and Things

singa (
Sun, 31 Jan 1999 14:41:08 +1100

Date: Sun, 31 Jan 1999 14:41:08 +1100
From: singa <>
Subject: and Things

> From Alex

Date: 31st January 1999
Subject: re.memes and Things

> From: On Fri, 29 "Hans-Cees Speel" <> wrote:
> Subject: memes and thing- evolutionary?
> I can see that you are indeed whithin the evolutionary paradigm. I
> just don't like the "definition"of meme in the first point. A meme is
> not a statistical thing. Perhaps I misunderstand you. But your point
> one says that a meme can only be identified by looking at
> familiarity in a statistical way. Perhaps you mean this differently,
> but litterly it sais that memes that look like eachother are identical.
> I am sure you do not mean htis, but it looks like this is what it
> sais. Otherwise I don't understand point 1.

No, a meme is not a statistical thing, but it can only be identified statistically. Memes are cultural events and as such are the product of
collective activity. Put it this way, how would we recognize a meme if we saw one? (This is a question that goes right to the centre of the debates
on this list about the definition of memes).

In my opinion we can only identify memes as a regularity of behaviour which we can detect in the midst of a range of apparently random behaviours.
How else could we do it? But what we would note is that none of these 'similar' behaviours is exactly the same. In other words they are not
identical but are (as I said before), variations on a theme. The theme is the meme (sic) and it is a virtual entity in that it can only be defined
(seen, touched and measured), in the commonality of behaviour amongst a number of spatially-dispersed agents or in the similarity of form between a
number of different individual artefacts.Architecture offers a very good (concrete!)example of this where a large number of buildings built in very
different locations show a remarkable stylistic similarity. Each one is a very particular solution to a very particular design problem.Yet they are
similar in form. They are not however identical. They are not the same building copied (replicated?) in different locations. The similarity between
them arises from the fact that they use the same SET of forms combined to suit a particular context. In architectural terms this set is called a
style. In memetic terms it is called a meme. The style and the meme do not exist 'somewhere'. They virtually exist (are immanent) in the similarity
of characteristics between real things dispersed in time and space. To define the style or the meme requires us to scan the range of individual
products and identify the use of the typical set of forms.In admittedly bureaucratic terms this is a statistical exercise.

The improbable fact that such similarities of form arise in the midst of seemingly random behaviours in my view requires us to deal with cultural
phenomena as complex adaptive systems where individual agents seek to optimize their conditions in an environment created by the self-same activity
of all the other agents in the system. Architecture, economics, political organization, along with many other cultural phenomena portray the same
emergent characteristics where order in the form of similarities of behaviour arise out of chaos (diversity of behaviour) through the mechanism of
communication and exchange between the agents of the system. The memetic enterprise, it seems to me is to define the communications-base theory
which will model the emergence and evolution of such cultural phenomena. Biology/genetics can only offer an analogy to these processes. We can
obtain equally useful analogies from fields such as economics, law, history, the arts and social systems which clearly operate at the same
organizational level as the field which we are trying to model.


Alex Brown

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