price and Shaw, 1998), paradigms (Hull,
1988) or schemata (Gell-Mann, 1996). Whether
conceived as pattern, paradigm or schemata the proposition would be that
they are replicated in the organisations concerned. As noted by Marsden
(2000), the stance could be argued to recapitulate
an older evolutionary tradition in social sciences, and indeed economics,
however the organisational replicator, whatever it is, can be termed meme
by reason of the specific origin of the term in the context of a general
theory of complex organisation enabled by replicators.
Wilkins recently reminded the memetics discussion list of his earlier
(Wilkins, 1998) suggestion that evolutionary cladograms
provide a potential means of contrasting the memetic codes of related organisations
One such technique that could be used is the Wagner Similarity
method (cf Wiley and others 1991). This method establishes
an instance matrix of characters (presence and absence, but it could be
any value 0>x>1) and calculates the sum of the modulus of differences to
give the Wagner distance between taxa (or theories). From this a net diagram
of relationships, or an unrooted tree, can be drawn up to give a sharp
notion of the overall similarity of taxa or theories. The same data can
be recast as a rooted cladogram if a sister-group can be selected. Software,
both commercial and public domain, is available to perform these analyses
and others using well-established algorithms. While this will not definitively
establish ancestry of a conceptual lineage, it can be used to test hypotheses
of ancestry, and to overcome the Whiggish tendency of historians to read
preferred modern views back into a historical subject, such as Darwin's
reliance or not on now-discredited views such as embryological recapitulation.
This research note [note 2] is written to report what
we believe to be the first successful explicit test of such an approach.
Rather than a Wagner similarity we have used Hamming distance [note
3] (a metric of digital error) and the UPGMA (Unweighted
Pair Group Method with Arithmetic Mean) clustering strategy (Sneath
& Sokal, 1973; Lapointe and Legendre, 1994)
on putative meme strips [note 4] rendered as binary
data; i.e. a `taxon' has or does not have a particular character. We have
previously explained (Price and Lord, 2000) the
principle behind the method, an examination of further isomorphism between
biotic and abiotic complex systems, the reasons for the choice of a test
group; and the evidence of an early instance of a successful iteration
between inferred and historical pattern of descent and an analysis of memetic
similarity. In brief, religious bodies, particularly post-reformation Christian
Groups were selected as a test population because they displayed:
Comparison with biological evolution leads to the hypothesis that a phyllogram.
constructed from an analysis of memetic similarity should reconstruct the
known pattern of historical descent. The attempt raise issues of terminology.
Hull (1988) has used the schism in systematics between
cladistics and phenetics as almost his type example of science as a process
of selection between competing paradigms (or meme complexes) each of which
replicates via the forms of organisation which it enables. Organisational
memetics is arguably no more than a generalisation of Hull's proposition
(e.g. Price, 1995: Price and
Shaw, 1998). Cladists have criticised pheneticists as lacking objective
rigour or the logic of seeking to unravel a pattern of evolutionary descent.
Some at least acknowledge that the advent of molecular phenetics has, at
best, blurred the distinction and at least lead to a resurgence in phenetics.
Here we are borrowing from systematics but seeking to test memetics rather
than reconstruct descent.
Wide ranging diversity within the group
Prominent belief systems
Sufficient historical records
Periodic evolutionary blooms [note 5]
In strict terms we are attempting a phenetic analysis of memetic data
however, as with molecular phenetics, we are suggesting that the phyllogram
will reveal a history of descent: i.e. will produce the same output as
a cladogram. In the domain under investigation the true history of descent
is, within certain bounds (see below), established. The objective is not
to classify with a view to unraveling history, it is to test the proposition
that the organisations examined might be memetically encoded by comparing
what is in effect an inferred cladogram (albeit one derived from phenetic
methods) with one known from historical sources. The test, if successful,
provides evidence compatible with the inferred presence of a cultural replicator
in evolving organisations. If memetics becomes (as we believe it should
[note 6]) to studies of evolution in the social sciences
broadly what genetics has become to studies of biological evolution, then
it may develop its own language and terminology. To those whose perspective
on evolution is more geological than biological the selection competition
between phenetics and cladistics seems to generate more heat than light.
The distinctions may prove unnecessary, or even unhelpful for memetics.
Such debates lie in the future. Our concern is to see whether a particular
analytical approach is doable, and if so, does it hold out a promise of
utility in the field of organisational memetics.
The meme strip shown in Table 1 (appended) was gathered
from Internet and other written sources [note 7].
We will leave to others the behaviouralist versus internalist debate and
see Table 1 as a list of beliefs and practices that
between them characterise and underpin different Christian Sects: beliefs
and practices that seem to be replicated in the minds of adherents to a
particular denomination and that, in being replicated sustain that denomination.
