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

Memes are not transmitted independently. A religious education, for instance, imparts an enormous bundle of memes to an individual which are generally delivered all together or not at all. They are, to borrow from genetic terminology, `linked‘. Indeed many of these memes may be dependent on each other (in what Speel [41] has termed a `memeplex‘). The process of growing up and living in a certain culture at a certain time means that an individual is very likely to share a vast quantity of memes with other individuals in the same circumstances. This is what may be termed the meme pool of that group or society. Where a society is highly pluralistic, several meme pools may coexist and partially overlap. Unlike higher eukaryotic gene pools [52], meme pools are not closed systems between which absolutely no interaction can take place. The Roman Empire, for instance, played host to a vast plethora of cultures and religions. Much meme flow between diverse meme pools took place; for instance the interaction between Greek and Jewish thought which produced the work of Philo of Alexandria (c. 30 BCE – 40 CE) and had a seminal influence on early Christianity. However, despite this extensive interaction the Jewish and Hellenistic meme pools remained sufficiently different to be clearly recognisable as distinct cultures. Although this cultural diversity was reduced in the Middle Ages, Christianity was regularly riven with heresies and schisms even before the Reformation. Memetic mutation and recombination, like their genetic analogues, are omnipresent features of meme pools. Nevertheless, the tendency of memes to be transmitted en bloc rather than as an independent assortment, suggests that we are justified in regarding the meme pool as a useful concept. A more difficult question is how to subdivide the meme pool.
Dawkins [9] cites the work of Karl Popper as one of his inspirations for the meme concept. Popper [34, 36] introduced the term `World 3′ to refer to the objective contents of thought. His discussion of these contents is almost identical to Dawkins’ presentation of examples of memes. Compare Dawkins’ original definition:
`Examples of memes are tunes, ideas, catch-phrases, clothes fashions, ways of making pots or of building arches‘[9],
with Popper’s definition of World 3:
`theoretical systems… problems and problem situations… critical arguments…. the contents of journals, books and libraries‘ ([34], p. 107).
It is clear from this that Popper and Dawkins have similar concepts in mind. Although Popper’s first three specific examples could be grouped under the heading of Dawkins’ third example ie. `ideas‘, his inclusion of printed artifacts such as the contents of libraries demonstrates that Popper, like Dawkins, also wishes to include the physical manifestations of transmitted information in his definition. In other words, both authors fail to make a clear distinction between what Speel [42] terms the memotype and the phemotype. Popper also intends that World 3 should include all objective thought contents both past and present. Concepts evolve in World 3 just as genes evolve in World 1, but World 3 does not itself evolve. Meme pools are collections of memes available to human populations at points in space and time, and they therefore evolve, diversify, go extinct etc. World 3 may thus be regarded as the set of all meme pools, possible and actual. However, the point in this instance is that the contents of meme pools correspond to the contents of World 3, and that both may be hierarchically structured (Popper [35]). This process strengthens the meme/gene analogy and eliminates the possible criticism that memes are difficult to define precisely, since genes are also non-discrete elements arranged hierarchically in the genome.
The lowest and most fundamental level is that of simple propositions. These will be shared by almost all the higher level structures. For instance, some propositions of logic may fall into this category. Higher level memetic structures such as religions or science or political beliefs may be widely different, or even incompatible, but are often based on the same simple propositions. Despite the uneasy relationship between Christianity and science over the last 400 years, a case can be made that both are derivatives of Platonism. They share what Peter van Inwagen [46] has called the Common Western Metaphysic. A further injection of ancient Greek thought into Christianity was provided by Thomas Aquinas (1224-1274) who reintroduced Aristotelian logic. Indian philosophy, by contrast, has its own system of logic known as Nyaya (Phillips [32]), and a metaphysical structure that is quite different to the Western Metaphysic outlined by van Inwagen [46]. A little more will be said later about the Logical Atomist school of Anglo-American philosophy for whom the simple propositions of Western logic were the main topic of study. However, at present it will suffice, following Popper, to regard fundamental propositions as the primary basis of any higher level memetic structures. In the gene-meme analogy they are the memetic `nucleotides‘. Most strands of Western thought, whatever their differences at more complex levels, have a common basis at this lowest `nucleotide‘ level.
Popper is less specific about the intermediate levels of his hierarchy but envisages a progressive building upwards to `complex ideas‘. This would presumably include entities like scientific theories, specific religious doctrines or points of political dogma. These complex memes have many component parts, and may stand alone, but are at their most effective when combined with other complex memes. For example, Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity is a robust meme which may be transmitted alone, but will generally be replicated more accurately (and possibly also more efficiently) if when delivered as part of a general education in physics including other complex memes such as Maxwell’s Equations and the Copenhagen Interpretation.
Above the level of the complex meme – which may perhaps be analogous to the gene as a functional, possibly `selfish‘, but not strictly independent unit – we have co-transmitted aggregates of memes. Examples of these might include religions, scientific disciplines or artistic schools considered as wholes. These are what might be termed the `linkage groups‘ of memetics or `memeplexes‘ (Speel [41]).
Finally we arrive at the total meme pool, or World 3. As emphasised above, Popper’s choice of the word `World‘ is appropriate in that he wishes to include every single content of objective thought. There is only one World 3. On the other hand, meme pools exist in the plural, being more analogous to the gene pools of biology in that they may be permanently separate, or at most in intermittent communication, and located at varying points in time and space. Since in a biological context, gene pools correspond roughly to species, or at least to sub-species or incipient species, it is here proposed that meme pools are the appropriate species-level entity in a memetic context. This is contrary to Benzon [3] who sees `paradigms‘ as the species-level memetic entity. If the meme pool/species equivalence is maintained, then paradigms are closer to gene-level entities, like Popper’s `complex ideas‘ discussed above. Although meme pools are not completely isolated in the way that higher eukaryotic gene pools are, the analogy is still acceptable if one thinks of prokaryotic gene pools where much horizontal transfer of genetic information takes place (Speel [42]).

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