More on Memes & Film (and: 3 solved problems in Memetics)

So, interestingly – and famously, in 1866 – The Linguistic Society of Paris placed a ban on discussing the evolution of language (Blackmore 1999: 105). This was shortly after the official publication of Darwin’s theory of evolution… (i.e. On The Origin of Species, 1859)

Also interestingly – at a 1998 Symposium on Memetics, (part of the 15th International Conference on Cybernetics), a motion was passed, calling for an end to definitional debates on: memes.

Which is a fun way to preface the following:

In the (excellent) The Meme Machine (Blackmore 1999), both Susan Blackmore and Richard Dawkins discuss “three unsolved problems with memes”.

Namely the three problems that:

1.     We (previously) haven’t been able to specify the unit of a meme,

2.     We (previously) haven’t known the exact mechanism for copying and storing memes,

3.     Memetic evolution appears to be “Lamarckian” (i.e. `copy the product’, rather than the Weismannian `copy the instructions’).

However – interestingly, when we examine film story memes, given the approach I adopt here, these three problems are solved.

First, examining Blackmore’s text on the (excellent) question of:

How to define a meme, i.e. – a unit of culture.

In looking at this problem, Blackmore (rightly) draws on gene theory. (Since – genes in biology and memes in culture function: almost exactly the same way…)

If not yet convinced, then please read this post on cultural evolution, and also this one on memes and this one on holons/holarchies.)

And there is a book chapter on it, here:

StoryAlity #132The holon/parton structure of the Meme, the unit of culture (and narreme, or unit of story)

By way of some background, Blackmore (1999) states, (with regard to genes):

`Defining a gene is not easy and in fact the term is used quite differently by breeders, geneticists and molecular biologists because they are interested in different things.

At the molecular level, genes consist of sequences of nucleotides along a molecule of DNA. Names are given to different lengths of DNA, such as a codon, which is a sequence of three nucleotides, or a cistron, which is a sufficiently long sequence of nucleotides to provide the instructions for building one protein – with a start symbol and a stop symbol. Neither of these is necessarily passed on intact in sexual reproduction and neither corresponds with what we think of as the gene `for’ something. DNA provides instructions for protein synthesis and it is a long way from there to having blue or brown eyes, finding men more sexy than women, or having a flair for music.

Yet it is these effects of genes that natural selection gets to work on. So what is the unit of the gene? Perhaps there is no final answer.

One useful suggestion is that a gene is hereditary information that lasts long enough to be subject to the relevant selection pressures… This intrinsic uncertainty about just what to count as a gene has not impeded progress in genetics and biology. It has not made people say “We cannot decide what the unit of the gene is so let’s abandon genetics, biology, and evolution.”

These sciences all work by using whatever unit they find most helpful for what they are doing at the time.

The same logic applies in memetics. Dennett (1995) defines the units of memes as “the smallest elements that replicate themselves with reliability and fecundity” (p344)’

(Blackmore 1999: 53-54)

So, the smallest unit of culture: What would that be, with film? (i.e. the smallest `unit’?)

I suggest – it would be: a black screen.

Black screen

For 1/24th of a second.

Or – it could even be: a whole minute of a black screen, at the start of a movie.

(Do any films do this..? Check out Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Also, the Intermission of that film.)

Because – memes are just: ideas, right?

i.e. Concepts…

That: can be selected, varied and transmitted again. (Rinse, and repeat. The result: Culture.)

i.e. Culture is a recursive evolutionary system, isn’t this right?

And so – we can try asking: What is the `smallest’ concept – that is, still a concept?

It’s the actual concept of: nothing…

Which – is now getting dangerously close to the concept embodied in the Japanese word ma, meaning `negative space’.

Which in cinema, would be: a black screen (with: silence).

If this isn’t clear yet, then let’s maybe compare with language for moment.

So – What is the smallest unit of culture – with written language?

We have: the alphabet, right? a b c d e f ( – etc) – to – x y z. And also: A B C D E… X Y Z.

Memes (JT Velikovsky)

Some memes (in the written English language) – JT Velikovsky

Which – we can assemble into written words.

Like: this.

(Note: The word “okay” is a pretty viral meme… M-kay? i.e. So is Mr Garrison’s way of saying it, in South Park.)

But – wait, we also have the spaces in_between_the_words.

We also have punctuation marks, which also have: meaning.

So – the full stop (or: period) at the end of this sentence – is also a meme.

