Memes and Emergent Properties

From: John Croft (
Date: Tue Feb 12 2002 - 11:08:23 GMT

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    Hi Folks

    I have been reading up on emergent properties, and
    wonder whether the conception of Emergence applies to
    memes. Emergence is being used increasingly in a
    number of fields. For example - one can anaylse the
    behaviour of a flock of birds with a great degree of
    predictability on the basis of a few simple equations,
    independent of the physiology and behaviour of any
    specific species. Other collective behaviours (eg a
    school of fish, the variety of trees in an ecosystem,
    or it would appear, the quantum nature of existence
    itself, all have aspects of emergence. Emergence or
    "entellechy" occurs in systemic organised structures
    that have a great degree of independence from initial
    conditions. Emergence is also increasingly being used
    in embryology where it seems to be the way in which a
    number of features can be established using chemical
    gradients (for example segmented structures). The
    emergence of an "individual", whether me or you, or
    the extended kind of individuals one finds in social
    insects - in which the hive is a single individual -
    would seem to be a classic case of emergence. Wasn't
    it von Bertalanfy himself who spoke of entellechy
    within acorns that allowed them to develop as oaks?

    Looking at the way large numbers of memes interact
    with other memes would seem to be the classic
    conditions for the appearance of emergent phenomenon.
    In fact I would think that a culture is an emergent
    property of memes. It would explain why one can still
    meaningfully talk of cultures without a reference to
    mimetics at all.

    Looking at the replication of memes, mimetic systems
    which accumulate memes are likely to be selected for
    as it contributes to the perpetuation of all memes.
    Thus a city with a wide divergence of craft
    specialists, including the appearance of a "cultured"
    leisured upper class, when conditions permit, would be
    selected for over the simpler tribal organisation
    found in hunter gatherer or nomadic pastoral society.
    The accumulation of people in a city, of adherents in
    a faith, or of profits in a corporation create systems
    of positive feedback loops that eventually run into
    previously determined limits. Sustainability then
    becomes a question of negative feedback loops, the
    avoidance of overshoot and collapse "catastrophistic"
    structures. (Thom's work on catastrophes as ruptures
    in a topological surface is relevant here).

    Interested in your thoughts



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