The Holon-Parton Structure of the Meme: A Structure for the Unit of Culture (and also – the Narreme, or `Unit of Narrative’, or `Unit of Story’)
by JT Velikovsky (2013, 2014, 2016)
This weblog post on Memes was named one of the `Best Memes of the Year, 2013′, at The Daily Meme. Which is perhaps somewhat ironic, as it’s solving the problem of: What is the meme, the unit of culture?
The following is a layperson (non-academic) variation of the academic paper:
Velikovsky, JT (2014), ‘Flow Theory, Evolution & Creativity: or, ‘Fun & Games”, from the International Interactive Entertainment 2014 (IE2014) Conference, Newcastle, Australia.
See also the academic version of this concept, at: IE2014 Conference Proceedings.
And for a long, detailed book chapter on it, see:
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.
The above chapter (2016) is also available free, here for academic purposes.
For an Encyclopedia chapter on it, see: StoryAlity #144 – The structure of the meme, the unit of culture (in: The Encyclopedia of Information Science & Technology, 2017)
My 2016 PhD thesis, out of which this research on memes (units of culture) emerged, is also linked online (as a free PDF) here: StoryAlity #135 – PhD Dissertation Addendum
The Holon-Parton Structure of the Meme – by JT Velikovsky (2013, 2016, 2017)
This paper proposes an answer to three questions, which have previously been seen as separate questions – but which have the same result, in that, stated as problems, they all have the same solution (or: answer).
These three key questions are:
Question 1: What is the structure of the Meme – the Unit of Culture ?
(The existence of `the unit of culture’, or, `unit of cultural transmission’ was first proposed in `The Selfish Gene‘, Dawkins 1976.)
Question 2: What is the Narreme, or the `unit of story’ (or: unit of narrative) ?
(The `narreme’ or `unit of story’ was first formally proposed by Barthes 1966; and also Dorfman 1969, but these extant 1960s definitions are vague, also the universal structure of the narreme is not indicated by either author. Subsequent authors include those in: CMN 2012).
And the third question:
i.e., Why are some movies – and books, ideas, songs, jokes, and philosophies – more (or, indeed – less) popular?
In Systems Theory, there is a phenomenon known as multi-objective problem solving. This approach is adopted below so as to provide a solution to the three problems above at once.
Preamble: Culture, and the `4-c’ model of Creativity
The three questions above may be better approached if we first examine the `4-c’ Model of Creativity in culture:
Some `units of culture’ – i.e. ideas, processes and products – empirically spread further in culture; some become canonical units of culture (i.e., canonical: novels, movies, songs, philosophy texts, scientific theories – and so on).
I suggest that novels, songs, poems, movies (i.e.: feature films) and all the above units are all memes (units of culture), and – that memes are holon-partons.
I therefore wish to suggest:
(1) A structure for the Meme – the `unit of culture’; (which, I suggest is also – the structure of the `narreme’ or unit of story / narrative);
(2) The structure of Culture itself, as a holon-parton;
(3) The laws and mechanism of Bio-Cultural Evolution.
These structures, laws – and this mechanism – have novel features which are of considerable cultural and biological interest.
What follows is therefore a proposed Grand Theory of Culture, which formally identifies `the unit of [bio]-culture‘ (aka the meme), and also, delineates the structure of the Narreme, or, `the unit of story’.
Firstly some background and context to the problem:
…What is `Culture’?
In 1952, in Culture: A Critical Review of Concepts and Definitions, Kroeber and Kluckhohn located and published over 150 (varying) meanings and definitions of `culture’ (see; Kroeber & Kluckhohn 1952).
However while there is much overlap, there is also considerable variation in (and disagreement among) these Definitions; also they use words (rather than diagrams) to identify: the definition of culture.
(Notably, Sir Karl Popper  repeatedly emphasized that definitions are not important, but, rather that solving problems is: the key aim of capital-S Science.)
Around 40 years after Kroeber and Kluckhohn, in 2006, in Redefining Culture: Perspectives Across the Disciplines, Baldwin collated over 300 different definitions of culture (see: Baldwin 2006).
In 2007, in Muses and Measures: Empirical Research Methods for the Humanities, Van Peer et al, rightly concluded:
`As far as can be seen, there is no consensus on the notion of culture anywhere to be found.’
The definition of `culture’ has therefore been a hard problem for many decades – and in fact, for many millennia, as a consensus was not able to be reached among disciplines.
However, Csikszentmihalyi in Creativity (1996) defines Culture (and, Domains in Culture) as follows:
A domain `consists of a set of symbolic rules and procedures…
Domains are in turn nested in what we usually call culture, or the symbolic knowledge shared by a particular society or by humanity as a whole.’
While it may be problematic to universally define `culture’, we can suggest they are: ideas, processes and products (as per Csikszentmihalyi 1996).
I also like to view it in terms of Popper’s “3 Worlds” model (1978):
…Examples of culture would thus include:
(1) ideas: for say, scientific theories (e.g.: How to split the atom), or cars, or movies, songs, philosophies, religions; also
(2) processes (e.g. behaviours, such as gestures, the process of having a conversation; the process of making a car [and all the sub-processes involved]); and
(3) products (e.g. a car, a word, a language, a song, a novel, a movie, an atomic bomb, and so on).
But what precisely, therefore, is the `unit’, in culture?
Memes – Units of Culture
`The new soup is the soup of human culture. We need a name for the new replicator, a noun that conveys the idea of a unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation… Examples of memes are tunes, ideas, catch-phrases, clothes fashions, ways of making pots or of building arches.’
(Dawkins , 2006, p. 196 – bold emphasis mine).
`The unit of culture’ – or, the meme – has therefore been proposed by (Dawkins 1976, 1982, 2006); also developed, in (Hofstadter 1983, 1985), discussed and debated in the Journal of Memetics from 1997-2005, and also, among many other publications, in (Dennett 1995), (Blackmore 1999; 2007), (Aunger 2002), (Distin 2005), (Saad 2012); and criticized (Benitez-Bribiesca 2001), (Pinker 2009) etc. in the emerging and evolving domain of Memetics.
