Culturology – and, the CES (Cultural Evolution Society) 

Very exciting times, in 2017-!

So – as of 2015, there is this (new!) Society for the Study of Cultural Evolution:

It’s February 2017, and I just joined.

Why didn’t I join the CES earlier? Mainly because I was super-busy completing my PhD. The PhD was awarded in December, 2016. (If of interest, you can download and read the PhD thesis, here.)

That PhD uses Complexity Theory, Systems Theory, and Evolutionary Theory (in short, Evolutionary Systems Theory, or, EST) to understand:

Why some units of culture – i.e. some memes – are popular, and others are not.

See also this great article: The Complexity of Cultural Evolution (Brewer 2017)


Complexity of Cultural Evolution -Brwwer fractal image

The Complexity of Cultural Evolution (Brewer 2017, on Medium)


So, as a PhD study, it is focussed on Movies, Transmedia and Communication.

But, it applies to everything in culture. And I do mean: everything. Seriously.

Included in the Appendix of the PhD is this book-chapter I also published in 2016, which identifies the structure of the meme, the unit of culture (2016).

To understand why some units of culture go `viral’ (i.e., become popular) it is useful to understand, the structure of all units of culture (i.e. all memes).

So – that’s what that book chapter is about. (As mentioned above, it is free to download that original chapter, here.)

Also a shorter version of that same book-chapter (with my discovery in it, namely the structure of the unit of culture) was republished in the Encyclopedia of Information Science and Technology (in July 2017.) See: NEWS for details.

See also: The discovery of the structure of the unit of culture (2017)

And so – Joe Brewer and the team are doing a sensational job, at the CES

Here’s just one outcome, so far:

`What Are the Grand Challenges for Cultural Evolution? A Research Report for the Society for the Study of Cultural Evolution’ Prepared by Joe Brewer.


See also the blog page on What Are The Grand Challenges For Cultural Evolution?

And, excerpted from the Slideshare page:

`What You Will Find In This Report

An ad hoc steering committee initiated steps to form the Society for the Study of Cultural Evolution (SSCE) in the summer of 2015. As part of the inaugural proceedings, a survey of SSCE members was conducted to identify a suite of “grand challenge” problems of broad scientific and social interest that can drive cutting-edge research and practice within the field of cultural evolutionary studies for future decades. Over the course of several weeks, a total of 236 SSCE members from around the world completed an online questionnaire in which they could nominate up to ten such challenges, providing a brief description and rationale for each. Additionally, SSCE members were also asked to indicate their level of understanding and mode of training in core domains (cultural studies and evolutionary theory), how they see their current work fitting into the wider world of cultural evolutionary studies, and how they see themselves contributing to the grand challenges facing the society. The responses to the initial grand challenges survey are summarized below.

Qualitative Assessment — Close-Text Semantic Analysis of Survey Responses

As noted above, we received 236 completed surveys. Respondents could nominate more than one grand challenge, so we received a total of 435 Grand Challenge Ideas.’

(Brewer, Slideshare 2017, online, bold emphasis mine)

And – more, About Joe Brewer:

`Joe Brewer is a complexity researcher and evangelist for the field of culture design. He is co-founder and editor for Evonomics magazine, research directory for TheRules.org, and coordinator for the newly forming Cultural Evolution Society. He lives in Seattle and travels the world helping humanity make the transition to sustainability.’

 New Metrics 2016

And, I was very impressed by Joe’s article on The Evolution Institute‘s weblog: A Forty Year Update on Meme Theory (Brewer 2016).


As a way of continuing that discussion on Cultural Evolution (and: memes, or, units of culture) – here are some excerpts from that excellent weblog article on memes (Brewer 2016), with my own comments/replies inserted below.

Brewer (2016) notes:

`Forty years ago, the notion that cultural change can be understood as a system of inheritance caught the popular imagination. The concept of “memes” as cultural units analogous to genes was popularized in the writings of Richard Dawkins—creating a great deal of controversy similar to what arose around E.O. Wilson’s book Sociobiology, published in the same year as Dawkin’s influential work on this subject.