We have applied them to the taxa set [note 8] listed
in Table 2 (appended), and, where possible, to individual
sub-sects, though here the differences became hard to distinguish. The
historical derivation of these branches is illustrated in Figure
1. Taxa in lighter colours are not subsequently analysed. They represent
schisms within particular religions, for example a variety of sub groups
of Jehovah's witnesses, where we have not yet been able to confirm apparently
minor differences in belief and practice [note 9].
Figure 1: Historically derived phylogeny (click to enlarge)
A software routine [note 10] has been written to
analyse the progressive pairwise similarity of strips of binary data using,
as noted above, the UPGMA on Hamming distances. The
taxa character matrix is searched for pairs with the least distance between
them. The average of such a pair then becomes a new 'parent taxa' which
is subjected to future iterations. Fuller details of the validation will
again be described in a longer paper but in brief it successfully reconstructs
hypothetical, randomly generated data sets, and also, somewhat to our surprise
approximates a biological phyllogenetic tree from a set of claimed therapeutic
properties of essential oils (Lawless, 1992) [note
Initial results of the tests on our hypothetical religious clades [note
12] (Figure 2) were encouraging, in that clusters
of obvious common origin were revealed. However higher order relationships
failed to reconstruct accurately: the derived tree did not match the one
drawn from historical sources. In particular clusters of Calvinist denominations
showed greater dissimilarity between themselves than one such cluster did
to major Episcopalian branches. This gave rise to the suspicion that 'some
memes may be more powerful than others'; i.e. that the presence of a certain
meme in a particular denomination or group of denominations might inhibit
its further splitting [note 13]. In particular the
non-episcopalian denominations showed greater variety than the did the
episcopalian. In essence the 'Episcopalian meme' and the resulting presence
of a hierarchical bishopric arguably restricted the possibility of further
The initial test had given the presence of such authority the same weight
(one unit of a binary string) as any other characteristic; a feature, which
it was hypothesised, might undervalue the power of an established hierarchy
as an antidote to too much change. In order to further test this hypothesis
the reconstruction was then tested by assigning greater weight to the bishop
meme. Weighting was simulated by inserting extra bishops into the meme
strip [note 14]. In successive tests the switch from
7 to 8 bishops produced a tree sufficiently comparable to known patterns
of historical descent (Figure 3) to claim a largely
successful reconstruction. The switch is illustrated in Figure
Figure 3 also reveals interesting questions for
further analysis. The ancestral Roman Catholic Church does reconstruct
as the isolated clade, without significant further splitting: a feature,
which would suggest the meme of the apostolic succession to have even greater
influence than the bishop meme. Remove one and some evolution is possible;
remove two and a much greater radiation occurs. The Lutheran and Anglo-Catholic
(i.e.: Church of England) clades reconstruct in the most plausible phylogenic
scenario, as co-descendants from some common ancestor. A conventional historical
description would treat this as inaccurate. After all Henry VII founded
the Church of England in a separate historical event and saw himself as
Defender of the Faith against the Lutheran schism. In ideological terms
however one could say that post Luther there were two clades, a Roman Catholic
one and an unincorporated non Roman Catholic one, which subsequently precipitated
and evolved separate branches. The issue mirrors the taxonomic debate as
to whether one biological species can evolve from another or whether two
evolve from a common ancestor.
Figure 2: Phenogram derived from character states when the "Episcopal"
meme weighs 1
Figure 3. Phenogram with the "Episcopalian" meme given a weighting
There are two significant errors in Figure 3,
The Salvation Army and the Quakers. Neither is necessarily surprising.
The Salvation Army have replaced an Episcopalian polity with one modelled
on a quasi-military structure and the unique implications remain to be
investigated. Having confirmed the need to weight power structures in one
form of hierarchy it is not unreasonable to suspect its influence in another.
The Quakers are in some respects the complete opposite in having gone further
than any other `church' to question authority of position and indeed to
blur the boundary between religion and ontology. Both the failures of the
reconstruction can then be considered to be exceptions. The approach is
demonstrated to be worth further investigation and the results are consistent
with a view of organisations as evolving entities with recognisable patterns
or memes at their core. The Episcopalian clades in particular are interpretable
as organisations devoted to replicating of the `bishop' meme. There are
wider issues raised for understanding the history of Christianity however
discussing them takes us beyond the scope of what is possible in a note
of this kind. There are likewise issues for methods and terminology of
operational research into memetics. Both merit further debate and consideration.
At this stage our concern is to demonstrate that the hypothetical approach
suggested by Wilkins can apparently be operationalized in practice. A more
comprehensive paper will be submitted in due course. Testing of the software
variants for other applications continues [note 15].
Meanwhile the evidence that a cladogram derived from a memetic code can
successfully reconstruct patterns of descent seems encouraging news for
the emerging science of organisational memetics and a tool with considerable
potential in evolutionary analyses of social organisations.