(I note also that Tyler has also compiled an online Bibliography of Memetics references, which, in my view, can be a terrifically-useful online resource, for anyone looking at: Memes/Cultural Evolution)! [Nice work, Tim!]
The Domain of Memetics
Notably however, the domain (or, discipline) of Memetics has been stalled, most probably due to one major, singular, problem in the domain of Memetics – primarily, that: the structure of the unit of culture has not yet been `discovered’, or scientifically and empirically, defined, and identified.
Thus Memetics (or, the study of [bio]-Culture) has been awaiting its `Watson and Crick (1953)’ moment, when the structure of DNA (in the domain of Biology) was correctly identified (and for which, I see Watson & Crick were also subsequently awarded the Nobel Prize. Interesting…).
In a 2009 Harvard lecture, the eminent evolutionary psychologist and linguist Professor Steven Pinker also (quite rightly! well, just in my view, anyway?) stated:
`…just empirically, the idea of memetics, of a science of cultural change based on a close analogy with natural selection, it is just a fact: it’s never taken off. It’s thirty-five years old almost at this point. Every five years a paper appears that heralds the final development that we have all been waiting for – of a science of memetics – and nothing ever happens.’
With the above `problem-situation’ in mind – this thesis therefore asserts that:
The structure of the Meme – the Unit of Culture – is the holon-parton.
The Meme – the `unit of culture’ – as: the holon-parton.
The structure of the meme (the unit of culture/the unit of selection, in culture) is: the holon-parton.
Please note that this holon-parton structure (see Figure 2, above) is fractal:
…it contains copies of its own structure, within itself – or – displays structural self-similarity, on smaller and smaller scales. (…For more on all that, see also, Turner 1999).
Or see the great documentary by the great Arthur C Clarke: The Colors of Infinity (1995).
Or see this diagram:
Please note also, that the number of holon-partons within each holon-parton can vary.
It is certainly not always: just two parts.
Hey I like designing t-shirts.
Do you like designing t-shirts? Or even V-shirts?
Here’s some of my V-shirt designs. At this blog post, but I must warn you – it contains some DANGEROUS MEMES, I mean dangerous IDEAS…
Hey and that reminds me of the time I went to The Festival of Dangerous Ideas in Adeliade with one of my girlfriends (Cint) and saw Eva Cox and Naomi Klien speak (an d hung out with Bob Ellis, he always called me “Digger”… we used to move in the same circles a bit, ole Bob & me 🙂 (May he Requiescat in Peace)
Anyway, where was I?
Just to travel back in time (again, fractally) – I was saying:
“the number of holon-partons within each holon-parton can vary.
It is certainly not always: just two parts.”
Just as – not every atom only has one proton, neutron and electron.
(See: The Periodic Table of the Elements… And whatnot.)
However- in the same way that each atom is still: an atom – and in fact, every atom is a holon-parton – holon-partons may have multiple components…
Koestler’s (1967) diagram of a holon(-parton) has 3 holon(-parton)s in each.
The number of holon(-parton)s in different objects (& systems) may vary, before they become:
a new, emergent whole
at a new level of
Thus also – all new ideas (when their components are analyzed) can be viewed as: a combination of two old ideas.
(I like designing memes for V-shirts. Do you?)
This notion itself actually goes back (at least) to Gottfreid Liebniz, in 1666.
(Liebniz was one of the inventors of calculus, along with Newton; for more on `scientific multiple discoveries’ – such as Darwin and Wallace with the theory of Evolution – see the great DK Simonton’s (2004): Creativity In Science).
Liebniz’ 1666 thesis was on the idea of `an alphabet of ideas’, whereby, any two ideas could be combined, to give all other possible ideas.
The great Arthur Koestler (The Act of Creation, 1964, p.35) also explored the same idea, with what he called bisociation (1964, p.35), and the great Margaret Boden (2004, pp. 3-10) called this `combinatorial creativity’.
Namely: combine two old ideas, to get a new idea…
Notably – this process of creativity certainly does not always work in every case; since, as Csikszentmihalyi (1988, 1996, 2014) notes, the Field (or, the Audience for that Domain in Culture) then also has to judge the new idea as `working’ – i.e. as solving problems – or, not…
If the new idea (or process or Product) it is widely seen as `new and useful’ (or, novel and appropriate) it is judged `creative’.
(See also: `The Standard Definition of Creativity’, Gorny 2007, Runco & Jaeger 2012).
I like the bipartite and the tripartite standard definitions of creativity.
This process, of the selection of `good’ (and conversely, the de-selection of `bad’) ideas (or, memes) is also known as Evolutionary Epistemology (see: Campbell 1974, Popper 1963), or, also known as the DPFi / DIFi systems model of Creativity (Csikszentmihalyi 1988, 1996, 2014).
With all this in mind, the diagram below presents a `top view’ and a `side view’ of the holon-parton..
I suggest that memes – i.e. ideas processes and products – are structured in this way, due to the 3 laws of holarchies (Koestler 1964, 1967, 1978), to which we will soon turn.
On holons (and thus: holon-partons)
In The Ghost in the Machine (Koestler 1967), Koestler coined the term holon:
‘A holon … is something that is simultaneously a whole and a part’
And – in the book Photon Hadron Interactions (Feynman 1972) Nobel prize-winning physicist Richard P Feynman discusses partons (1972, pp. 160, 163, 254, et al).
But a better ref is probably Don’t You Have Time To Think? (Feynman 1975/2005, p. 278).
I therefore contend that this `partons’ concept of Feynman’s is the same concept as Koestler’s `holons’; I have combined both terms, to produce the term `holon-parton’, as I believe it reflects more accurately the concept of physical objects – or, artifacts (e.g., universes, galaxies, solar systems, planets, atoms, hadrons, quarks, animals, plants, cells) and also cultural objects or artifacts (memes: ideas, processes, products) that are simultaneously a part, and also a whole, at the same time.
It also may even help to unite the Sciences, Social Sciences and Arts/Humanities, somehow. (See: the great Ed Wilson’s Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge, 1998)…
As Funch (1995) also notes, holons in holarchies:
(1) compete [and I contend, also co-operate, and also engage in co-opetition] with other holons (holon-partons) on the same level;
(2) integrate into holons (or, holon-partons) in the level above them; and
(3) command [and control] holons (or, holon-partons) below them. (see also: Koestler 1978, Funch 1995)
These laws of holon-parton interactions in holon-parton hierarchies (or, what may be called: `holarchy-partarchies’) are also laws of Evolution, Systems, and Cybernetics.
Systems are also holon-partons.
A `side view’ of the holon-parton of: The Biosphere is presented below.
(See also: Systems Philosophy, Laszlo 1972, and Living Systems, JG Miller, 1978).
Obviously there are more than two ecosystems in the Biosphere (the above diagram is only conceptual, not literal – as a literal diagram gets too detailed too quickly to be useful), although just hypothetically, we might perhaps decide to split the Biosphere into two: `land’ (continents) and water (ocean).
In fact – one view is that there are 8 biomes that make up the biosphere: Africa, Australia, Arctic, Antarctic, North America, South America, Asia, and Russia. Or viewed another way (and, in no particular order): temperate rain forest, the grassland, the desert, the tropical rain forest, tundra, taiga, temperate deciduous forest, and scrub forest ecosystems. (Again, for more see Living Systems, JG Miller, 1978; see also The Systems View of Life, Capra & Luisi 2014)
Below is an example `top view’ (with transparency) of a holon-parton (or, a holarchy-partarchy).
(Actually this is a `transverse cross-section’ of a holon-parton / holarchy-partarchy).
Example of another holarchy-partarchy:
These holon-partons comprise systems, as per systems theory (Von Bertalanffy 1950; Koestler 1964, 1967, 1978; Laszlo 1972, Csikszentmihalyi 1988; Laszlo & Krippner 1998; Sadowski 1999).
As Brett Cooke also notes in Biopoetics: Evolutionary Explorations in the Arts (1999):
`Sociobiology and with it biopoetics not only promises to contribute to the cross-matrix sciences concerned with our behaviour, it is best equipped to account for the structure of the matrix itself, thanks to the particulate manner of genetic and, possibly as well, memetic transmission.’
This thesis asserts that all memes (cultural: ideas, processes and products) – which are holon-partons – are also ideas – when abstracted in the human mind.
The laws of holarchies – The laws of evolution – The laws of systems
Memes and memeplexes (holon-partons / holarchies-partarchies) function via the 3 Laws of Holarchy-Partarchies. See also: (Funch 1995).
The following is an (adapted) extract from Funch’s online essay “Holarchies” (Funch 1995), which paraphrases Koestler (1964, 1967) on holons and holarchies: (or holon-partons; or holarchy-partarchies).
I have changed the term `holon’ to `holon-parton’.
- “A holon-parton is a node in a holarchy-partarchy.
-  A holon-parton looks up for what it needs to integrate with.
-  It looks sideways for what it needs to compete and/or co-operate with.
-  It looks down for what it wants to command and control.
- Each holon-parton cannot be fully explained by or predicted by a study of its parts. It is something more. A holon-parton is also part of something bigger that it is being affected by. But at the same time it has a high degree of autonomy, it has a life of its own.” (Funch 1995)
Given these three laws (of evolution) above, clearly there are also forces in operation, in holarchy-partarchies.
All cultural evolution (science, the arts, language; indeed, all creativity) works via: selection, variation (e.g.: combine two memes; i.e.: Koestler’s `bisociation’), and transmission-with-heredity. See also: (Csikszentmihalyi & Wolfe 2000).
Renowned creativity researcher Csikszentmihalyi mentions memes 7 times in Creativity (1996), as does EO Wilson in Consilience (1998).
Memes (units of culture, or holon-partons) are at the centre of the systems model of creativity (Csikszentmihalyi 1988, 1996, 2000, 2006, 2014):
`An outline of the Systems Model – This environment has two salient aspects: a cultural, or symbolic, aspect which here is called the domain; and a social aspect called the field.
Creativity is a process that can be observed only at the intersection where individuals, domains, and fields interact [see Figure].
For creativity to occur, a set of rules and practices must be transmitted from the domain to the individual.
The individual must then produce a novel variation in the content of the domain. The variation then must be selected by the field for inclusion in the domain.
Creativity occurs when a person makes a change in a domain, a change that will be transmitted through time.
(Csikszentmihalyi in Henry, 2006, p. 3)
The Field – `The field… includes all individuals who act as gatekeepers to the domain.’ (Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly 1996, p. 28) Csikszentmihalyi also clarifies:
`The role of the Field – What does it take for a new meme to be accepted into the domain?
Who has the right to decide whether a new meme is actually an improvement, or simply a mistake to be discarded? In the systems model, the gatekeepers who have the right to add memes to a domain are collectively designated the field. Some domains may have a very small field consisting of a dozen or so scholars across the world. Others, such as electronic engineering, may include many thousands of specialists whose opinion would count in recognizing a viable novelty.
For mass-market products such as soft drinks or motion pictures, the field might include not only the small coterie of product developers and critics, but the public at large. For instance, if New Coke is not a part of the culture, it is because although it passed the evaluation of the small field of beverage specialists, it failed to pass the test of public taste.
Csikszentmihalyi updated the model in 2014, (in the Wiley Handbook of Genius, edited by DK Simonton, 2014). It is now called the Domain, Person, Field interaction systems model of creativity:
Given his formulation of the mechanics of creativity (the Domain, Individual, Field interaction systems model, or Domain, Person Field interaction in 2014), Csikszentmihalyi can be viewed as “the Charles Darwin of creativity”: his model explains its mechanism – via the systems model of creativity. DK Simonton also uses the DIFi (or, DPFi) systems model extensively, including in his analysis of scientific creativity (Simonton 2004), and also in film (Simonton 2011).