Richard Dawkins really stirred things up with his best-selling book in 1976, The Selfish Gene. He did this in two ways: (1) with his story about genetic “selfishness” that gave license to those who wanted to be literal about it and say evolution is all about self-interest, greed, and otherwise selfish behavior; and (2) by introducing the concept of “memes” as cultural units of heredity that play a functional role similar to genes in biological reproduction for the transmission of cultural information.’

(Brewer 2016, online).

This of course (the above two opening paragraphs of Brewer, 2016) is an excellent background to “the problem”…!

And after 40 years, as noted above – a key problem in the domain of Memetics (and thus: in Cultural Evolution, or what I call Culturology) needs solving.

And the key problem – for 40 years now (1976-2017) – has been this:

Since Dawkins (1976), the unit of culture, the meme has not been defined.

i.e. Before even beginning to look at what evolutionary mechanisms are involved in the selection, variation and transmission of units of culture (for now, let’s just call them `memes’ as Dawkins 1976 suggests) – the question needs to be solved:

What is the structure of the unit of culture?

The domain of Biology had this same problem, from Darwin (1859) onwards, until Watson & Crick solved the problem of the structure of DNA, in 1953. (For which – they also won a Nobel Prize, in 1962).

i.e. This key problem / `the question’ in the scientific study of culture is:

What is the definition of, a unit of culture?

Namely – these so-called  `units of culture’, or `memes’…

…What are they?

…What are they made of?

…How would you make one?

…How do they work?

My book-chapter below addresses all these questions – which correlates with this unsolved problem in the domain of Cultural Evolution.

Below is the Abstract of that (2016) book chapter: Velikovsky, J. T. (2016). The Holon/Parton Theory of the Unit of Culture (or the Meme, and Narreme): In Science, Media, Entertainment and the ArtsChapter 9 in: A. Connor & S. Marks (Eds.), Creative Technologies for Multidisciplinary Applications. New York: IGI Global.

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, 2016)

If you would like to read that chapter, you can download it for free, here. (It forms part of the Appendix of my 2016 PhD.)

Up to now cultural evolution as a domain has been somehwat in disarray as the structure of unit of culture (the meme) was not previously identified. (If you don’t know how to recognize a meme, it is impossible to count and measure and track them in culture…) So for the past 40 years, Cultural Evolution theorists have been “searching for a black cat in a dark basement, without a torch”. Brewer (2016) summarizes the situation thusly:

`Unfortunately, the controversies around cultural memes have not been as productive. Read the cultural evolution literature today and you will find three largely distinct camps:

  1. Those who dismiss meme theory as wrong-headed and disproven.
  2. Those who embrace meme theory as richly productive and vindicated by evidence across many fields.
  3. Those who don’t have strong opinions one way or the other and are waiting to see how the chips fall.

I personally sit in the second camp, having used meme theory to guide my research on the spread of ideas and behaviors across social systems in both digital (social media) and physical environments. What I find interesting about the Camp 1 people—those who dismiss meme theory outright—is that their reasons seem to be based on the fallacies associated with Dawkins’ first major controversy and have little to do with the progress made in memetics research in the forty years since the term was introduced into the intellectual discourse.’

(Brewer 2016, online).

The problem above (identifying the structure of the unit of culture, i.e., the meme) is also intrinsic in all of the `Grand Challenges’ recorded by the recent survey of the Cultural Evolution Society…

i.e.; in Brewer, J., Gelfand, M., Jackson, J. C., MacDonald, I. F., Peregrine, P. N., Richerson, P. J., . . . Wilson, D. S. (2017). Grand Challenges for the Study of Cultural Evolution. Nature 1(70). doi: 10.1038/s41559-017-0070

and, as also cited in the research report:

Brewer, J., & MacDonald, I. F. (2015). What Are the Grand Challenges for Cultural Evolution? A Research Report for the Society for the Study of Cultural Evolution, from https://www.academia.edu/18520184/What_Are_The_Grand_Challenges_For_Cultural_Evolution

(See Joe’s weblog post about the above 2015 Research Report)

The book-chapter on the structure of the meme, the unit of culture, specifically provides answers (or: solutions) to at least two of the Grand Challenges (i.e. key questions, or unsolved domain problems, in the study of Cultural Evolution).