Also, in both written text and in film (onscreen drama) we have: pauses


Where: the pause means something.

Ok – now, still on memes/concepts, let’s compare that – to – some dialog, in a film screenplay.

(Obviously, film screenplays are: made of words, and some of them are dialog, and some of them are also: scene headings, action,  and some are: pauses).

e.g. Read a few screenplays, and sooner or later, you’ll see the words:

A beat.

It also happens in parentheticals (the directions, suggested to actors, inside parentheses)




                                                         (after a beat)

                                   Okay, sure. But…

Mike sighs, shakes his head, and shrugs.


Okay – so, there were actually two `pregnant pauses’ there.

One, in the (after a beat) and one, in the ellipsis (After the word `But’).

(i.e. those 3 dots to indicate a pause, at the end of `But…’)

So – there is the idea, (the meme) – of “the pregnant pause” (i.e., a dramatic pause, that contains loads of subtext/the `unspoken undercurrent’ of: what is `really going on’ in the scene, at that precise moment, in terms of the character/s’ reactions)

Just to switch back to written language again for a moment, a space (e.g. in between all of these words) is also a meme.


So, a space – i.e. ` ’ – is also a meme.

A full stop (i.e. a period) is also a meme.

So when looking at `a unit of culture’ (i.e., What is `the unit’ of a meme?), it clearly depends, what mode of communication we’re actually talking about.

In written language, the smallest unit is either: the full stop – or the space, since the space (e.g. between words) is not actually *anything*.

But – it’s still a meme.

So, when we ask: “What is the unit of the meme?”

First, we need to choose a specific medium in which – memetic transmission can take place.

e.g. (1) the written word, or (2) the spoken word, or even (3) a big-old 90-minute feature film. (Which is a memeplex, but is also a single meme in itself, as: all memes are both holons and holarchies at the same time.)

So, I again suggest, a black screen is `the smallest unit of the meme’ in film.

It could last for 1/24th of a second (as: film is screened at 24 frames a second, right? TV is 25 frames per second.)

But to return to the key important concept about all this:

All memes are holons, and all holons are holarchies.

Holarchy of Film Story (Velikovsky 2012)

A Holarchy of Film Story (Velikovsky 2012)


A unit is: a holon. (But which holon do you/we want to examine, exactly?)

An Example: this sentence below, is a meme, and is also: a holarchy of holons.

It is a dark and stormy night.

(Note that: film screenplays are almost always written in: the present tense.)

Now, the word `It’ is a meme.

So is the word ‘is’.

So too are each of:  a / dark / and / stormy / night.

Each single word is a holon.

(Remember: a holon is simultaneously: a part, and a whole. See: Koestler, 1967)

And – when the words are combined into a sentence: `It is a dark and stormy night’, suddenly: we have another meme.

That one is exactly: one sentence long.

We can keep right on doing this.

We could write: a paragraph.

It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents — except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.

(Bulwer-Lytton 1830, p.1)

And – that paragraph too, could be a meme.

i.e. Simultaneously: a holon, and a holarchy.

Say, part of a novel.

Or even – a similar description (or: voice-over) might be part of a film screenplay.

Every single quotable line of movie dialog you know, is a meme:

Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn” – Gone With The Wind

I’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse” – The Godfather

I’ll have what she’s having” – When Harry Met Sally

“May the Force be with you” – Star Wars

ET – phone home” – ET: The Extra-Terrestrial

Greed is good” – Wall Street

The horror” – Apocalypse Now

Vote For Pedro” – Napoleon Dynamite

You talkin’ to me?” – Taxi Driver

“I’ll be back” – The Terminator

The first rule of Fight Club is, you do not talk about Fight Club” – Fight Club

I’m the king of the world!” – Titanic

I see dead people” – The Sixth Sense

Rosebud…” – Citizen Kane

Precioussss…” – The Lord Of The Rings


(It probably goes without saying – “It was a dark and stormy night” – is an infamous phrase (a meme) written by Victorian novelist Edward Bulwer-Lytton in his 1830 novel Paul Clifford.)

It’s also in the 1962 novel A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle.

More on her (L’Engle) in this excellent book: Creativity (1996) by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.


If you want an idea of how far that meme (“It was a dark and stormy night”) has spread, see:


To come back to the screenplay. And, still on: memes.

i.e. The so-called “problem”, of: what is the smallest unit, thereof.