All cultural artifacts, and all domains in culture – as ideas – are also memeplexes in human minds (e.g.: languages, scientific theories, religions, novels, films, songs, etc.).
Please note – Ideas (memes/holon-partons) are discrete packets of information. Just as genes – in DNA – are `packets of information’ (i.e.: DNA is a product, and also contains within it: ideas, and processes, i.e. Instructions on how to build amino acids, and instructions for building an organism/phenotype). Genes are self-copying, via DNA in biology, and memes are also self-copying – via minds – in Culture.
I contend that genes (in DNA molecules) are systems; they are holon-partons – and likewise, memes (ideas, processes, products) are also holon-partons.
So too, any meme is also `packets of information’ – ideas – and a `whole packet of ideas’ is a holon-parton. Ideas are holon-partons, and are arranged in holarchy-partarchies, or `memeplexes’ (holarchy-partarchies of memes / ideas).
This definition (or: `discovery’) of the structure of the units of culture (memes as holon-partons) would encompass many prior suggestions for the definition/structure of the meme, including (but not limited to) the various categories of: tropes, motifs, patterns, themes, configurations, complexes, ideas, beliefs, values, rules, principles, symbols, and concepts (see: (Chick 1999)).
Though each of these individual categories listed above, when compared literally to each other are not exactly all the same thing (that would be a conflation, and therefore, a category error), each of those things is, indeed, a meme, and a memeplex; a holon-parton and a holarchy-partarchy.
A question of ontology: Are memes real?
Memes – whether ideas, processes, products – when they become ideas in a mind – are abstractions in the human mind, but nonetheless are indeed real. An idea in a brain is: the real firing of real neurones, which can be filmed (Muto et al. 2013) . See also: `Can We Measure Memes?’ McNamara 2011.
If we view memes as ideas, processes, products: ideas are indeed very real. This is to say that cultural (social, and material production) processes are real. Cultural artifacts (i.e., products) are also real. Language (and words) for example, are: a product.
- Novels: ideas > letters > words > sentences> paragraphs> chapters> novel
- Films: ideas> action/dialog lines>shots> scenes> sequences> acts> film
- Science: ideas> facts>laws> phenomena>theories>meta-theory>paradigm
- Religion: ideas>facts>interpretations/scriptures>believers>spiritual leaders (human) >messiah (human/metaphysical)> deity (metaphysical) >faith> religion
- Poems: ideas>letters>words>stanzas>poem
- Music – Popular songs (lyrics): ideas>letters>words> verse / chorus / bridge > song
- Spoken Languages – phonemes > morphemes > words > sentences, etc,
- Technology: fuel, oil, water, air, materials (metal, rubber, vinyl, etc) > car parts > car > a city (and, a state, and, a nation) full of cars.
- And so forth.
it is noted also that Koestler (1978) wrote, regarding language:
`Let us note that nowhere on the upward or downward journey through the linguistic holarchy do we encounter hard and indivisible `atoms of language’. Each of the entities on various levels – phonemes, morphemes, words, sentences – is a whole relative to its parts, and a subordinate part of a more complex entity on the next higher level. For instance, a morpheme like /men/ is a linguistic holon which can be put to many uses – menace, mental, mention, mentor, etc; and which particular meaning it will assume depends on the context on the next higher level.’
(Koestler  1979, pp. 35-6 – bold emphasis mine)
Examples of Narremes – or memes – or, `units of story / narrative’ are illustrated below:
One fundamental defect of the present view (of memes, or units of culture) is that: memes, narremes or units of culture have previously been viewed as ‘indivisible atoms’ of story.
The problem is that atoms themselves in the domain of physics are not indivisible, they too are holon-partons.
A film (or a novel) in culture has the same holon-parton structural characteristics of an organism in biology, in that, an organism can be examined on various levels – or scales – infinitely downwards (in smaller units) and infinitely upwards (in bigger units).
See this post for a brief overview of this view which clarifies `units’ of selection – in both biology, and culture, as holon-partons.
A view of Narremes (units of story), over Time – incorporating the holistic systems view: the Physical, Chemical, Biological, Psychological, Sociological and Cultural – and the Cosmic (e.g. say, Earth. and the solar system) – domains:
In this view, as events unfold in a story (or, narrative) over time, (e.g., Event 1 – A character enters a room, Event 2 – They close the door behind them, and Event 3 – They turn to face another character), all these systems are also concurrently evolving, over time. The entire unit (or holon-parton) must be considered in each event, in time.
An overview of the Structure of a Meme – or, a Unit of Culture – or, a Narrame (in movies, or film):
Creative Fields, and Domains (such as the film industry) are also holarchy-partarchies:
- Ideas > Screenplay > Screenwriter > Producer > Financier > Film > Domain of Film > Culture
As biology is ordered in holon-partons (and: holarchy-partarchies) (i.e. hadron > atom > molecule > cell > organelle > organ > organism > population > community > biosphere > heliosphere ) so too, society (human > family > community > state > nation > humanity) and domains in culture (see the examples above: novels, music, film, science, the arts, etc) can be seen to be organized in emergent structures that are holarchies/partarchies.
Examples – note that, each level of the holarchy-partarchy below is: a meme; a holon-parton. (It is a whole, and also a part.)
Importantly, there is no (human) Culture without (human) Biology.
In the diagram above, Directed Evolution refers to memetic enginering: or meme-gene directed co-evolution.
In cultural creativity (and, cultural evolution), given the DIFi (or DPFi) systems model of creativity (Csikszentmihalyi, M 1988, 2014), (Sawyer 2012), (Simonton 2004), and the same phenomenon, evolutionary epistemology (Popper, DT Campbell etc) selection takes place at the level of the meme (the holon-parton).
