The holon/parton structure of the Meme, the unit of culture (and `narreme’, or the unit of story)

So 20 years ago, as an undergrad studying a Communication degree, I read this book:


Chapter 11, on `Memes, the new replicators‘ got me thinking…

In that (amazing) chapter, in The Selfish Gene, Dawkins (1976, 2006) writes:

`I think that a new kind of replicator has recently emerged on this very planet. It is staring us in the face. It is still in its infancy, still drifting clumsily about in its primeval soup, but already it is achieving evolutionary change at a rate that leaves the old gene panting far behind. 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. ‘Mimeme’ comes from a suitable
Greek root, but I want a monosyllable that sounds a bit like ‘gene’. I hope my classicist friends will forgive me if I abbreviate mimeme to meme. If it is any consolation, it could alternatively be thought of as being related to ‘memory’, or to the French word meme. It should be pronounced to rhyme with ‘cream’.

Examples of memes are tunes, ideas, catch-phrases, clothes fashions, ways of making pots or of building arches.

Just as genes propagate themselves in the gene pool by leaping from body to body via sperms or eggs, so memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain via a process which, in the broad sense, can be called imitation.

If a scientist hears, or reads about, a good idea, he passes it on to his colleagues and students. He mentions it in his articles and his lectures. If the idea catches on, it can be said to propagate itself, spreading from brain to brain. 

As my colleague N. K. Humphrey neatly summed up an earlier draft of this chapter:

‘… memes should be regarded as living structures, not just metaphorically but technically. When you plant a fertile meme in my mind you literally parasitize my brain, turning it into a vehicle for the meme’s propagation in just the way that a virus may parasitize the genetic mechanism of a host cell. And this isn’t just a way of talking—the meme for, say, “belief in life after death” is actually realized physically, millions of times over, as a structure in the nervous systems of individual men the world over.’ ‘ (Dawkins [1976], 2006, p. 192 – bold emphasis mine)

And so – that chapter (11, in Dawkins 1976) inspired me.

It also did not escape my notice that in the research study Creativity (1996), Csíkszentmihályi mentions memes (meaning: ideas, processes, products) 7 times. Memes are what creative people: create... (See also: What is creativity and How does it work?)

Creativity (Csikszentmihalyi 1996)

Creativity (Csikszentmihalyi 1996)

My thesis also owes a debt of gratitude to these books:

The Meme Machine cover.png

And of course:



Dan C. Dennett on `Dangerous Memes’ (TED 2002) 

And so, after 20 years of working as a cultural practitioner, and studying creativity, and studying evolutionary theory, while grappling with solving the question “What is the unit of culture?(applying the question of ‘What is the unit?’ in the same way that we now know what `the unit’ of DNA is – and how it works – thanks to say, Watson and Crick), during my PhD study, I finally published what I believe is the answer, in the chapter below.

It is a chapter in this book: Creative Technologies for Multidisciplinary Applications (2016).

CTfMDA book cover2016

The chapter is: 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.

Chapter Abstract

`A universal problem in the disciplines of communication, creativity, philosophy, biology, psychology, sociology, anthropology, archaeology, history, linguistics, information science, cultural studies, literature, media and other domains of knowledge in both the arts and sciences has been the definition of ‘culture’ (see Kroeber & Kluckhohn, 1952; Baldwin et al., 2006), including the specification of ‘the unit of culture’, and, mechanisms of culture.

This chapter proposes a theory of the unit of culture, or, the ‘meme’  (Dawkins, 1976; Dennett, 1995; Blackmore, 1999), a unit which is also the narreme (Barthes, 1966), or ‘unit of story’, or ‘unit of narrative’.

The holon/parton theory of the unit of culture (Velikovsky, 2014) is a consilient (Wilson, 1998) synthesis of (Koestler, 1964, 1967, 1978) and Feynman (1975, 2005) and also the Evolutionary Systems Theory model of creativity (Csikszentmihalyi, 1988-2014; Simonton, 1984-2014).

This theory of the unit of culture potentially has applications across all creative cultural domains and disciplines in the sciences, arts and communication media.’

(Velikovsky in Marks & Connor [eds] 2016, p. 208)

For academic purposes, the above chapter is also available to download, free, here.

See also Dan Dennett’s Memes 101 – How Cultural Evolution Works

For additional details, see also:

StoryAlity #100 – The Holon-Parton Structure of the Meme – the Unit of Culture (Velikovsky 2013, 2014, 2016)

StoryAlity #100AThe 3 Universal Laws of Holon/Partons (Velikovsky 2015)

StoryAlity #101 – A Science of Memetic Culturology (Velikovsky 2013)

See also: News.

– Comments and feedback, always welcome. Thanks for reading!


JT Velikovsky

High-RoI Story/Screenplay/Movie/Transmedia/Culture Researcher & Evolutionary Systems Theorist


The above book chapter (and, theory of the structure of bioculture) emerged from my doctoral research, in a PhD thesis titled Communication, Creativity and Consilience in Cinema.

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



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

Dawkins, R. ([1976] 2006). The Selfish Gene (30th anniversary ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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.


P.S. (22nd May 2016) – It has come to my attention (thank you, dear readers, for noticing!) are 3 x small typos in my book-chapter above. I will correct them soon. Mind you – I expect many readers may even miss them. (We shall see! 🙂

Also, Errata – for the chapter above: The missing book-title of the (Whewell 1840) reference was The Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences.

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