If the words “It is a dark and stormy night” appear in the screenplay; great – but (unless it is in voice-over) those words will then be shot, as a scene, on film.

So if you see that film, you will see an image of: a dark and stormy night.

Dark and Stormy Nite

Also – forget semiotics.

Forget Semiotics

I know – for a while there – as a pioneer in the field of film semiotics, Christian Metz initially used insights from de Saussure’s project of a general semiotics of film, based on linguistic structures – but later departed from (i.e. – abandoned) this field of enquiry (to create a structural system which parallels the syntagmatic systems of film story structure that almost all screenwriting instructional manuals employ.)

Metz STEPS AWAY FROM De Saussure’s project of A General Semiotics

In his 1974 “Some Points In The Semiotics in the Cinema” article, reprinted from Film Language in Film Theory and Criticism (1992), Christian Metz explains his own caution regarding the use of linguistic structures in semiotics as a tool to analyze film story structure and meaning:

The purpose of this text is to examine some of the problems and difficulties confronting the person who wants to begin undertaking, in the field of “cinematographic language”, de Saussure’s project of a general semiotics; to study the ordering and functionings of the main signifying units used in the filmic message.

(Metz in Mast et al. 1992: 168)

Metz finally concludes the article with the warning that:

The concepts of linguistics can be applied to the semiotics of the cinema only with the greatest caution.

(Metz in Mast et al. 1992: 178, emphasis mine)

This shows Metz is admitting that de Saussure’s project (a general semiotics) is problematic, when applied to film…

So – I do not use semiotics to analyze film.

Forget Semiotics

Anyway – my point being – there *is* no problem, about “what is the unit of the meme?”

In written language, it’s: the letters of the alphabet – and, punctuation marks – and even the spaces in between the letters.

The only thing smaller than a ` ’ (i.e. a space) is: not to write anything at all.

So – in short – if we do not accept that memes are both holons and holarchies – we will always grapple with the question: “What is the unit of the meme?”

Any meme is a holon and a holarchy.


A Holarchy in Film (Velikovsky)

It therefore depends on: what level, you are looking at it..!

So, we can strike “the first problem with memes”.

It’s not actually a problem; it’s a question of understanding.

Memes are holons and holarchies.

The units of memes in written language are:

(1) the letters of the alphabet, punctuation marks, and spaces

(2) words

(3) sentences

(4) paragraphs

(5) scenes

(5) chapters (or: sequences of scenes, in a written film screenplay)

(6) entire books (a complete, written film screenplay)

Holarchy of Written Language - all levels above are both holons/holarchies and memes/memeplexes (Analysis: JT Velikovsky)

Holarchy of Written Language – all levels above are both holons/holarchies and memes/memeplexes (Analysis: JT Velikovsky)

Any or all of the above – can be observed, remembered (sometimes, inaccurately) and expressed again in words (i.e. can be: selected, varied and transmitted).

Think about how: If anyone you know (e.g. a friend, or family member) has ever been to see a movie, enjoyed it, and then came back and recounted the entire plot / film story to you. Verbally.

At any rate, as noted above, see the chapter:

StoryAlity #132The holon/parton structure of the Meme, the unit of culture (and narreme, or unit of story)

Okay so – moving on:

Problem #2 with memes: (i.e. – solved…) 

2) We don’t know the mechanism for copying and storing memes

I don’t believe this is true?

As Csikszentmihalyi has shown (in Creativity, 1996), Culture is the product of a system – which involves the interaction of 3 parts: the Individual, Field and Domain.

The Feature Film Domain as a System

The Feature Film Domain as a System (from Csikszentmihalyi) 

So, we can pick a meme.

e.g., A film story.

Let’s say, the #1 ROI film, Paranormal Activity (2009).

Where is that film story `stored’?

In the current time, 2013, it’s stored in (at least) 3 places, at once:

1) On digital film discs (in the Domain). You can pick one up, at your local Blockbuster. And you can go home, and watch it, and experience the film story (that meme – which is also a memeplex). Note the fidelity of this storage mechanism, i.e. digital discs – as cultural artifacts. (i.e. Very high fidelity)

It is also stored:

2) Inside the memory of any Individual who has seen it. (If you have actually seen that film: this means you. Of course, memory fades, over time.)

Thirdly, it is also stored:  

3) Inside the memories of the Field (all the audience who saw it, all the critics who saw it, all other filmmakers who saw it – and in fact, anyone who has ever seen it.)