Figure 4: The effect of the changing reconstruction of the phenogram
when the Episcopal meme is replicated 8 times in the character string (NB
not a computer generated diagram)
Our conception would see the 'pattern' (sensu Price
and Shaw, 1998) or 'memeplex' of an organisation as an interconnected
system of individual memes, much as Dawkins uses, and is clear about his
use (1989 p. 271), the metaphor of the selfish gene
as shorthand for a complicated system of interconnected and interdependent
We emphasise that this contribution is intended as
a note for rapid publication. A much fuller description of both the method
and the data set will be submitted in due course.
And we acknowledge an anonymous reviewers pointing
out that one is in fact derived from the other.
We cannot claim that the character set assembled for
a given denomination necessarily represents a full memeplex. We are listing
a series of characteristics postulated to be parts of that memeplex and
informally describing them as meme strips.
The fossil record, and modern ecosystems, reveals periods
of evolutionary radiation as new niches open up, The Burgess Shale and
the Galapagos finches are well known examples. We expected tracking of
postulated memetic divergence would be easier through equivalent events
such as the religious diversity developed by European settlers in North
The existence of other evolutionary traditions in social
science and other aspirations of scholars in the emerging field is acknowledged.
The approach we take remains valid whether or not the replicators are considered
The primary source, where available, is the home page
of the denomination concerned. We have also sought pages classifying and
comparing religions and standard reference works. A fully annotated and
hyperlinked character matrix of our 'taxa' is in preparation and will be
submitted for comparative analysis as soon as the necessary referencing
can be completed. Scholars interested in evaluating our results are welcome
meanwhile to contact the authors.
A reviewer has commented on the potential bias towards
'sects', particularly of the millennialist variety, at the expense of variation
within other traditions. It arises from our search for a sufficiently large
population; many variants on the theme. There are of course variations
within the apparent boundaries of larger religions and the same reviewer
highlights historical diversity within Roman Catholicism. Comparative tracking
of 'microevoluion' within an apparent 'species' was judged beyond the research
at this stage.
Borrowing again from biotic terminology in the absence
of an alternative it may be that these groups have more in common with
geographic 'varieties' or 'sub-species' than they do with 'species'. In
Aldrich's (1999) terms they have not developed
sufficiently rigid boundaries.
Provisionally entitled the Memetic Evaluation of
Numerically Derived Evolutionary Lineages. A detailed description will
be separately submitted. Meanwhile researchers who may want to submit this
approach to critical scrutiny are welcome to contact the authors.
It is not suggested that these properties are memetic,
or necessarily scientific. The data set was used as an independent test
of the software. It seems reasonable however to assume that genetically
related species would produce similar active principles thereby exhibit
comparable toxicological/therapeutic properties.
The denominations which history shows have separated
since the reformation in a process that we would regard as evolutionary,
i.e. random within denomination variation was, on occasions, sufficient
to generate new forms that secured their own niche in the total population
of Christian religions. History records how the selection process and the
attempts of established churches, or rulers adhering to them, to eradicate
potential rivals was frequently a survival matter for those involved. We
use the term 'clade' for groupings of denominations in the absence of an
established hierarchical terminology in 'memetic' taxonomy.
Compare the observation, whose attribution escapes
us, that paradigms do not change in the face of evidence; they change when
the old guard finally dies or retires.
Working within the constraints of binary encoding
of denominational characteristics this was the simplest method we could
conceive to test the proposition.
In particular its application to market strategies
of different firms appears promising.
Alldrich, H. (1999) Organizsations Evolving,
New York, Sage.
Dawkins, R. (1989) The Selfish Gene 2nd
Ed. London Penguin
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Defence University " In the case of societal evolution, the schemata consist
of laws, customs, myths, traditions, and so forth. The pieces of such a
schema are often called "memes," http://www.dodccrp.org/comch01.html
Hull, D. (1988), Science as a Process. Chicago,
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Models of Information Transmission, 4. http://cfpm.org/jom-emit/2000/vol4/marsden_p.html
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Appendix: Character Set and Taxa
Table 1: Selected Characters
||Extant, Incorporated, Movement,
||Hierarchical, Autonomous, Episcopalian,
Presbyterian, Congregational, Charismatic Leadership, Papal Authority,
Prophet Founder, Women Ministers
||Son, Arian, Monophysite, Modal
||Sola Fide, General Atonement,
Particular Atonement, Predestination, Faith plus works
||Amillennial, Premillennial, Postmillennial,
||Baptism, Infant, Belief, Total
Immersion, Jesus Only Formula, Spirit Baptism, Holy Eucharist, Confirmation,
Penance, Orders, Matrimony, Extreme Unction
||Excommunication, Lifestyle, Proselytizing,
||Soul Sleep, Investigative judgement,
Annihilationist, No Hell
Table 2: Shortlist
of Terminal Taxa
|The Wesleyan Methodist
|The Methodist New
|The Methodist Church
|The Society of
|Seventh Day Adventist
Day Adventist Association
|Church of God Seventh
|Church of God (Cleveland,
|City of Zion
|Assemblies of God
© JoM-EMIT 2001
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