Wilden Memetics (was Canadian memetics)

singa (singa@cc.emu.edu.tr)
Wed, 08 Jul 1998 21:51:59 +1000

Date: Wed, 08 Jul 1998 21:51:59 +1000
From: singa <singa@cc.emu.edu.tr>
To: memetics@mmu.ac.uk
Subject: Wilden Memetics (was Canadian memetics)

From: Alex Brown: singa@cc.emu.edu.tr
Date: 8th July 1998

Ton Maas <tonmaas@xs4all.nl>wrote:

> This may be a little off topic (memetics proper), but one of the most
> stimulating (if obscure) intellectauls of our time is teaching at Simon
> Frazer. His name is Anthony Wilden and he's a professor of communication
> there. Both Francisco Varela and myself are _great_ fans of his work, which
> is a highly original version of 2nd generation cybernetics he calls
> "Context Theory". He was a student of both Gregory Bateson and Rene Girard.
> Among his works are "System & Structure" (Tavistock), "Man & Woman, War &
> Peace" and "The Rules Are No Game" (both RKP). If you're interested, I can
> give you his co-ordinates.

In my opinion this is not off the track at all but absolutely dead
centre in terms of what memetics purports to be. However, one small
problemo: if we apply Wildens communication/context/ecologically
basedthinking to current memetics theory it would take out (or nuke) at
least two thirds of what is being said. The meme as an atomistic entity
would disappear to be replaced with a symbol which is NOT transmitted
but exchanged. And in this exchange the symbol is transformed.
Evolution/history takes place. So too does emergence from a complex of
antecedent symbols or in concrete terms - behaviours. The context -free
and therefore meaningless meme would disappear to be replaced by a
material or behavioural regularity in cultural form or practice. Indeed
the whole theory of memetics could be based on Wilden’s concepts of
communication and exchange. Yet these symbols are not abstract but are
written out in particular kinds of behaviour or the shape of artefacts.
It is not and cannot be some vague and indecypherable image/sensation
that simply lights up the scan, but we can’t tell what the hell it
means. Theres no point in imagining such things, nor in fabricating the
theory based on some half understood neuroscience or genetics when the
‘thing itself’ - that we want to understand - is right up there in front
of us - the cultural environment and all its products including human
social behaviour. Products produced by communication and exchange,
selection combination procedures, symbolic thought, emergence,
information as the configuration of material or behavioural form,
meta-systems, context, learning,(Bateson), analogue and digital modes,
language, difference, distinction, opposition and the necessity for a
correct understanding of logical typing as against the flatlanders idea
of a ‘thing’ which jumps from (inert)brain to (inert) brain. Like the
fad for hoola-hoops and chain letters. Meanwhile, music, art,
architecture, science, religion and social custom - the great
regularities of culture are left to the arithmetic of counting heads
(sorry, hosts).

For this reason I am in complete agreement with some previous e-mails on
this list which spoke about a material base for memetics where the
memetic enterprise lies in the analysis of the regularities of cultural
forms in order to abstract that phenomenon of exchange between
individuals - that consensus which we can refer to as the meme. Not an
atom but a complex of behaviours - an observable regularity. Without
this kind of approach memetics will go around in circles pretending to
be a science. A pop adjunct of genetics based on a few statements made
by a geneticist. If memetics becomes the study of the regularities of
form in culture based on the fundamental process of culture, namely
communication, it will achieve in one stroke what all the
pseudo-genetic/neuroscience has and will fail to deliver - an
understanding of cultural processes from an evolutionary point of view.
All visible, all measurable and the very fabric of our man-made

To put it bluntly, the basis of memetics lies not with Dawkins but with
Wilden - and thank you Ton Maas.


Alex Brown

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