Now, a feature film story is a memeplex. It is a holarchy of holons. Story, Scenes, Shots, Frames. And: Sound (e.g. dialog, music, sound effects). Some film sound effects are themselves, viral memes (such as: the Wilhelm scream, which is in over 200 movies).

Anyway, with regard to film – I hope this puts to bed forever, the question of: `Where are memes stored?’

With film, they are stored in: the Individual, the Field and the Domain.

Same as, genes are stored in:

(1) the Individual (i.e. say, You)…

(2) The other Individuals who share those genes (e.g. – your siblings, to a lesser extent your children, and especially – your twin brother or sister if you have one), and in some cases, they are also actually in:

(3) Sperm banks, actually – in some cases (which in this sense, is the same as: The Domain, i.e. artifacts such as: films, books, weblogs, etc).

So: I also hope this solves that `Problem #2 with Memes’ forever.

A Side Note: I personally don’t think, we will ever solve the biological problem of exactly how memes are stored in the human brain; even though, we can now see a fish’s thought:


The reason I say this?

It is highly likely that: almost everyone `conceptualizes’ things in a different way.

Some people use images, some use words (internal mental audio), others still use shapes, or numbers, or geometric patterns, or `mental cartoons’: or – whatever.

See: On Thinking – Part 1 (Richard Feynman – 5 mins)

And – see this, from This Will Change Everything (Brockman, 2010): (mainly just the bold bit)

Cracking Open The Lockbox Of Talent – Howard Gardner

Howard Gardner is the John H. and Elizabeth A. Hobbs Professor in Cognition and Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, adjunct professor of psychology at Harvard University, and the author of Five Minds For the Future.

What is talent? …anyone who has had the opportunity to observe or read about a prodigy – be it Mozart or Yo-Yo Ma in music, Tiger Woods in golf, John Von Neumann in mathematics – knows that achievement is not just hard work. The differences in performance at time one and successive performances at times two, three and four are vast, not simply the result of additional sweat. It is said that if algebra had not already existed, the philosopher and logician Saul Kripke would have invented it in elementary school; such a characterization would be ludicrous if applied to most individuals.

For the first time, it should be possible to delineate the nature of talent. The breakthrough will come about through a combination of findings from genetics (do highly talented individuals have a distinctive, recognizable genetic profile?), cognitive psychology (are the mental representations of talented individuals distinctive when contrasted to those of hard workers?), and the psychology of motivation (why are talented individuals said to have “a rage to learn, a passion to master”?).

This interdisciplinary scientific breakthrough will allow us to understand what is special about Picasso, Gauss, J.S. Mill. And it will illuminate the question of whether a talented person can achieve equally in different domains (could Mozart have been a great physicist? Could Newton have been a great musician?).

Note, however that it will not illuminate two other issues:

1. What makes someone original, creative? Talent and expertise are necessary but not sufficient.

2. What determines whether talents are applied to constructive or destructive ends?

These answers are likely to come from historical or cultural case studies rather than from biological or psychological science. Part of the maturity of the sciences is an appreciation of which questions are best left to other disciplinary approaches.

(Gardner in Brockman 2010: 160-1)

Anyway, so I also hope, I have solved so-called `Problem #2 with memes’.

i.e. It is not even actually, a problem. (It is an un-problem, or a pseudo-problem.)

The same meme (with: film) can and is stored in 3 different places at once. The `Domain copies’ of the meme has the most fidelity (the films are stored on digital discs); the `Field copies’ have the most fecundity (people tend to talk to each other about films they like, which makes them viral memes); and the Individual (i.e. you, or each member of the Field) `copies’ are the most varied versions of the meme: we all interpret a feature film story, based on our own unique psychology and our idiosyncratic life experience (and: habitus). i.e. Not everyone has seen all the exact same films – so, when one person sees a horror film they might notice a reference to another classic horror film, whereas another Individual may not have `sampled’ that film, within their own store of cultural knowledge.

So – hopefully #2, the mechanism for copying and storing memes, is now solved. The systems model of creativity pretty much wraps it up.

And so – finally, to address: `Problem with Memes #3’…

3) Memetic evolution appears to be “Lamarckian”.

Firstly let me say – I am a *massive* fan of Richard Dawkins (and Susan Blackmore too, actually.)

