The Evolution of Complexity - Abstracts.

Memetics, the way a new worldview can act as an overall-language to promote communication between disciplines.

By Hans Cees Speel

  • PHD-student (AIO) Policy-Analysis at the University of Technology,
  • Delft, The Netherlands.
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  • Abstract:

    This presentation aims at showing how memetics as a topic, can help to integrate ideas from different disciplines. The basic idea is that an interdisciplinary object for theorizing and research can act as a catalyst for communication between scientists educated in different disciplines. This can help to create the conditions needed for different disciplines to cooperate, and to gain a better understanding of complex processes in human society.

    The basis of memetics is an elaboration of the evolutionary theories of genes in biology[1]. These theories can be used for research into the evolution of memes in human society. Here memetic issues are taken to include ideas in human minds, institutions, tacit knowledge, pictures, and all rules governing human behavior. A meme is accordingly defined as any object of culture that is replicable and can be disseminated among human beings. Memetics is defined as the study of processes relevant to the dissemination of memes throughout human society. I believe that this very broad definition of memes, explicitly combined with three broad meta-theories, makes it possible both to interconnect previously separated theories, and to find new common themes within the social sciences.

    Insights into aspects of the dissemination of knowledge throughout human society cannot be gained without the use of concepts that have originated in many different disciplines, which also means that the object of memetics is relevant to many disciplines. An important effect of studying memetics can therefore be the convergence of different kinds of jargon.

    The meta-languages or meta-theories currently used in memetics are taken from biological evolutionary theory. An elaboration by explicitly using the evolution-metaphor, the ecology-metaphor and the self-organization-metaphor would be a usefull strategy. In the past, these metaphors have facilitated a general jargon in biology, and could do the same for the human-sciences. The evolution-metaphor consists of complex systems of replicating rules [systems of genes or memes, or more generally 'retention systems'] with variation, and the selection of certain rules by an environment, or other rules. The ecology-metaphor consists of geographical variation of populations of retention systems and recombination of replicated rules [genes or cultural rules] from different populations by processes of communication. The selforganization-metaphor consist of processes of variation, retention and selection inside systems without regard to external selection pressures.

    The dissemination of memes is thought to be affected by 1) features, and dynamics in the rate of communication between geographically located humans [or groups or societies], 2) the way humans [or groups] are 'open to, and interested in, new thoughts' and, 3) the selective value memes can have for themselves, or for the retentionsystems they are part of.

    The memetic evolutionary-methaphor [or self-organization metaphor, depending on the system-boundary drawn] includes theories concerning:
  • The effects memes can have on the survival of humans or for instance organizations
  • Processes governing the innovation of meme[plexe]s
  • The connection between spreading of memes and the features of human individual cognition and group cognition
  • The psychological features of humans with regard to meme uptake
  • The effects of certain memes [beliefs, behavioral patterns] on the way humans [or groups or societies] select other memes
  • Historical explanations of different memes in different societies

    The ecology-metaphor includes theories concerning:
  • The spreading of new meme[plexe]s in space and time
  • The connection between memes and niches of human activity
  • The influence of increasing communication on the different meme pools from societies separated geographically or otherwise
  • The spreading of meme plexes in space and time

    In this general view it may be helpful to make a distinction between different levels in the objects of study of memetics: the theories stated above can be applied on different levels of organization.


    [1] For an introduction to memetics see Moritz E. 1990a. Memetic Science, Journal of Ideas 1:3-23. Also available on world wide web:

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