Memes (ideas, processes, products) compete in the human mind, and are selected, varied and transmitted-with-heredity.
Transmission is via word-of-mouth, and/or via symbolic systems (e.g. books, movies, songs, other media, electronic communications, etc.). Transmission means that the meme is copied (even if with mistakes; this is also often the `variation’ part) into more human minds. (See Dennett 1995 for more, i.e. Darwin’s Dangerous Idea).
Over time, memes can evolve (mutate), and hybrid memes also emerge (e.g. portmanteau words such as: guesstimate, and `Brangelina’ and holon-parton; and, of course films (movies) that are the result of a screenwriter combining two prior film story ideas/memeplexes; the film ALIEN (1979) can be seen as JAWS (1975) meets 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), for example.).
How Does Cultural Evolution Work?
The systems model of creativity (Csikszentmihalyi 1988-2014) – and the same phenomenon, evolutionary epistemology (Popper 1963, 1999; DT Campbell 1960, 1965, 1973; DK Simonton 1984, 2010, 2012) – when synthesized – explains the mechanism of Cultural Evolution.
Notably this Evolution is biocultural, or: meme-gene co-evolution, as both occur at once: it is a confluence model.
For the evolutionary spiral of memes in domains over time, see Koestler (1967) on the evolution of ideas, a la Garstang 1922 (Koestler 1967 , pp. 168-9).
In a 1922 journal article, evolutionary biologist Walter Garstang expressed how the biological evolution of a species proceeds, until it reaches a (literal) `dead end’, and then an earlier incarnation (that still exists) may split off – and may succeed in adapting and thriving for some time. In The Ghost In The Machine (1967), Arthur Koestler also applied this model to the evolution of ideas (i.e.: memes):
To clarify, in Garstang’s model, the evolution of a species begins at Z (bottom of the diagram). As evolution progresses (`upwards’ in the diagram) it eventually meets `dead ends’ at the left side (the A’s) – and then, earlier, less `evolved / specialized’ species may branch off, towards the right side (the Z’s) and progress leftwards until they too reach `dead ends’ (meaning: they are not well adapted for survival in their environment, and can risk going extinct). Koestler explains how this mechanism also applies to ideas and culture, including scientific revolutions, but also literature and art:
`Garstang’s diagram could also represent a fundamental aspect of the evolution of ideas. The emergence of biological novelties and the creation of mental novelties are processes which show certain analogies.
It is of course a truism that in mental evolution social inheritance through tradition and written records replaces genetic inheritance.
But the analogy goes deeper: neither biological evolution nor mental progress follows a continuous line from A6 to A7. Neither of them is strictly cumulative in the sense of continuing to build where the last generation has left off. Both proceed in the zigzag fashion indicated in the diagram.
The revolutions in the history of science are successful escapes from blind alleys. The evolution of knowledge is continuous only during those periods of consolidation and elaboration which follow a major breakthrough.
Sooner or later, however, consolidation leads to increasing rigidity, orthodoxy, and so into the dead-end of overspecialisation – to the koala bear.
Eventually there is a crisis and a new `break-through’ out of the blind alley – followed by another period of consolidation, a new orthodoxy, and so the cycle starts again. But the new theoretical structure which emerges from the break-through is not built on top of the previous edifice; it branches out from the point where progress has gone wrong…
In the history of literature and art, the zigzag course is even more in evidence: Garstang’s diagram could have been designed to show how periods of cumulative progress within a given `school’ and technique end inevitably in stagnation, mannerism or decadence, until the crisis is resolved by a revolutionary shift in sensibility, emphasis, and style.’
What Koestler explains here can be seen to apply to: all memes, or units of culture – (i.e. all: ideas, processes, products).
(2) The evolution of styles, ideas, `movements’, fads, and `crazes’ in art, fashion and music (in fact, in all domains of Culture).
(3) The way in which the concepts/memes of consilience (Wilson 1998) and literary Darwinism (Carroll 1995) have reinvigorated the Arts and Humanities – in order to rescue it from a crisis of stagnation and irrelevance / blind alleys. (See: (Carroll 1995), (Boyd, Carroll & Gottschall 2010), (Carroll et al. 2012) (Gottschall 2008)).
Notably – literary Darwinism (see: Carroll 1995) is also the combination of two successful memes/holon-partons: literature, and Darwinism. This is, also, an example of Koestler’s explanation of `bisociation’ / combinatorial creativity / Sir Karl Popper’s scientific `problem-solving’.
(4) The evolution of Genres, Styles and Techniques in the domain of Filmmaking (which includes screenwriting / screen storytelling) – and also – in the cultural domains of novels, and songs, and poetry, painting, dance, cooking, etc. (i.e. in any creative domain).
As a side note – we are now arriving at the Theory (or: synthesis of theories) used in this StoryAlity Theory empirical analysis of the creative person, process and product in the top and bottom 20 RoI (return-on- investment) films.
This is a Grand Theory of Culture: namely, memes (or, units of culture) as holon-partons that function and evolve via the 3 Laws of holarchy-partarchies, or the Laws of Evolution, or the Laws of Systems.
The Top 20 RoI Movies in the StoryAlity Theory study are the top 20 most-viral feature films ever, when comparing: audience-reach to production budget.
Since these films are viral memes (as are, many of the ideas within the films), the Question is:
What exactly is a meme…? And – how do they work…?
(This paper, and post is: a proposed or suggested answer to those questions.)
Also just to clarify the notion of meme Transmission-with-heredity: When an idea (or meme) is selected, it is a memeplex/holarchy-partarchy: it contains other ideas/concepts within it (e.g. the idea/concept of `a car’ contains `within it’ the idea of wheels, and doors, engine/s, fuel, the idea of transport, etc.)
When the whole idea (meme, or holon-parton) moves from one human mind to another, many or all the smaller/component ideas (holon-partons), are also `inherited’.