Richard Dawkins, in his (excellent) introduction to The Meme Machine (1999) gives a brilliant example of memetic transmission (two experiments, involving teaching kids to draw an object, and also to make paper/origami junks) and – Dawkins says the following:

`What is the crucial difference between the two types of experiment? It is this: inheritance in the drawing experiment is Lamarckian, (Blackmore calls it `copying-the-product’).

In the origami experiment it is Weismannian (Blackmore’s `copying-the-instructions’).

In the drawing experiment, the phenotype in every generation is also the genotype – it is what is passed on to the next generation.

In the origami experiment, what passes to the next generation is not the paper phenotype but a set of instructions for making it. Imperfections in the execution of the instructions result in imperfect junks (phenotypes) but they are not passed on to future generations: they are non-memetic… The instructions are self-normalising. The code is error-correcting. Plato would enjoy it: what passes down the line is an ideal essence of junk, of which each actual junk is an imperfect approximation.’

Dawkins in (Blackmore 1999: ix-x)

So, are film memes transmitted in a Lamarckian way? (i.e. `copy the product’ rather than `copy the instructions’…?)


People literally (and illegally) copy the film itself Paranormal Activity (using digital copying software) and pass it around. (We possibly all know about bittorrent, warez sites, and  – the Pirate Bay, etc.)

But people also copy the instructions

Some people watch the film and then go tell their friends the story of the film. They may quote some lines of dialog from the film. (They may not quote them verbatim, as they may misremember them. i.e. a Weismannian transmission of the film story memeplex.) So some or amny of those memes/ideas (from the film Paranormal Activity) may end up in someone else’s creative product. (e.g. novel, film, song, whatever.) This is exactly how culture evolves/works.

Also – let’s consider that – a film story is contained: in the screenplay.

What if someone pitches that story, say to a film executive? (e.g. having already written the screenplay, though it perhaps has not yet been made, as a film…).

Memes are transmitted in all ways.

Lamarckian, Weismannian, and Darwinian.

Why is this a `problem’?

Anyway, I hope you agree, with regard to film, these 3 problems have been: solved.

(If not – please Comment below.)

I would also like to quote the following:

`Another objection, discussed, like the first, in Susan Blackmore’s illuminating chapter on `Three problems with memes’ is that we do not yet know what memes are made of or where they reside.

Memes have not yet found their Watson and Crick; they lack even their Mendel.

Where genes are to be found in precise locations on chromosomes, memes presumably exist in brains, and we have even less chance of seeing one than of seeing a gene, (though in an article referred to by Blackmore, the neurobiologist Juan Delius had pictured his conjecture of what a meme might look like.)

As with genes, we track memes through populations by their phenotypes. The `phenotype’ of the Chinese junk meme is made of paper. With the exception of `extended phenotypes’ such as beaver dams and caddis larva houses, the phenotypes of genes are normally parts of living bodies. Meme phenotypes seldom are.’

Dawkins in (Blackmore 1999: xii)

I suggest: memes may have already found their Watson and Crick – and even Mendel – ?

See the chapter: StoryAlity #132The holon/parton structure of the Meme, the unit of culture (and narreme, or unit of story)

it is also interesting to see, when we restrict the study of memes to one domain, such as: film – given that film story memes are easier to track than say `word-of-mouth’ memes (such as, say: verbal jokes). i.e. Yes, films also spread via word-of-mouth, but – we can (fairly) accurately track film box-office, and ROI. And we can also trace the memes in the films, by studying the films individually.

In the introduction, Richard Dawkins (in Blackmore 1999) also mentions the same issue I’ve already addressed, with: holons and holarchies.

`I have mentioned my two favourite objections to the meme idea: memes have insufficient copying fidelity, and nobody knows what a meme physically is.

A third is the question of how large a unit deserves the name `meme’.

Is the whole Roman Catholic Church one meme, or should we use word for one constituent unit such as the idea of incense or transubstantiation? Or for something in between?’

Dawkins in (Blackmore 1999: xiv)

Roman Catholics

To directly address this question – I suggest we use: the holons and holarchies method.

i.e. The same method as above, applies for: all memes (holons) – and all memeplexes (holarchies).

It depends on the level of detail we want to examine and discuss.

The question becomes: Which part of the memeplex are we `magnifying to 100%’?

