Theory of Social Biology LO7022

Dr Ilfryn Price (
Sun, 28 Apr 1996 05:34:02 -0400

Replying to LO6988 --

Replying to Roberto Reichart who wrote [and thanks for the complement

I was surprised to read your opinion on the meme-web-meme net theme. If
the net is not a lifeform it certainly is a meme methinks.

Dont miss out on the greatest meme and mememaker (locus of self
organization) to emerge in the of language. Remember memes emerge in
language ( and language in minds).


You and I seem to be having open conversations on two lists at once on
this one. For anyone following the one on this list I had better explain
my perspective [apologies to anyone who is familiar with the theory]

The distinction meme was coined by Richard Dawkins specifically to
illustrate the power of 'replicators' [Murray Gell Mann would call them
schemata] to enable the emergence and preservation of complex order. A
meme is a 'mental virus' transmitted from brain to brain [through language
and cultural artefacts]. Language, any language, is a complex memetic code
that enables a certain culture [and the genetic code is a language written
with four characters of a DNA chain].

The prime reason for the evolution of sex [I am simplifying on dangerous
ground here] seems to be that it enabled, through genetic interchange, the
emergence of more complex organic designs. Being somehwat metaphorical one
could say that conversation or communication is for the meme what sexual
reproduction is for the gene; a mixing process that enables replication,
at some cost [from the meme's perspective] in mutation.

There are as you say memes embodied in the internet, including all kinds
of codes and operating standards [formal and informal], various viruses,
and the odd gremlin. There are also the memes of the english language
enjoying an opportunity for yet wider proliferation. There is an
unparalleled density and rapidity of simultaneous, many way memetic
transmission going on and some great conversations -especially e.g. this
list - where participants choose to be less trapped by the memes in their
own minds than is typical. But I still see the INTERNET as an enabler of
memetic transmission and interaction rather than a meme in its own right.
I like your distinction of *meme* and *mememaker* and would prefer to
think of the net as a mememaker: an opportunity space for new memes and
emergent order. Printing, radio, and televison were similar [albeit
slower] enablers of memetic interchange just as were ocean going sailing
ships [which also enabled various kinds of intercontinental genetic

This is a longer, and more theoretical diversion than I usually allow
myself [I am gradually learning to resist the urge to force my memes on
others] but I do see the topic of memes as fundamental to the theory of
Learning and LOS. Social Biology is a meme which has earned [justifiably
in some cases] a 'bad' name which, IMHO [look another meme which has
emerged on the net] is a pity because without it we risk encouraging a
view of our species as 'above' or separate from the processes of the
natural world [memes are not, repeat not, unigue to homo sapiens,primates
or mammals]. Memes provide a foundation for understanding organisations
similar to that provided by genetics for organisms. We need
self-organising memetic patterns in order to have any form of
organisation; we do not have to be stuck with them. Lest anyone
misinterprets me as trying to impose something I AM NOT SAYING anyone has
to accept or believe the theory in order to practise the disciplines of
learning. I just see the theory as making it a lot easier to understand
why the practice works.

I have tried to explore all this theory in more detail in Management
Learning [1995 v0l 26 pp299-318 and a paper entitled Genetic of the
Learning Organisation published by ECLO in 1994. Ray Shaw and I will seek
to take it further in a paper to next months ECLO conference.

Roberto concluded

>Hold on to your hat during the changes this web of memes will bring to us
and to our memes, and the possibilities.>

Abso -emphasis deleted- lutley. But beware also the dangers of the opening
of new replication space. The *gene-web* of intercontinental navigation
enabled wider replication of genocide, bigotry and syphilis as well as all
the 'good' stuff. I come back to learning as a balance to the dark side of
the power of replicators: more vital than ever as replicator exchange and
evolution ratchets up yet another gear.

If Price
The Harrow Partnership
Pewley Fort Guildford UK


Dr Ilfryn Price <>

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