Namely the problems of:

`Culture Definition – deals with lingering confusion about the relationship between biology and culture. Each entry tagged with this theme was a call for greater clarity about the similarities and differences between inheritance through the diverse mechanisms of genetics, epigenetics, social behavior, and symbolic culture.’

Brewer, J., & MacDonald, I. F. (2015) 

and also, the problems of:

`Cultural Transmission – deals with processes of social learning and exchanges of knowledge from one generation to the next. Each entry tagged with this theme was a call for deeper understandings about the cognitive, anatomical, and evolutionary aspects of cultural change that give rise to and constrain the transmission of cultural practices from one person to another.’

Brewer, J., & MacDonald, I. F. (2015) 

Also, there are many illuminating Comments by readers, at Joe’s blog post (i.e., Brewer 2016, online).

Dustin Eirdosh says:

When I discovered Dawkin’s meme concept in my undergraduate days it completely changed how I saw culture and information transmission around me… Then as I’ve further engaged evolutionary human sciences I became convinced of its lack of formal utility (Camp 1). But I think Joe’s re-framing here is a very workable argument to separate the baby from the bathwater.

Dustin makes a great point here in his Comment on Joe’s blog post. Meme Theory has indeed been a rather messy, somewhat broken (and, confused) domain of knowledge, for 40 years.

Mainly because: prior to now, the structure of the unit of culture had not been accurately defined. However – I think, this book-chapter addresses that previously-unsolved domain problem?

Which – ideally – means, Memetics (or, Cultural Evolution), as a `stalled’ domain of knowledge, can resume on a new footing…

i.e, If you are reading this (Dustin), what do you think? (By all means, please do Comment below, to continue the discussion!) – Many thanks.

Another Comment, this time by the great Joe Brewer himself:

Joe Brewer says:

Dear Henry,

As I’ve been reading the literature on cultural evolution in the last five to ten years, I am seeing a tremendous ‘bridging potential’ between the study of language (and semantics in particular) and how it relates to the evolution of social organization and technology in different cultures.

Speaking of `bridging potential’, given the above book-chapter on memes, the unit of culture (the meme) and even creativity itself, does bridge: the Sciences, Social Sciences,  and the Humanities… See this article:

StoryAlity #14B – Creativity – the missing link between “The Two Cultures”

Another Comment by the great D S Wilson (I am a huge D S Wilson fan, see my PhD research blog), from Joe’s excellent blog-post about 40 years of Memetics:

(For a great video of DS Wilson (among other intellectual luminaries!) speaking about Consilience, see: StoryAlity #71On Consilience in the Arts / Humanities / Communication)

At any rate:

David Sloan Wilson says:

Thanks, Joe, for this important post. In addition to the three developments that you highlight (Complexity science, human conceptualization, and Digital Media), I think it is important to expand upon gene-culture coevolution (aka dual inheritance theory), which you only touch upon. As you know (but for the benefit of our readers), authors such as Robert Boyd and Peter Richerson started to think about cultural evolution at about the same time as Dawkins, but with much less fanfare. Nevertheless, it is their framework that provides the foundation for modern meme theory (if we want to use that label). A good recent article (again as you know but for the benefit of our readers) is:
Henrich, J., Boyd, R., & Richerson, P. J. (2008). Five Misunderstandings about Cultural Evolution. Human Nature, 19, 119–137.

I note, in the Abstract of the Henrich, Boyd & Richerson (2008) paper David mentions above:

`…this paper disputes five common claims: (1) mental representations are rarely discrete, and therefore models that assume discrete, gene-like particles (i.e., replicators) are useless; (2) replicators are necessary for cumulative, adaptive evolution; (3) content-dependent psychological biases are the only important processes that affect the spread of cultural representations; (4) the “cultural fitness” of a mental representation can be inferred from its successful transmission; and (5) selective forces only matter if the sources of variation are random. We close by sketching the outlines of a unified evolutionary science of culture.’

Henrich, J., Boyd, R., & Richerson, P. J. (2008)

I really do like their outlines for: “Charting a Course: Foundations for a Unified Science of Cultural Phenomena ” Henrich, J., Boyd, R., & Richerson, P. J. (2008, pp. 131-4) (They are great thinkers!)

A key `missing component’ of the above (2008) article (as with, all extant writings on units of culture, ie memes, to date) is the identification of the structure of the unit of culture. But, see how this chapter approaches (solves?) that 40-year old problem in the domain of Cultural Evolution.

As per that book-chapter: all memes – all units of culture – are just ideas, or processes, or products. In my view, to date Memeticists just haven’t been thinking about “units of culture”. Once we replace the word “meme” with “unit of culture”, a whole new worldview emerges. (In much the same way an entire worldview emerges when you read even just the title of All Life Is Problem Solving (Popper 1999)).

For some more detail on that worldview, see also, these PhD-research blog-posts:

On the structure of the Meme (the unit of culture) – and: towards a true Science of Memetics

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)

Another great Comment from Joe’s article on `40 years of Memetics’:

Ethan Cochrane says:

Archaeologists as well have an over 100-year history of using memes, first under the name “cultural traits”. This use has increased with the phase transition you describe.

Ethan is quite right – but I would suggest, “cultural traits” are also units of culture. (They are: memes.) They are ideas, processes, and products, all at once… But, they can be studied as (a) an idea, or (b) a process, (think of it like an algorithm, that a [human] computer would run, and remember Pinker’s (1997) “the mind is a neural computer”); and they also can be studied as a singular (cultural) product. Or even, all three: an idea, a process and a product.

See that (2016) book-chapter for more.

Another Comment on Joe Brewer’s great post on `40 years of memes’:

Marcel Harmon says:

But to me it’s always seemed unnecessary to describe the propagation of memes, cultural traits, ideas (whatever we call them) and their manifestation via behaviors, technologies, artifacts, etc., in terms of their fitness relative to their own survival.

MLS seems capable of describing such propagations by limiting interactors to biological entities, whether they be genes, individuals, or groups of individuals (but with replicators also potentially including memes and meme complexes).

Marcel also makes some great points here. I suggest, the links that explain how memes (ie units of culture – ideas, processes, or products) `interact’ with humans (are created, and selected, varied, transmitted) is explained by The Systems Model of Creativity, which is an application of Darwin’s “natural selection” systems concept, from Evolutionary Theory. See my PhD (2016) (i.e. see: the `Creativity’ literature review, pp, 63-81 of that PhD) for lots more, on this… Or, see that book-chapter (Velikovsky 2016). Or even, see both!

Marcel’s dissertation chapter on all this sounds really interesting – and Marcel, if you are reading this, please also send that thesis chapter of yours to me, too! 🙂 (For my email address, pls see: https://storyality.wordpress.com/contact/)

Another great comment (in fact, they are all great)

Alberto Acerbi says:

About the concept of meme, I would put myself in the skeptical camp. My main concern relates to the fact that, to use the concept in an “interesting” way, one needs to defend a quite strong analogy between genes and memes.

I believe that once we (temporarily, for ease of understanding) replace the word “meme” with “unit of culture” this problem is soon solved.

e.g. We can think about units of biology: e.g. cells. tissues, organisms, herds (e.g., flocks of birds, murders of crows, mobs of kangaroos, etc), and, also species, etc.

What happens when we transfer this “holistic systems” kind of thinking to: units of culture?