Each mind of course has different associations (i.e. memories) in their own memeplex of the idea of `car’. Yet many – or possibly even all – the `component ideas’ are also inherited.
So – to recapitulate: I suggest
The structure of the Meme (the Unit of Culture / the unit of selection, in culture) is: the holon-parton.
If the structure of memes are thus identified in this way (as holon-partons, and as holarchy-partarchies; as memes/ memeplexes), it is, in theory (and ideally, also in practice) now possible to further develop a Science of Memetics, with:
2) Assumptions and Laws;
3) Assumptions about Initial Conditions;
4) Predictions; and
5) Observation and Experiment,
– As per `What Is This Thing Called Science?’ (Chalmers 2000) and see also Creativity In Science: Logic, Genius, Chance, Zeitgeist (Simonton 2004), Great Flicks: Scientific Studies of Cinematic Creativity and Aesthetics (DK Simonton 2011), The Screenplay Business (Bloore 2013) and The StoryAlity Theory Screenwriting Manual (Velikovsky 2013).
In this way, we might empirically measure – and, track – and intentionally engineer various viral memes (as holon-partons) in culture. We might thus more accurately track: When exactly they emerged; How viral they are (or, were); When they evolved into hybrid forms; and, thus – What makes a film/novel/song go viral in culture?, and so forth.
Notably – this thesis (i.e.: Memes as holon-partons) suggests that each Domain in Culture (e.g.: Film, Music, Novels, Poetry, Painting, Photography, Cooking, Dance, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Mathematics, Language, Science, etc) is an ecosystem, that operates under the 3 laws of holarchy-partarchies.
The mechanism of culture: the Selection, Variation and Transmission-with-heredity of memes
For example, The Film Field, and Domain –
In this view, all of culture is a holon-parton.
It is also: a holarchy-partarchy. It is also a meme. It is also a memeplex. (These are all the same conceptual entity.)
Starting from the `bottom level’ of holon-partons (i.e. memes) in the holarchy-partarchy (as pictured above):
(1) Ideas exist in the meme pool (i.e.: in Culture). They are in such things as: television programs, ideas presented on the news, in novels, in other films, in gossip (“word-of-mouth”), etc.
– We are all constantly `swimming’ in the meme pool, immersed in culture.
Whenever they write, Screenwriters select (whether consciously – or otherwise) some of these ideas/memes/holon-partons.
(2) Screenwriters select, vary (e.g. combine with other ideas) and then transmit these ideas (as: words) into their…
(3) Screenplays. A screenplay is also a meme. It is a holon-parton, and a holarchy-partarchy. It is also a memeplex. (These are all the same conceptual entity.)
(4) Screenwriters (as per, The 3 Laws of Holarchy-Partarchies) `command and control’ their own screenplays. They also seek to integrate with Producers, on the level of the holarchy-partarchy above them. (Note that, these are now social holon-partons, and not physical holon-partons. A screenplay is both a physical and conceptual holon-parton (aka Macdonald’s (2004) `screen idea’ ); a movie producer is also a physical holon-parton, but is also a social holon-parton.)
(5) Producers `command and control’ screenwriters (and indeed sometimes – the ideas, in the screenplay). Producers select, vary and transmit these screenplays `upwards’ – to Film Financiers (who are also a physical holon-parton and simultaneously, a social holon-parton).
(6) Producers must therefore integrate with Film Financiers to raise the budget (or production finance) for the film. Film Financiers select, vary and transmit film projects (memes: a film is a holon-parton and a meme) `upwards’ into culture in this diagram. (Of course this is also group creativity, but every movie costs money, and so – without financing of some kind – a film does not `happen’.)
(7) Produced films emerge from the system (as memes, memeplexes, and holon-partons), and out into the Field (to film audiences, critics, teachers, theorists, etc.)
(8) These films (memes, holon-partons) enter the Domain of Film, where the Field (audiences, critics, etc) `judge’ the film as either `creative’ (or, new and useful – or – `novel and appropriate’) – or: not. (This creativity can be measured in terms of: commercial and/or critical success, and various other categories of canon.) Films thus are selected by the Field – as a whole (as a holon-parton)- to enter the canon (or conversely, are `deselected’ and then they do not enter the canon of film).
(9) Various Domains – such as the Sciences and the Arts (including: music, and the visual and tactile arts, etc.) comprise…
(10) Culture. (i.e.: The `meme pool’.)
Given the systems model of creativity, (and evolutionary epistemology) this process can all be seen as a recursive and iterative loop, over time. (As, Culture/the meme pool is both at the `top’ and `bottom’ of the above holarchy-partachy: we have thus returned to `the source’). Namely, Ideas (or, Memes, Units of Culture, as holon-partons) are: selected from Culture – are then varied (by creative individuals and/or groups) – and then, may be transmitted-with-heredity, back into the Culture.
An example (i.e., the evolutionary algorithm – of selection, variation, and transmission-with-heredity) is where films (or, screen ideas) are pitched (by screenwriters, directors, producers, etc) as: Film `A’ meets Film `B’. (i.e., where the movie `Alien’ is `Jaws’ meets `2001′, say.)
A film – as with all culture – and all units of culture – is a holon-parton, as a meme.
The 3 Laws of Holarchy-Partarchies apply.
These are merely the Laws of Evolution: namely. (1) compete and co-operate `sideways’ (i.e. – with other holon-partons) on the same level; to integrate `upwards’ (into the larger holon-parton on the level above, of which it is a part); and (3) `command and control’ holon-partons on the level below, or `downwards’.
In this view, another way to analyze a film meme / holon-parton / unit of culture is also presented below.
Each of the holon-partons in a movie is a meme, and potentially, each meme can go viral. (e.g.: A line of dialog from a film can go viral in culture, such as: “Play it again, Sam.”, or “I’ll be back.”, or “The first rule of Fight Club is, you do not talk about Fight Club…” and so forth).