The Roman Catholic church is a meme. – It is also a holon. It is also contains a massive holarchy/memeplex within it. We can `zoom down’ to the level of another meme (holon) within that memeplex/holarchy that is: incense (itself a meme, containing a `smaller’ memeplex, also, therefore a holon and a holarchy), or we can zoom over to transubstantiation (also itself a meme, containing a `smaller’ memeplex, also, therefore a holon and a holarchy), or wherever.

So – in a film: At what level in the holarchy of a film, do we want to examine a meme?

e.g. – Maybe, a single line of dialog? e.g. “We’ll always have Paris.”

Or – a whole scene?

A whole sequence of scenes?

An `Act’ in the film? (which is composed of: a sequence of scenes)

Or… The whole film? (e.g. Casablanca)


A Holarchy of Film Story

`Memes, like genes, are selected against the background of other memes in the meme pool. The result is that gangs of mutually compatible memes – coadapted meme complexes or memeplexes – are found cohabiting in individual brains.

This is not because selection has chosen them as a group – but because each separate member of the group tends to be favoured when its environment happens to be dominated by the others.

An exactly similar point can be made about genetic selection. Every gene in a gene pool constitutes part of the environmental background against which the other genes are naturally selected, so it’s no wonder natural selection favours genes that `cooperate’ in building those highly integrated and unified machines called organisms…

By analogy with coadapted gene complexes, memes, selected against the background of each other, `cooperate’ in mutually supportive memeplexes – supportive within the memeplex but hostile to rival memeplexes.

Religions may be the most convincing examples of memeplexes but they are by no means the only ones.’

Dawkins in (Blackmore 1999: xiv-xv)

Film Genres have tropes (memes/memeplexes) – which likewise – are “gangs of mutually compatible memes – coadapted meme complexes or memeplexes….This is not because selection has chosen them as a group – but because each separate member of the group tends to be favoured when its environment happens to be dominated by the others.”

It is worth remembering that – the film industry – as a system – is a memeplex/holarchy.

And operates, due to the 3 laws of holarchies. (As does – a film story itself.)

Below the film screenwriters (at the `bottom’ of the holarchy below) are: the memes (ideas) they select from the meme pool, and then vary – and transmit (into their film screenplays).

Figure 1: A holarchy within the film domainAnalysis: JT Velikovsky

A holarchy within the film domain
Analysis: JT Velikovsky

At any rate, a film story is a meme.

And a holon/parton.

And a holarchy.

And a memeplex.

(Each of the memes within which, is: a holon/parton, and a holarchy.)

And the film story is ultimately the only reason a film succeeds – or fails – in finding an audience.

Also, I just want to say – I have massive issues with this paper, `Memetics: A Dangerous Idea’ by Luis Benitez-Bribiesca (2001).

McKee spots a film turd

Its criticisms of Memetics are deeply invalid.

And I quote: “memes are ethereal and cannot be defined.” Benitez-Bribiesca (2001)

They most certainly can be defined; I have just done that in this book chapter:

StoryAlity #132The holon/parton structure of the Meme, the unit of culture (and narreme, or unit of story)

Even worse: Benitez-Bribiesca also (mistakenly) asserts: “Memetics is a dangerous idea that poses a threat to the serious study of consciousness and cultural evolution”. (Benitez-Bribiesca 2001)

…It gets worse: Benitez-Bribiesca also calls memetics a `pseudo-science’. (Benitez-Bribiesca 2001)

– If all these claims by Benitez-Bribiesca are true, then: Can he please provide any empirical proof that Csikszentmihalyi’s systems model of creativity is wrong-? (Given that: Creativity is the engine that drives cultural evolution.)

I would love to see any effort in this direction, as: Csikszentmihalyi’s studies of creativity are based on empirical studies of thousands of creative individuals, and: over 30 years. (That is a lot of empirical evidence.)

Not only that – but we can understand that Creativity (and therefore: cultural production) is a system – either (1) from logic, or (2) from our own experience.

Either way – I assert that, we arrive at the same conclusion: memes and genes function exactly the same way.

The evolutionary algorithm (selection, variation, and transmission) works the exact same way for genes in biology – as it does for memes in culture.

Feature films provide empirical evidence of this fact.

(Where else does Benitez-Bribiesca think the ideas in films come from? i.e. – How do they get there? Did `God’ put them there-?!)

Benitez-Bribiesca goes on to say (note: completely erroneously) :

“Furthermore, the mechanism proposed for the copying and mutation of memes, as the basis of cultural evolution that memeticists contend is similar to genes, has serious drawbacks.

