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

The 2016 discovery (explained below) is now also in an Encyclopedia (2017), here.

(*Update*: And, also in another Encyclopedia (2020), here.)

The Backstory: So, 24 years ago, in 1992 (2016-1992=24), as an undergrad, studying for a Communication degree at the Newcastle School of Creativity, I read this great book, below (just for pleasure, as, Evolution & Science & Technology has always fascinated me) :


And, Chapter 11, on `Memes, the new replicators‘ really struck a chord…

(as at the time, in my Comms degree, I was learning to create, a lot of different units of culture:

…screenplays, songs, plays, jokes… ideas, processes, products, etc.)

And in that (amazing) chapter, in The Selfish Gene, the great Richard Dawkins (1976, 2006, 30th Anniversary Ed) 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) really got me thinking…

…I also saw a great documentary on fractals that year (1992)… which also got me thinking.

In studying at film school in 1996, it also did not escape my notice that in the research study Creativity (1996), the great Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi mentions `memes’ (meaning: ideas, processes, products) 7 times. …7 times!

So: Memes (units of culture: ideas, processes, products) are, what creative people: er… create...!

(See also: What is creativity and How does it work?)

And, I came back to academia to do a PhD, after 20 years of working across the Creative Industries – and so, my 2016 PhD thesis also owes a debt of gratitude to, these great 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 of culture?’ in the same way that we now know what `the unit’ of DNA is – and how it works – thanks to say, Watson and Crick & Franklin), 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).

Creative Technologies for Multidisciplinary Applications (2016)

Creative Technologies for Multidisciplinary Applications (eds: Connor & Marks, 2016)

The book-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)

Turns out, it applies to all disciplines and domains in culture…


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

The_HOLON/parton_structure_of_the_unit_of_culture_- in_the book, CTfMDA_(Velikovsky_2016)

CTfMDA book cover2016

See also, Dan Dennett’s great online talk: Memes 101 – How Cultural Evolution Works

For additional details, see also, these posts on this PhD weblog:

StoryAlity #165 – Five (5) book-chapters (02016, 02017, 02018, 02019, 02020) on the HOLON/parton structure of the meme, the unit of culture & narreme, unit of story

StoryAlity #161Technology – MEMES – units of culture – in the Encyclopedia of Creativity  [3rd edn] (Velikovsky 02020)

StoryAlity #144 – The [HOLON/parton] structure of the meme, the unit of culture (in: The Encyclopedia of Information Science & Technology, 02017)

StoryAlity #100 – The Holon-Parton Structure of the Meme – the Unit of Culture (Velikovsky 02013, 02014, 02016)

StoryAlity #100AThe 3 Universal Laws of HOLON/partons (Velikovsky 02015)

StoryAlity #101 – A Science of Memetic Culturology (Velikovsky 02013)

StoryAlity #161 – Technology – MEMES – units of culture – Encyclopedia of Creativity  [3rd edn] (Velikovsky 02020)

See also: News.

– Comments and feedback, always welcome.

& Thanks for reading!


Dr J T Velikovsky

Evolutionary Culturologist

& High-R.o.I. Story/Screenplay/Movie/Transmedia/Culture Researcherhttp://on-writering.blogspot.com/

& Evolutionary Systems Theorist http://aftrs.academia.edu/JTVelikovsky 

& Associate Editor, International Journal of Art, Culture and Design Technologies (IJACDT)
Member, AppEEL: https://sites.google.com/view/appeel/people
ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-6741-066X
Twitter: @joeteevee

IMDb: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm2853350/
YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/joeteevee

The above book chapter (and, scientific theory of the Structure of units of bio-culture and culture) emerged from my doctoral research, in a PhD thesis titled Communication, Creativity and Consilience in Cinema (2016).

JT Velikovsky is also a produced feature film screenwriter & 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.



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). `Communication, Creativity & Consilience in Cinema: A comparative study of the top 20 Return-on-Investment (RoI) Movies and the Doxa of Screenwriting’, PhD Dissertation, The University of Newcastle. Newcastle, Australia. Free PDF online: http://hdl.handle.net/1959.13/1324018

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 M. Khosrow-Pour (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Information Science and Technology, Fourth Edition (pp. 4666-4678). New York: IGI Global.

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