To: letters, words, sentences, paragraphs, chapters, books, libraries, literary (or other media) genres. See: that (2016) book-chapter for details.

And by the way, the Acerbi & Mesoudi article mentioned in Acerbi’s comment is excellent. But I note, it says this:

“‘Culture’ is commonly defined as the body of information that is transmitted from individual to individual via social learning (rather than genetically), and colloquially includes such phenomena as attitudes, beliefs, knowledge, skills, customs and institutions.”

(Acerbi & Mesoudi 2015, online)

I again suggest: all those colloquial descriptions of “culture” can be collapsed to: ideas, or to processes, or to products.

Once that happens, you have simple units of culture (i.e., what Dawkins 1976 called, memes). See: that book-chapter for details. (Did I mention that book-chapter? If not, see that chapter. For details. )

I also really like the Conclusion of the article that Acerbi mentions in his comment:

“In conclusion, we think that an interest in different aspects of cultural transmission and evolution, far from representing a deadlock for cultural evolution studies, can inspire new empirical studies and draw attention to details of transmission not yet explored. We hope that this paper has gone some way to clarifying potential points of confusion, and highlighted the extent of genuine agreement on the key issues.”

(Acerbi & Mesoudi 2015, online) 

But I also think, it’s much simpler to think of culture (all culture) as either: ideas, processes, or products. (Or, 2 of these at once, or all 3 at once, depending on: what exact unit of culture we are empirically examining, at the time.)

For example:

DNA is: an idea. (Quick, Think of: DNA… What just happened? – The idea of DNA just “popped into” your consciousness. Due to individual brain plasticity, it’s unlikely that everyone’s brain looks the same under an fMRI scanner when they think of: DNA)

And DNA is also a product. (DNA is the product of DNA, as DNA copies itself. We can put DNA under a microscope. We can even edit that product, with: CRISPR.)

DNA (as a unit), when in action (when not `frozen in time’) is also part of the process of: making an organism.

Meanwhile – over in culture:

The process of making Coca Cola is (obviously) a process. It is a recipe, or an algorithm.

The product of a can of Coke is: a product.

The idea of a can of Coke is an idea.

The act of shaking hands, when you are introduced to someone new, is a process.

It is also a unit of culture. A meme.

Units of culture (memes) are selected, varied, and transmitted back into the culture pool. The culture pool includes all stored knowledge: in books, on the internet, in peoples’ heads – and anywhere else culture is stored (e.g., on TV, in libraries, magazines, on Twitter, etc).

The Information Theory of Communication means that ideas, processes and products can be selected (chosen, by an individual person), then varied (changed, or even: not-changed – but can also be combined with other units of culture), and transmitted (eg replicated, enacted, copied, communicated).

To cite Shannon & Weaver (1949):

`The word communication will be used here in a very broad sense to include all of the procedures by which one mind may  affect another.

This, of course, involves not only written and oral speech, but also music, the pictorial arts, the  theater, the ballet, and in fact all human behavior…

The language of this memorandum will often appear to refer to the special, but still very broad and important, field of the communication of speech; but practically everything said applies equally well to music of any sort, and to still or moving pictures, as in television.”

The Mathematical Theory of Communication,

(Shannon & Weaver 1949, pp. 3-4).

I note, the great Dan Dennett (my favourite philosopher) suggests in his latest book (2017), that:

“When we talk about culturally evolved information we seldom if ever are talking about bits (Shannon-style) of information…”

(Dennett 2017, p 205)

Despite this suggestion by Dan (I am a huge fan of all his work), I suggest: when thinking of communication (i.e., cultural transmission) – maybe think simply of ideas, processes and products (i.e., units of culture, i.e. memes) as bits (packets) of information passing between individuals.

You can communicate an idea to someone (say, Darwin’s 1859 Theory of Evolution) in words… Or, alternately, you can show someone a TV documentary about it. The verbal transmission has much less bits of information in it. But it’s still just: ideas, processes or products that are being communicated. (i.e. culturally transmitted).

Anyway, see: that (Velikovsky 2016) chapter for details.

Joe Rebholz also makes a fascinating contribution in his (comparatively) long and very informative Comment…

Joe Rebholzsays:

I have thought that Meme Theory was long dead. I don’t see much of anything now about memes, and much less about meme theory. And what I do see casts memes very negatively.

Joe (Rebholz) – I would be very interested in your views on this book chapter.

Also I wanted to comment on this point:

Most recently just a few days ago I read about memes as something the “alt-right” — racists etc. — use.

I suggest, anyone who `uses’ units of culture (words, sentences, jokes, books, movies, songs, etc) uses: memes.

Memes are units of culture (ideas, or processes, or products).

But I think the suggestion that only the alt-right uses them reflects the confusion around memes, as memes have not previously been defined and examined – and studied, simply as: units of culture.

Another example of a very common (mis)understanding of memes is that: they are just `funny Facebook images, often with text’.


Donald Trump Facebook meme

Donald Trump Facebook meme (and – no, I personally can’t stand Trump – JTV)

And here’s another random example:


Those (i.e. `FaceBook memes’, such as the ones above) are indeed also units of culture, (or memes in a general sense).

But: any (and every) unit of culture, is a meme.

Here are some examples of units in biology:

Biological Holarchy 1

A Biological Holarchy-Partarchy (Velikovsky 2014)

And here are some units of culture:

Holarchy of Novels

Novels, sentences, words.etc – as units of culture (i.e.as memes)

And here is another unit of culture: a transmedia story universe…


Fig. 6 – A transmedia story universe as a unit of culture. Note that it is composed of smaller units (movie, book, game, comic, website. etc). Examples include Harry Potter, Star Wars, The Matrix, Sherlock Holmes. (Velikovsky 2016, p. 221)

Source: 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.

So – every single: letter, word, sentence, song, joke, painting, dance, catchphrase, scientific theory, religion, book, movie, videogame, blog-post, (etc)… is a unit of culture. A meme.



A book. A unit of culture. A meme.


Think of a book as one unit. You can take it down off the shelf and hold it in your hand. One unit of culture.

It is also composed of: smaller units of culture (e.g.: chapters; paragraphs; sentences; words; letters & punctuation & spaces). All of these units are also: memes. Units of culture.

Some units of culture go viral (become popular; think of: a best-selling book) while others do not (think of: a book that has sold very few copies, and that very few people have ever read).

In the complex systems view, evolutionary selection in biology not only takes place at the level of DNA, but at the level of the cell, the organism, and the group and even the ecosystem, and planet, as well… (See: Oyama, S. (2000). Evolution’s Eye: A Systems View of the Biology-Culture Divide. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press.)

(Also – consider that: A rogue meteor could wipe out Earth, and deselect us all at once. See: What happened to the dinosaurs. Which luckily for us meant that small mammals could flourish on Earth for a while. Which evolved into, among other things: us humans.)

So selection pressures exist for units of culture, in much the same way as selection pressures exist for units in biology. (See my PhD and the above book chapter for more detail.)

And regarding past journals on Memetics, since Joe (Rebholz) rightly mentions it – just to clarify this point, also:

“There was once (around 2000) a journal for meme theory, but it only lasted for about six months”. (Joe Rebholz, 2o16, online )

It was: The Journal of Memetics: Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission, and it lasted around 8 years (1997-2005) and the content is all still free online here. (There are some brilliant articles there, I like Calvin‘s ones the best!).

But again – the reason that journal (JoM) disbanded was, I suggest, that the scholars involved (as brilliant as they were) were still unable to crack the `hard problem’ of: the structure of the unit of culture, the meme. So they got criticized for studying something they couldn’t empirically define… and the field disbanded.

However, in light of that long-standing unsolved problem across many domains of knowledge (namely: What is the meme, the unit of culture?), see this (2016) book chapter.

