Re: Significance of memetics

t (levy@Oswego.EDU)
Mon, 30 Nov 1998 03:47:55 -0500 (EST)

From: <levy@Oswego.EDU>
Date: Mon, 30 Nov 1998 03:47:55 -0500 (EST)
Subject: Re: Significance of memetics
In-Reply-To: <>

> I have trouble accepting that Jones, one man, could have bullied nearly a
> thousand to murder and/or take their own lives. He must have had allies who
> listened to him and followed his direction. Were those allies automata or
> were they reflecting a group or sub-group consensus?

It would seem to me that looking at the specifics of the Jonestown masacre
might be misleading as an example of a "true" instance of groupmind, but
adequate as an example of a rudimentary group mind. One thing that would
give a meme system more control over its subsystems would be memes that
focus command into "authorities" which maintain the distribution of the
signal among the people. You can call this "bullying" or whatever, but it
is one memetic (or perhaps genetic) adaptation that focuses and
centralizes human resources in a way the furthers the propogation of the
meme system.

However my conception of a group mind is not a simplistic transfer of a
dogma, as exemplified in cults and other fanaticism. I believe that these
are studied as case examples by memeticists because they directly
demonstrate the principles we are looking for. Group mind involves more
complex types of symbolic interactions that humans, interacting in small
groups, biologically evolved-- not in competition but in intelligent sex
selection. Because these biologically evolved cognitive mechanisms that
allow for these forms of complex memetic evolution have not yet been
mapped out, memetics in these areas probably won't proceed soon.

The theory that people have richly complex symbolic interactions does not,
I think, need to be argued as there is plenty of evidence documented in
linguistic anthropology and many other fields. It is also pretty clear
that people evolved living together in small groups. Some of my other
assumptions may be flawed though, but I don't know which.

One speculation that I have made based on my current assumptions as stated
is that heirarchical organization that led to civilization requires a
dumbed down, deevolved form of communication that is selected due to
memetic success (centralized organization of larger groups). The complex
interactions evolved in the hunter-gatherer stage are perverted and abused
into heirachical slave/ master dichotomies-- the price we pay for living
in such large groups. The shamanic caste, in this view, is the
persistence of a mode of thought that was more prevalent in the
cognitively interdependent groupminds that happened in hunter-gather days.

I think that the differences Claude Levi-Strauss noted concerning
structural differences between extant "primitive" and modern cultures
could be reevaluated in these terms-- ie from an evolutionary perspective.
I also think that using comunications technology we may be able to
organize larger groups of people without compromising the qualities of our

- -
-Robert P. Levy-
- -

A random quote...
"Let thy speech be better than silence, or be silent." -Dionysius the Elder

This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the
Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing)