Macromemetics

Macromemetics

Abstract
1. Introduction and Summary
2. Western Philosophy Divided
3. The Hierarchical Structure of the Meme Pool and Popper"s World 3
3.1 Meme pools and the total cultural apparatus of societies
4. The Cultural Evolutionary School of Social Anthropology
4.1 Evolutionary Analysis of Civilisations
5. Memetics and 20th Century Philosophy
5.1 Memes and Pragmatism
5.2 Popper and Evolutionary Epistemology
5.3 Saussure and Signifiers
5.4 Foucault and the Episteme
6. Conclusion: The Role of Memetics
References

The founder of 20th century Continental philosophy was a Swiss linguist named Ferdinand de Saussure (1857-1913). Virtually unknown in his lifetime, his posthumous influence was immense, due to the publication in 1916 of notes taken at his lectures by two pupils. Many of his concerns were the same as those of the Anglo-American philosophers of his day: the nature of language, meaning and its correspondence with reality etc., but his results were very different from those of his contemporaries Whitehead and Russell. Saussure was originally a comparative linguist working on the evolution of the Indo-European languages, but his later theories tended to emphasise the `synchronic’ ie. the existing structure of language at a given point in time, over the `diachronic’, ie. the evolution of language over the course of time. Nevertheless, much of his terminology is still compatible with the memetic approach.
Saussure’s theory revolves around the notions of the `signifier‘ and the `signified‘. To use an example provided by Sarup ([37] p. 3), in the case of an apple, the signifier is the sound image made by the word `apple‘, but it is the concept of an apple which is the signified (not, as one might imagine, the apple itself). The `sign‘ in Saussure’s terminology is the relationship between the signifier and the signified, and it is arbitrary, depending on convention. A case has already been made for equating the propositions and pseudo-propositions of Logical Atomism with memes, but in this case the correspondence is not so easy to tease out. Is the signified the meme? or the signifier? or the sign?
A further difficulty is provided by the fact that Saussure’s followers, the Structuralists, like the Logical Atomists, were not particularly interested in change. Structuralism emphasises the study of structural relations existing at one moment in time, ie. the `synchronic‘, over the way that these relations change through time, ie. the `diachronic‘, and thus relegates evolution to a position of lesser importance. As Structuralism has turned into Post-Structuralism, there has been a tendency to concentrate on the signifier rather than the signified, which has been interpreted as an attempt to remove the one-to-one correspondence between propositions and reality. This presents a considerable philosophical challenge (especially for Anglo-Americans), but in effect it brings Structuralism closer to memetics. The potential ambiguity present in Saussure’s complex triadic system of signifier, signified and sign is removed. For the Post-Structuralists, the signifier is now the dominant unit and can be considered as analogous to the meme. We thus have `the play of the signifiers’ (le jeu des signifiers) much beloved of the school of Post-Structuralism known as the Deconstructionists. The process of breaking a text down into its component signifiers is a similarly reductionist process to memetics. Memeticists analysing a complex belief system are concerned with identifying, dissecting and describing the memes that are present in it, in terms of their replicative powers, adaptiveness, selfishness etc.
The leading Deconstructionist Jacques Derrida has presented the notion that we are made out of language. This seems a strange idea to many scientists and Anglo-American philosophers. However, Daniel Dennett [10] has used the meme concept to say something very similar about consciousness. Dennett sees memes as a kind of software for the `virtual machine‘ of consciousness which runs on the `hardware of the brain‘. To say that we (or our consciousnesses) are `made of‘ language, following Derrida, is not too far from Dennett’s view that our consciousnesses are `made’ from the complex interaction of memes.
As mentioned above, the deconstructive process which Derrida and his followers apply to texts is the sort of process that memeticists have to apply to culture in general, in order to reduce it to its basic components, the memes or memetic nucleotides. One example of the lengths to which Deconstruction will go to dissect a text is provided by Derrida [12] who devotes a 139 page book to an examination of the word `Geist‘ in the work of Heidegger. Whereas with the Deconstructionists the process is designed to `shatter‘ meaning (Sarup [37]), in memetics the process is intended to dissect the way that culture has evolved. Deconstruction sees itself as a process of reading texts in a radical new way, different to the traditional way of seeing things. So too is memetics a new approach to culture and science and indeed all human learned behaviour and belief – not merely just a revival of cultural evolutionism but a more truly Darwinian reductionist approach to culture.

AuthorDerek Gatherer
2018-08-21T17:23:37+00:00 August 1st, 2002|Categories: Literature, Essays, Blesok no. 27|0 Comments