Also – another great Comment:

Yasha Hartbergsays:

I’m not sure which camp you’d throw me into, Joe. I think the concept of memes is useful for addressing certain kinds of questions operating at relatively large scales.

I actually think it applies on all scales, which is why the 3 x laws of holon/partons are important to understand. Those 3 laws govern both biology and also culture.

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

Also in the Comments, Yasha (quite rightly) goes on to say:

Nonetheless, there remain problems with memetics that I feel must be overcome if it is ever to coalesce into a workable scientific discipline.

One of the biggest of these is that memetics is still very much focused on replication. This is understandable given its roots as a genetic metaphor.

Indeed, great point Yasha. However – if we think of the evolutionary algorithm (selection, variation, transmission) then `replication’ is just the selection and transmission part.

The whole evolutionary model of culture is explained by The (evolutionary) Systems Model of Creativity (macro scale) when Simonton’s BVSR is nested within it (micro scale, i.e., inside someone’s head)… See this (2016) book chapter.

Yasha also rightly notes:

However, it is only part of the story. What I feel we need is a bridge between replication (or information transfer if you prefer) and how that information is used in the creation of behavioral phenotypes. Put slightly differently, memetics needs the equivalent of the epigenetics revolution that transformed so much of our understanding of genetics since Dawkin’s publication of “The Selfish Gene.”

In my own work on sacred texts I started calling this system “cultural epigenetics,” a “fifth dimension” added to Jablonka and Lamb’s scheme. However, I’ve since found out that Eva Jablonka is using that term in a very different way so perhaps we need to coin a new term. “Epimemetics” suggests itself, though its utility ultimately depends on whether we can salvage “memetics” in the first place.

Great word Yasha! (ie epimemetics), and, great points overall. See also, this (2016) book chapter.

Another Comment: (and, the last that has been made so far, as at, Feb 28th 2017)

Bill Benzon says:

Hi Joe,

I’ve been thinking and publishing about “memes” for awhile, two decades, and I’m ambivalent at best… Dennett has written a number of papers where he argues that words are memes and has a number of videos where he flat-out asserts it without any argumentation.’ (Benzon 2016, online)

I think, here, Bill is referring to videos such as this one, on Big Think:

Dan Dennett’s Memes 101 – How Cultural Evolution Works (2017)

I love that video. I am a huge fan of Dan Dennett’s work on memes. It (along with Dawkins’ and Blackmore’s work) has influenced all my thinking about units of culture since I first read The Selfish Gene about 20 years ago – and started wondering about the structure of units of culture (i.e., memes).

– I’m also a million-selling transmedia writer (films, games, books, comics, theatre, etc) so I often think deeply about the `units of culture’ that I’m creating, (i.e., selecting, varying, and then transmitting in culture). But my PhD (2016) goes into all that, in much more detail.

At any rate, congratulations to Joe Brewer, The Evolution Institute, the CES – and, all Commentators – on A Forty Year Update on Meme Theory – a fascinating and important post!

Here’s hoping the discussion continues…!

And – if of interest, why not join the Cultural Evolution Society…? …There are Grand Challenges awaiting!


Many thanks for reading…

And, if any of the above (on Cultural Evolution) is of interest, my PhD research weblog may also be of interest. Perhaps, see also, the Index of Posts for particular topics.

Here is a selection of relevant posts:

StoryAlity #71On Consilience in the Arts / Humanities / Communication

StoryAlity #71BInvalid criticisms of Consilience

StoryAlity #71CConsilience and Vertical Integration

StoryAlity #78 – On `the war of nature’ (from Origin of Species) by Charles Darwin

StoryAlity #79 – `These instincts are highly complex…’ (The Descent of Man) by Charles Darwin

StoryAlity #80 – `Our civilizations were jerry-built around the biogram’ (E O Wilson)

StoryAlity #81 – `Human Universals’ (Donald Brown) and, E O Wilson on Sociobiology