Given the structure of culture, we may also divide movies into their component parts, or, holon-partons, thus:
Also, a (fictional) Character (as – a concept/idea/meme) may also become a viral meme (or, holon-parton) in culture (e.g.: say, Ron Burgundy, Darth Vader, Harry Potter, etc.). Likewise, in the domain of Religion, the ideas of the characters of: Jesus, Mohammed and Buddha, are all (viral) memes.
A film may also be analyzed using a slightly different schema, though these are all still holon-partons (units of culture, and are structured according to the 3 Laws of Evolution, which are The 3 Laws of Holon-Partons).
The meme – the unit of culture – is the holon-parton
The structure of the meme (the unit of culture/the unit of selection) is: the holon-parton.
Given all of the above – for An Outline of a Science of Memetics, see the following post:
And – for more detailed information on memes / holon-partons, please see also, the following StoryAlity weblog posts:
On Cultural Evolution – and Memes
- StoryAlity #44 – Biological Evolution, Cultural Evolution, and Creativity: Film
- StoryAlity #45 – On Movie Memes and Memetics (and: How Memes Work)
- StoryAlity #45B – On Tracking Memes in The Meme Pool
- StoryAlity #46 – On Mayans, Memes, Creativity, Darwin and Dawkins
- StoryAlity #47 – Why are some Screenplays/Films more `viral’ Memes?
- StoryAlity #47B – More on Memes & Film (and: 3 solved problems in Memetics)
On Holon-Partons and Holarchies
- StoryAlity #48 – On Film Holons and Holarchies – and How Holarchies Work
- StoryAlity #49 – On Movie Screenplays, Viral Memes, and Cultural Evolution
See also: How parts make up wholes (Findlay & Thagard 2012)
On Cultural Evolution in Transmedia
For a more General Audience, see also:
On Memetics and Cultural Evolution:
- StoryAlity #130 – Why Some Things Are Popular (Velikovsky 2014)
And – specifically for Movie Screenwriters, Directors, Producers, Actors, etc:
The StoryAlity Screenwriting Manual (2013):
Alternately – you may perhaps even like to read the entire StoryAlity blog (around 100 x posts):
The StoryAlity weblog – Index: https://storyality.wordpress.com/an-index-to-this-blog/
– Comments always welcome.
High-RoI Story/Screenplay/Movie and Transmedia Researcher (& Evolutionary Systems Theorist)
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/
 and, appropriate. For standard definitions of creativity (such as `new and useful’, or `novel and appropriate’), besides (Gorny 2007), and (Kaufman and Beghetto 2009, 2013), see also: (Simonton 2013)
 Dr Susan Kerrigan has also further developed a model of the Systems Model of Creativity. See:
 FMRI footage of a zebrafish larva’s thought: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/01/130131144419.htm and http://www.cell.com/current-biology/abstract/S0960-9822(13)00002-X although notably Richard Feynman suspects everyone thinks (imagines/conceptualizes) differently: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lr8sVailoLw
Aunger, R 2002, The Electric Meme: a New Theory of How We Think, Free Press, New York.
Baldwin, JR 2006, Redefining Culture: Perspectives Across the Disciplines, LEA’s communication series, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Mahwah, N.J.
Barthes, R. 1966, `Introduction a l’analyse structurale ´des recits.´ Communications, 8(1):1–27.
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, SJ 1999, The Meme Machine, Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Bloore, P 2013, The Screenplay Business: Managing Creativity in the Film Industry, Routledge, London; New York.
Campbell, DT 1974, ‘Evolutionary Epistemology’, in PA Schlipp (ed.), The Philosophy of Karl Popper, La Salle, Illinois, vol. 1, pp. 413-59.
Capra, F & Luisi, PL 2014, The Systems View of Life: A Unifying Vision, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
Chalmers, AF 2000, What Is This Thing Called Science?, 3rd edn, Open University Press, Buckingham.
Cooke, B in (Eds) Cooke, B., & Turner, F. 1999, Biopoetics: Evolutionary Explorations in the Arts. Lexington, Ky.: ICUS.
Csikszentmihalyi, M 1988, ‘Society, Culture, and Person: A systems view of creativity’, in RJ Sternberg (ed.), The Nature of Creativity, Cambridge University Press, New York, pp. 325–39
Csikszentmihalyi, M & Wolfe, R 2000, ‘New Conceptions and Research Approaches to Creativity: Implications for a Systems Perspective of Creativity in Education’, in KA Heller, FJ Mönks, R Subotnik & RJ Sternberg (eds), International Handbook of Giftedness and Talent, 2nd ed. edn, Elsevier, Amsterdam; Oxford.
Csikszentmihalyi, M 2014, ‘The Systems Model of Creativity and Its Applications’, in DK Simonton (ed.), The Wiley Handbook of Genius, John Wiley & Sons Ltd., Chichester, West Sussex.
Dawkins, R 1976, The Selfish Gene, Oxford University Press, Oxford.
—— 1982, The Extended Phenotype: the Gene as the Unit of Selection, Freeman, Oxford Oxfordshire; San Francisco.
Dennett, DC 1995, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life, Simon & Schuster, New York.
Distin, K 2005, The Selfish Meme: a Critical Reassessment, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, U.K.; New York.
Dorfman, E, 1969. The Narreme in the Medieval Romance Epic: An Introduction to Narrative Structure. University of Toronto Press, Toronto.
Feynman, RP 1972, Photon-hadron Interactions, Frontiers in Physics, W. A. Benjamin, Reading, Mass.,.
Feynman, RP 2005, Don’t You Have Time To Think?, Allen Lane (Penguin), London.
Funch, F 1995, Holarchies, online essay. Funch, <http://www.worldtrans.org/essay/holarchies.html>.
Kaufman, JC & Beghetto, RA 2009, ‘Beyond big and little: The Four C Model of Creativity’, Review of General Psychology, vol. 13, pp. 1-12.
Kaufman, JC & Beghetto, RA 2013, ‘Do people recognize the four Cs? Examining layperson conceptions of creativity’, Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, vol. 7, no. 3, pp. 229–36.
Gontier, N 2006, ‘Introduction to Evolutionary Epistemology, Language and Culture’, in N Gontier, JPv Bendegam & D Aerts (eds), Evolutionary Epistemology, Language and Culture, Springer, Belgium, pp. 1-29.
Heylighen, Francis (many excellent and ground-breaking papers on memes, cybernetics and evolutionary epistemology, including: 1992, 1996, 1998, 1999, 2008) http://pespmc1.vub.ac.be/Papers/PapersFH2.html
Hofstadter, D 1985, Chapter 3, `On Viral Sentences and Self-Replicating Structures’, in Metamagical Themas, Basic Books, New York. (Chapter reprinted from the 1983 article in Scientific American).
Kaufman, JC & Beghetto, RA 2013, ‘Do people recognize the four Cs? Examining layperson conceptions of creativity’, Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, vol. 7, no. 3, pp. 229–36.
Koestler, A 1964, The Act of Creation, Hutchinson, London.
—— 1967, The Ghost In The Machine, Hutchinson, London.
—— 1989, The Ghost In The Machine, Arkana, London.
Lovelock, J 1995, Gaia: A New Look At Life On Earth, Oxford University Press, Oxford, Oxfordshire; New York.
McNamara, A 2011, ‘Can we measure memes?’, Frontiers in Evolutionary Neuroscience, vol. 3, no. 1. http://journal.frontiersin.org/Journal/10.3389/fnevo.2011.00001/abstract
Miller, JG 1978, Living Systems, McGraw-Hill, New York.
Pinker, S 2009, Post-lecture commentary on `Brains, Computers, and Minds’ with Professor Daniel Dennett, Harvard University, viewed 25th November 2013, <http://isites.harvard.edu/icb/icb.do?keyword=k69509&pageid=icb.page334500&pageContentId=icb.pagecontent698262&view=watch.do&viewParam_entry=32931&state=maximize#a_icb_pagecontent698262>.
Popper, KR 1963, Conjectures and Refutations: The Growth of Scientific Knowledge. (Essays and Lectures.), Routledge & Kegan Paul, London.
Runco, MA & Jaeger, GJ 2012, ‘The Standard Definition of Creativity’, Creativity Research Journal, vol. 24, no. 1, pp. 92-6.
Saad, G 2012, ‘Nothing in Popular Culture Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution’, Review of General Psychology, vol. 16, no. 2, pp. 109–20.
Sawyer, RK 2012, Explaining Creativity: The Science of Human Innovation, 2nd ed. edn, Oxford University Press, New York.
Simonton, DK 2004, Creativity in Science: Chance, Logic, Genius, and Zeitgeist, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge ; New York.
—— 2011, Great Flicks: Scientific Studies of Cinematic Creativity and Aesthetics, Oxford University Press, New York; Oxford.
—— 2013, ‘What is a creative idea? Little-c versus Big-C creativity’, in K Thomas & J Chan (eds), Handbook of Research on Creativity, Edward Elgar Publishing, Northampton, MA, pp. 69-83.
Simonton, DK 2010, ‘Creative thought as blind-variation and selective-retention: combinatorial models of exceptional creativity’, Physics of Life Reviews, vol. 7 (June), no. 2, pp. 156-79.
Simonton, DK 2012, ‘Fields, Domains, and Individuals (Chapter)’, in MD Mumford (ed.), Handbook of Organizational Creativity, Elsevier Science, Oxford, UK, pp. 67-86.
Velikovsky, JT 2013, Why Transmedia Is Destiny, StoryAlity weblog, WordPress, <https://storyality.wordpress.com/2013/02/12/storyality-64-Why-Transmedia-is-Destiny/>.
Velikovsky, J 2014, ‘Flow Theory, Evolution & Creativity: or, ‘Fun & Games”, in Interactive Entertainment 2014 (IE2014), Newcastle, Australia.
Velikovsky, JT 2014, Why Some Things Are Popular, (CPT, Sydney).
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‘. Chapter in A. Connor & S. Marks (Eds.), Creative Technologies for Multidisciplinary Applications. New York: IGI Global.
Velikovsky, J. T. (2017). `Chapter 405: The Holon/Parton Structure of the Meme, or, The Unit Of Culture’, in: The Encyclopedia of Information Science and Technology, Fourth Edition, M. Khosrow-Pour (Ed.) (pp. 4666-4678). New York: IGI Global.
P.S. – Some people have asked why `Creativity Guy’ is holding up those 3 intersecting rings:
For a more detailed discussion on the definition of creativity, see this excellent article by Prof DK Simonton:
What is a creative idea? Little-c versus Big-C Creativity (DK Simonton, 2013)
See also: Kaufman, JC & Beghetto, RA 2013, ‘Do people recognize the four Cs? Examining layperson conceptions of creativity’, Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, vol. 7, no. 3, pp. 229–36.
Some more books/articles I can highly recommend:
The Screenplay Business by Peter Bloore (2013)
Screenwriting Poetics and the Screen Idea by Ian W. Macdonald (2013)
And – for more on the Screenwriting Research Network, please see this post.
And see also – these excellent chapters:
Creativity As A System in Action – Phillip McIntyre
A systems view of film-making as a creative practice by Eva Novrup Redvall
And see also the book: The Systems View of Life (Capra & Luisi 2014)
Suggested Citation for this weblog post:
Velikovsky, JT (2013, 2014) `The Holon-Parton structure of the Meme: A Structure for the unit of Culture’, StoryAlity #100, StoryAlity weblog, Sydney Australia, WordPress. https://storyality.wordpress.com/
Published: 11th December 2013; revised 2014, 2015, 2016.
(1) 14th August 2014;
(2) 26th September 2014;
(3) 26th December 2014.
(4) TinyURL added 2015.
(5) New book chapter added 2016.
(6) New encyclopedia chapter added June 2017.