Meme pools? (continued)

Brown, Alex (
Sat, 21 Jun 1997 13:36:52 +0800

From: "Brown, Alex" <>
To: "'Memetics list'" <>
Subject: Meme pools? (continued)
Date: Sat, 21 Jun 1997 13:36:52 +0800

Date: 21st June 1997

With reference to my message on 'meme pools', Dr. I.Price writes:

".......I would say we have a theory [of the mechanisms of cultural
Evolution] [see Price 1995 at URL below for earlier references] - In
brief Memes [aka paradigms mental models etc etc - collective mindsets]
underpin collective sets of 'unwritten rules' - accepted ways of
behaving and thinking. Any organisation is a system of such

I would agree with most of this. It is the recognition of the
constraining power of these collective phenomena, (which we can
generally term, 'paradigms') which will allow us to understand cultural
and social evolution. Individual messages (individual works) flashing
throughout the social structure, gain their semantic significance, their
vocabulary and their syntax from pre-existing paradigms (adapted to
particular circumstances). As Dr. Price suggests, these paradigms define
sets of rules for behaviour in any given domain. This rule-based
definition of cultural activity is just as prevalent in the domain of
Art as much as that of politics, corporate structures, language or any
other collective social activity. Contrary to the prevailing myth,
artists do not create works in some ad hoc or spontaneous fashion any
more than Einstein did. It may be useful for anyone seeking to
understand the evolution of culture to have a look at how the various
different cultural systems theorize their own activities. These
(behavioural) rules may be seen as the limits to permissible behaviour
as defined by accumulated results of past experience which of course
keeps changing.

Where are the memes in all this? Are they the informational equivalent
of the paradigms, styles or social cutoms or can they be the 'most
regular features' of the group of previous individual works which
defined the repertoire of the system? Can they be isolated? No, because
they are integrated into the form of each individual work of art,
corporate plan or scientific theory in the same way that single coherent
sentences do not float around on their own. The individual work is a
permissible combination of such cultural elements. The meme is a
statistical concept since it defines the most recurrent aspects of a
group of works.

Here we have it again: the organizational and communicational structure
that is clearly marked out in all cultural domains, for (almost) all to
see: the relation between the stylistic unit, the individual work which
is a combination of such units, a group of individual works (a style or
paradigm) which display common features (use the same set of stylistic
units customized for different situations), and the particular domain
which displays several such groups (populations).

Just a note here to recognize the value of Hans-Cees Speel's attempt to
structure the vagueness of the concept of 'meme pools'. from work like
this, my guess is that somewhere in the not too distant future we may be
able to carry out a great mapping of analogous concepts between
different disciplines and come up with a design for a complex cultural
system. Oh yes, and will use a clear and commonly accepted terminology.
(I doubt if we need to invent this, we can 'creolize' it from other
relevant disciplines).

It is of some significance to me that throughout time there are
considerable changes in the number and relative strength of
styles/paradigms which exist within a certain cultural domain. In some
historical periods there are many equally-valid paradigms available,
while at other times there is one dominant paradigm. The change from one
state to another: from diversity of populations to the annexation of
cultural space by a single dominant style/population/paradigm would seem
to be a significant feature of biological (ecological aspect), and
cultural systems but this cannot be handled by an atomistic memetic

It may be that the memetics model of culture has come out of the wrong
(radical genetic/Dawkinsian stable). The complex systems /ecological and
communicational model (incl. language itself) may well offer a more
coherent (and testable) theory of cultural evolution plus the fact that
a lot of the theory is already avaialble. Am I biased? Of course I am.
Am I wrong? Hmmmm.......dunno.


Alex Brown

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