reply(2):re. explanatory coherence.

Brown, Alex (
Thu, 14 Aug 1997 16:01:49 +0800

From: "Brown, Alex" <>
To: "'memetics list'" <>
Subject: reply(2):re. explanatory coherence.
Date: Thu, 14 Aug 1997 16:01:49 +0800

Date: 14th August 1997

Sorry about the delay in replying (chaos in academia). Anyway: Oh yes, I
forgot! Aaron Lynch wrote:

" .....Though an emperor, Constantine was still a political creature,
and the steady proliferation of Christianity is what forced the wise
politician to choose that faith. As if to prove the point, look at
Julian "the Apostate's" failed attempt to restore paganism: belief
propagation is a more powerful force than the empire's most powerful

Further comments:

1. As I pointed out, there were other popular and equally colourful
MONOTHEISTIC religions around at the time. As an explanation of
monotheism or as a complete explanation of the religion of the empire at
the time, Christianity as such, is not the key issue here.

2. It could have proselytized (recursively re-transmitted(?)the message)
till it was blue in the face and still got nowhere. What was important
was the political and systemic need (the state of readiness of the
system) for a monotheistic religion to match (in ecological terms: to
FIT) the attempted reintegration of an empire. EG. if Christianity had
been a polytheistic religion, again it would have got absolutely
nowhere. Why not? Because, the name of the game at the time was
monotheism of whatever kind.

3. Christianity (or any other social paradigm, memeplex) is not simply a
self-propelling/self-referencial ENTITY. The religion established
(NB:NOT MADE) by Christ by a combination of Essenes/Zealot and canonical
Judaism would have been utterly meaningless to Romans, Greeks, Egyptians
or Galatians: it would have been strange and quite exotic. Evolving
social and cultural states must correspond to the current experience of
the society at the time. If not, then any old thing could happen. And it

4. In line with the communicational and exchange-based approach of
cultural evolution where paradigms are the synthesis of previous
paradigms, the Christianity of the Empire was a different animal
altogether. It was internationalized (re-synthesized) by Paul, a Roman
citizen in his exchanges with groups in different parts of the empire.
Greek thought, the customs of Rome and culture of eastern Mediterranean
was merged with a philosophy which itself was synthesis of Semitic,
Persian and Mesopotamian cultures. And so on and so on. One can easily
track the lineage of cultural forms. Like the individual human form,
each one is a product of multiple combinations, but the character of the
final form cannot be predicted.

5. It took nearly a thousand years of argument (Augustine, Aquinas,
etc), heresies, excommunications, conferences (synods), burnings, the
Inquisition and much travelling between the different communities to
finally establish what this thing was, its rules and its identity. In
other words to find the consensus of the many hypotheses which together
(merged) formed what we now know as Christianity. Its a complex business
and it takes a long time, much effort and many people to customize the
common experience to suit the diverse experiences of many people. That
is why culture is so comprehensive, complex and changes over time. It is
not a matter of an aggregate of ready-made cultural billiard balls
cracking against each other. It is the continuous formation and
reformation of a myriad of individual messages, which when we look at
the whole ensemble have recurrent similarities to one another. We give
the name 'style' or culture or (in commuincation terms: 'code'), to such
sets of similarities.

6. Where is this sealed, hard entity which we are told is simply copied
and replicated from person to person? The answer is, nowhere! There is,
no-thing. ('There is no there, there'). Memetics may well be an ad-man's
dream of simple products, superbly marketed and multiplied
(re-transmitted), but it is certainly NOT a coherent explanation of the
evolution and development of cultural forms or ideas. Are we really
going to ask: who invented and re-transmitted Baroque music or classical
architecture? The answer is, everyone who played it or used it. Those
who selected from that evolving code and produced their unique messages
based on it and on the particular context for which those messages were

7. Pointing to the growth or spread of a particular (and apparently
ready-made/invented) cultural form, does not, in my view explain very
much. Nor does proselytizing/marketing/manipulation, where one assumes a
single self-referencing pre-formed message is projected into an INERT
social mass. In this scenario, the explanation and the phenomenon are at
the same logical level. "Growth" is NOT an explanation, it is a result.
Where is the environment which allows or disallows the development of
the cultural form? Where and what are the constraints to growth? If
everything is internal to the sealed memetic projectile, does the
(context-free) meme at some point just run out of steam and grinds to a
halt? How does this meme develop, and if it does what is its internal
structure? And if it has one, where did it get it?

8. Aaron also writes: "...Alex seems to propose a model of transition on
the societal level and historical time scales, but the population "mind"
is demonstrably NOT merely a scaled-up version of the individual

Absolutely. 'MInd' is a collective phenomenon. Bateson's 'message in
circuit'. It is active, intentional and imposes coherence (pattern) on
experience by categorizing similarities and differences.

9. Aaron writes: ".....Your post seems like it might want to address
this, [growth differential] but then it also seems to suggest a
population of individuals simultaneously drifting toward monotheism as
if all brains were linked by instantaneous communication......"

Almost correct. For 'drifting', I would substitute: 'shifting'. I would
take out the word: 'instantaneous'. These things (the formation of
cultural forms through communication and exchange) take a long time. By
the way, In cultural terms, I don't know what a 'population of
individuals' is. Cultural and social forms are the product of
collective activity as are codes, styles, paradigms, theories and any
other social and cultural strategies. At the level of the 'messages' we
have individuals. At the level of the codes, we don't (not even as an

10. It would seem to me that for Memetics it is the transmission (sender
to receiver/linear) which is the key mechanism in the production of
form. In Cultural Evolution theory it is continuous transformation
(collective adaptation) by communication and exchange which leads to the
production of form. In other words, something happens to the information
as it moves through a social domain, and that something is unpredictable
in detail. What we see at any given time is a snapshot of an evolving

In this issue, the use and meaning of the word, 'recursive' is
significant. As I understand it, sender-receiver transmission is NOT a
recursive operation, no matter how many times it occurs. In this case,
the action is REPEATED, but that is all, as an idea moves through a
social mass. Repetition is not recursion. With recursion, the output of
an algorithmic procedure then becomes the input. (A form of positive
feedback, like growth or spread of behaviour, which is constrained by
the environmental envelope within which it takes place). In other words,
recusion - as in Cultural Evolution theory - is when current activity
acts on the product of ITS OWN PAST ACTIVITIES. (Also the basis of the
meta-system theory). It is only in this way that one can generate the
necessary cultural and social complexity we see all around us. Oh yes,
and explain it.


Alex Brown

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