For evolution and selection to take place, genetic information has to be stored in a relatively stable molecule such as DNA in what Schrödinger referred as a “code-script”.

Without this structure, a mutation, which is nothing else but a change of code, could not take place and in the absence of a precise copying mechanism mutations cannot be selected.

Information in genes is encoded in digital form with four letters, but in memes messages are encoded in continuously varying analogous systems that might rapidly decay into noise as they are transmitted from individual to individual (Smith and Szathmary, 1995).”

(Benitez-Bribiesca, 2001)


Benitez-Bribiesca really needs to look again at the work of Csikszentmihalyi (e.g. Creativity, 1996, or in fact, anything he has published on Creativity, from from 1988 to 2006), or – if he doesn’t have time to read that (excellent) book – at the least, he really should read a few of my blog posts, such as: this one.

Benitez-Bribiesca digs himself even further into a very deep hole of explicit wrongness, when he says this:

“Proponents of the “memetic hypothesis” point out that memes mutate continuously from “brain to brain” and in a very short time.

How could this high mutation rate, lack of code script, and memetic instability account for the emergence and progressive evolution of the human mind and culture?

… Memetics is nothing more than a pseudoscientific dogma encased in itself.” 

(Benitez-Bribiesca, 2001)

Benitez-Bribiesca is completely missing the notion that: films are stored digitally.

All memes (idea) in the film are preserved pretty much for ever. (We don’t now even have the problem where celluloid film decays [actually burns/oxidizes] over time, as we can kine films – and we store them digitally, e.g. on discs, right?)

All we need is: a lot of copies of the same film to be seen by people – for the memes in the film to get into the heads of the audience, and – Creativity being what it is – the creative filmmakers (and, screenwriters etc) among them, will automatically soon start combining the ideas (the memes) with others – to create more film ideas…

The Feature Film Domain as a System

The Feature Film Domain as a System

This is exactly how it works. And – has done – for the past 100 years of film, and for the past 50,000 years of human creativity, since The Great Leap Forward (when we humans started making tools, and jewellery and later, invented painting – and writing – and filmmaking).

Benitez-Bribiesca is also missing the point that – written language is not exactly new, memes (ideas) were written down for a long, long time… it is not all just `word-of-mouth’. – This is actually the problem with why Religion is so viral as a meme; it has `Bibles’. People read and re-read that stuff (often, taking it literally, especially the `Creationism’ sections of Bibles… i.e. – ARRRGH!) 

Benitez-Bribiesca seems to think: human culture is still (and has always only been) only `the oral tradition’ or something..?!

Two words, Benitez-Bribiesca: Cultural Artifacts.

Marks on cave walls. Inscribed clay tablets. Books. Films. Recorded music.Paintings. (Sheesh.)

The world's first `Why Did The Chicken Cross The Nile?' joke. A: he didn't - he was totally in denial.(JT Velikovsky 2012)

The world’s first `Why Did The Chicken Cross The Nile?’ joke.        A: He didn’t – he was totally in denial. (JT Velikovsky 2012)

Think of how all this (i.e. all these cultural artifacts): might preserve some memes, fairly accurately. Even if, word-of-mouth, doesn’t

In fact – How has this `criticism’ of memetics by Benitez-Bribiesca (2001) ever been regarded seriously in any way..?!

– There are criticisms, and then – there are: valid criticisms. (This `criticism’ by Benitez-Bribiesca 2001 is not one of the latter.)

So – all I can do at this point, is suggest that Benitez-Bribiesca (and anyone who agrees with his crazy ideas) reads my blog-posts #44 – #49, here:

StoryAlity: An Index to this Blog – https://storyality.wordpress.com/an-index-to-this-blog/

On Cultural Evolution – and Memes

  1. StoryAlity #44 – Biological Evolution, Cultural Evolution, and Creativity: Film
  2. StoryAlity #45 – On Movie Memes and Memetics (and: How Memes Work)
  3. StoryAlity #45B – On Tracking Memes in The Meme Pool
  4. StoryAlity #46 – On Mayans, Memes, Creativity, Darwin and Dawkins
  5. StoryAlity #47 – Why are some Screenplays/Films more `viral’ Memes?

