back to basics

From: Wade T. Smith (
Date: Wed 28 May 2003 - 15:08:02 GMT

  • Next message: Lawrence DeBivort: "RE: back to basics"

    On Wednesday, May 28, 2003, at 09:01 AM, Richard wrote:

    > That's the definition of memetics.

    "Memetics can be defined as an approach trying to model the evolution of memes." (

    Indeed, the vicious circle involved in the definition of memetics requires that the meme be not only present, but fully accounted for.

    And, IMHO, it ain't.

    When one attaches the admittedly loose definition of 'smallest possible unit of cultural evolution' to 'meme', then I think, we can get close to having something that is present and accounted for, and IMHO, that something is the performance itself, not an imaginary element of a vaguely understood cognitive process. Applying darwinian analysis to the performances, and the venues within which these performances occur, is both empirical and satisfying, especially since the historical record is rife with well understood venues and artifacts. There is no way, at present, to account empirically for cultural processes in brains. When we analyze the changes in the venue and the artifacts produced within these venues, we also begin to understand how the perceptions of the observers helped to manage these changes.

    I long ago took this sort of statement- "However, since the only agreement as to the definition of
    'meme' is that it is what gets passed on through non-genetic means, only conceptual confusion can result from trying to make a hypothesis into a definition" (thanks, Bill, for this example), and asked myself what does it mean to 'get passed on' culturally, or socially? Social mechanisms are, IMHO, on their way to being explained by sociobiological models, and I'm happy to see culture as a another means of manipulating social mechanisms, and in any case, I don't think culture needs to know how minds work to manipulate humans and their social mechanisms, and I don't think memetics needs to know how minds work to explain how culture works.

    If one takes the definition of memetics and separates it from memes
    (which many people here are not allowing, I know, including you), then it becomes 'an approach to modeling the evolution of culture'.

    And, IMHO, the performance model succeeds at that with flying colors. But, yes, it needs to be allowed to. So, I'm happy to separate it from memeintheminditics if that will allow it, as a performance theory of cultural evolution only needs a meme as a definitional unit in the first place, and only then climbs on the memetic definition itself, as the performance model is indeed an approach trying to model the evolution of memes. It just doesn't define meme as something in the mind, but as the observed moment of performance, within a venue. Pretty empirical, that. Observable, measurable, and, thus, analyzable.

    Now, calling something a 'virus' of the mind, is, perhaps, more to the point of working on cognitive processes, but, the performance model of cultural evolution does not use a viral model, and can only accept the conditions of its players- meaning, that if the minds of two of its agents, the performer and the observer, could be infected with viral mechanisms, this needs to be a given in the performance model, something that is innate to the venue, and culture is itself a means of controlling, through parameters maintaining immunities, these viral influences and behaviors. Religion, in the form of religious community, is thus seen, in the performance model, as a large grouping of parameters of immunity maintenance. That such parameters can be based in natural falsehoods, i.e. gods, is not the issue- after all, even secular communities are based in falsehoods, as no law is the truth- the issue is that such parameters will control performance and maintain expectations. Religion does the work of maintaining a cultural venue very well. So does law and order of any stripe. Truth is not so powerful, and rarely needed, in this arena.

    - Wade

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