StoryAlity #82 – Pinker on `Evolution, Emotion and Explanation’

StoryAlity #83 – David Sloan Wilson on Evolutionary Social Constructivism, and BVSR

StoryAlity #84 – Pinker on `Art and Adaptation’

StoryAlity #85 – The Arts and Their Interpretation (E O Wilson)

On the structure of the Meme (the unit of culture) – and: towards a true Science of Memetics

  1. StoryAlity #100 – The Holon-Parton Structure of the Meme – the Unit of Culture (Velikovsky 2013, 2014, 2016)
  2. StoryAlity #100AThe 3 Universal Laws of Holon/Partons (Velikovsky 2015)
  3. StoryAlity #101 – A Science of Memetic Culturology (Velikovsky 2013)
  4. StoryAlity #102 – Reply to 4 critics of “Memetics as a pseudo-science” (Part 1 of 4) – Hallpike 2004
  5. StoryAlity #103 – Reply to 4 critics of “Memetics as a pseudo-science” (Part 2 of 4) – Polichak 2002
  6. StoryAlity #104 – Reply to 4 critics of “Memetics as a pseudo-science” (Part 3 of 4) – Benitez-Bribiesca 2001
  7. StoryAlity #105 – Reply to 4 critics of “Memetics as a pseudo-science” (Part 4 of 4) – Lanier 1996
  8. StoryAlity #106Movie Pitches, Hybrid Memes, and Steve Worland’s `Combustion
  9. StoryAlity #107Preliminary Remarks on Literary Memetics (Rancour-Laferriere)
  10. StoryAlity #108Memetics – and `An Ecopoetics of Beauty and Meaning’ (Turner)
  11. StoryAlity #109Memetics and Film
  12. StoryAlity #110Twenty(-Something) Controversies, in Ten Domains
  13. StoryAlity #111 – `Weapons of Mass Instruction: Memetic Engineering and Directed Biocultural Evolution’ (includes a YouTube video of a paper I delivered at the 2014 ICD Symposium)
  14. StoryAlity #112 – On Reductionism and Determinism – and – Expansionism and Indeterminism
  15. StoryAlity #113 – `Schools of Thought’ in the Arts / Humanities / Communication – A Survey

Also an interesting video from 2013:

Comments (below), always most welcome!


Dr JT Velikovsky Ph.D

High-RoI Story/Screenplay/Movie & Transmedia Researcher

& Evolutionary Systems Theorist

& Transmedia Writer-Director-Producer: Movies, Games, TV, Theatre, Books, Comics

Some of 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/



Brewer, J., Gelfand, M., Jackson, J. C., MacDonald, I. F., Peregrine, P. N., Richerson, P. J., . . . Wilson, D. S. (2017). Grand Challenges for the Study of Cultural Evolution. Nature 1(70). doi: 10.1038/s41559-017-0070

Brewer, J., & MacDonald, I. F. (2015). What Are the Grand Challenges for Cultural Evolution? A Research Report for the Society for the Study of Cultural Evolution, from https://www.academia.edu/18520184/What_Are_The_Grand_Challenges_For_Cultural_Evolution

Oyama, S. (2000). Evolution’s Eye: A Systems View of the Biology-Culture Divide. Durham, N.C.: Duke 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 9, in A. Connor & S. Marks (Eds.), Creative Technologies for Multidisciplinary Applications. New York: IGI Global.


6 thoughts on “StoryAlity#137 – Culturology & the CES (Cultural Evolution Society)

  1. Cngratz, Dr V, Your work is important. You’re the Darwin of narrative thinking. I’ll not only read into thesis but inscribe vulgar drawings in the blank margins as Holbein did with Erasmus’s In Praise of Folly.



  2. Pingback: StoryAlity#138 – Darwin on the evolution of words and languages | StoryAlity

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  6. Pingback: StoryAlity #138B – Cultural Analytics and yada yada yada | StoryAlity

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