On Holons and Holarchies

  1. StoryAlity #48 – On Film Holons and Holarchies – and How Holarchies Work
  2. StoryAlity #49 – On Movie Screenplays, Viral Memes, and Cultural Evolution

So – anyway – I highly recommend The Meme Machine (Blackmore 1999) and The Selfish Gene (Dawkins 1976). I do greatly admire how Blackmore expands on the memetics ideas of Brodie, Lynch and Dennett.

The only major criticism I actually have of Blackmore’s book, is this:

The key point to remember about memes is this – ideas (memes) always have an emotional effect on the thinker. (i.e which includes the Audience… of any Story… be it on film, or otherwise.)

This is probably the most important thing for a screenwriter (of feature films) to remember. (And for memeticists to think about, when wondering: Why some memes are more viral.)

Words (and: therefore, concepts, images, e.g. in a film) have a massive emotional effect.

As a very simplified example:

Love, happy, discover, safety, comfort.

(Note exactly how you felt, emotionally, while reading these words.)

And now maybe try:

Murder, kill, fight, hate, destroy. (Ditto. Studies have shown that the human heart rate goes up, when we read the words: “murder” “kill”, “killer”, etc.)

So – the words that you choose to put in your screenplay (and – in the mouths of your film characters) have an undeniably powerful effect on the audience.

And – therefore – on whether your movie story goes viral.

– I won’t get into NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) here, but – the entire fields of both cognitive positive psychology and cognitive behavioural therapy are based on this premise – and it seems to work. (e.g., see: Feeling Good, by David D Burns, 1980)

And also – memes that are funny – spread further and faster. (maybe see: Harlem Shaking, for example.)

(I’m not saying the Harlem Shake is right... I’m… just sayin’)

Actually – I also first noticed the “just sayin” meme on an episode of NCIS: LA. Can’t remember which one. (Just sayin’.)

At any rate, I recommend reading this chapter (in contrast to Benitez-Bribiesca’s now-invalid criticisms…)

StoryAlity #132The holon/parton structure of the Meme, the unit of culture (and narreme, or unit of story)

…Thoughts? Comments?


JT Velikovsky

High-RoI Story/Screenplay/Movie and Transmedia Researcher

The above is (mostly) an adapted excerpt, from my doctoral thesis: “Communication, Creativity and Consilience in Cinema”. It is presented here for the benefit of fellow screenwriting, filmmaking and creativity researchers. For more, see https://aftrs.academia.edu/JTVelikovsky

JT Velikovsky is also a produced feature film screenwriter and million-selling transmedia writer-director-producer. He has been a professional story analyst for major film studios, film funding organizations, and for the national writer’s guild. For more see: http://on-writering.blogspot.com/



Benitez Bribiesca, L .(2001), ‘”Memetics: A Dangerous Idea“‘, Interciencia: Revista de Ciencia y Technologia de América (Venezuela: Asociación Interciencia), vol. 26, no. 1, pp. 29-31.

Blackmore, Susan J. (1999), The Meme Machine (Oxford: Oxford University Press).

Brockman, John (2010), This Will Change Everything: Ideas That Will Shape the Future (1st edn.; New York, NY: Harper Perennial) xxiii, 390 p.

Bulwer-Lytton, E. (1830) `Paul Clifford‘, Colburn & Bentley, London

Csikszentmihalyi, M (1996), Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention, 1st edn, HarperCollins, New York.

Koestler, A 1967, The Ghost In The Machine, Hutchinson, London.

Mast, Gerald, Cohen, Marshall, and Braudy, Leo (1992), Film Theory and Criticism: Introductory Readings (4th edn.; New York ; Oxford: Oxford University Press) xviii, 797 p.

Velikovsky, J. T. (2016). The Holon/Parton Theory of the Unit of Culture (or the Meme, and Narreme): In Science, Media, Entertainment and the Arts. In A. Connor & S. Marks (Eds.), Creative Technologies for Multidisciplinary Applications. New York: IGI Global.

5 thoughts on “StoryAlity #47B – More on Memes and Film (and: 3 solved problems in Memetics)

  1. How is meme related to theme? I still think Meme as a cultural unit of phenomon is unclear for us all. The word needs to be popularized and have a viable impact — cause and effect… not just cuteness factor Devo xo

  2. Pingback: StoryAlity #100 – The Holonic Structure of the Meme – the unit of culture | StoryAlity

  3. Pingback: StoryAlity #109 – Memetics and Film | StoryAlity

  4. Pingback: StoryAlity #115 – The “Less-Than-One-Percent” Problem in the Domain of Movies | StoryAlity

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