Re. Memetics and History

Dr I Price (
Mon, 16 Jun 1997 07:25:09 -0400

Date: Mon, 16 Jun 1997 07:25:09 -0400
From: Dr I Price <>
Subject: Re. Memetics and History
To: "" <>

Alex Brown writes [taking Bill B's point

>Absolutely, and apart from the musical domain, this evolution of styles
(meme complexes) and their interaction is the major phenomenon to be
studied in all other cultural domains. The stability of these complexes
over time (from decades to millenia) is the only thing which allows us
to discuss cultural evolution and history at all, for in the midst of
continual historical change we still have these regularities of form
within all domains whether written out as scientific theories, literary
genre, artistic styles or types of social and political organization. >

Well put Alex. Thank you. It seems to me that it is this tendency to
stability - at as you say various time scales - that distinguishes
replicator driven complex systems from dissaptive self organising systems=

such as weather patterns or sand piles [to cite two classic examples. The=

same tendency to stability is seen in the fossil record at various time
scales. A set of genes or memes that can 'lock-in' their 'ecology' [syste=
of interactions/ communications] possess [granting them metaphoric
intentionality] a selective advantage [or ESS in Maynard Smith speak].

>The study of these uniformities of behaviour (their origin, evolution
and eventual demise) would seem to be one of the central tasks of any
memetic analysis or theory of cultural evolution.>

Yes again. My own take on it is that these various forms of cultural
organisation depend for their function on, largely implicit, unwritten
rules or codes of behaviour sourced in the collective thought patterns or=

memomes of the organisation. Hence the meme serves to specify the
organisation just as the gene does. There is a large literature on
evolutionary economics as a selective competition between 'rules' which h=
not so far surfaced in this list [any members of the evoluionary economic=
tendency out there?].

So Alex, when you say

>This is essentially rule-governed and perhaps one can say algorithmic
behaviour when viewed as part of a group activity. One need not get too
neurological/chemical about this. One simply looks at the operations the
(black box) brain carries out and these involve essentially
categorization by the shunting around of similarities and differences
within its environment. The significant issue is what happens when these
many agents continually interact with one another by manipulating and
exchanging a particular kind of material or subject matter (music, war,
literature, etc. etc.). The result I would suggest is not the disorder
and random variations one would imagine if we treat the members of a
group as individual social or memetic atoms, but rather what we actually
get in cultural terms: the emergence of order, (self) organization and
memetic uniformity over long periods of time. >

I agree.

If Price
Active Personal Learning, Guildford UK

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