The Science of Culture.
(November 2017; Updated: October 2018)
by Dr. JT Velikovsky Ph.D (Communication & Media Arts)
In this post, Evolutionary Culturology is (very) briefly summarized.
(It’s not that I can’t make up my mind, they’re all true. I just want you to triangulate the idea in your mind 🙂
This post includes some basic examples of how Evolutionary Culturology can be used (e.g. Google NGrams, article or book citation counts, measuring unit sales, analysis of a meme as a holon/parton, and so on).
Or, before reading on, you could even visit: the dedicated Evolutionary Culturology weblog, if you’d like more background / context.
Firstly, a quote from Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge (E. O. Wilson 1999):
`The central idea of the consilience world view is that all tangible phenomena, from the birth of stars to the workings of social institutions, are based on material processes that are ultimately reducible, however long and tortuous the sequences, to the laws of physics.
In support of this idea is the conclusion of biologists that humanity is kin to all other life forms by common descent. We share essentially the same DNA genetic code, which is transcribed into RNA and translated into proteins with the same amino acids. Our anatomy places us among the Old World monkeys and apes. The fossil record shows our immediate ancestor to be either Homo ergaster or Homo erectus. It suggests that the point of our origin was Africa about two hundred thousand years ago.
Our hereditary human nature, which evolved during hundreds of millennia before and afterward, still profoundly affects the evolution of culture.’
(Wilson 1999, pp. 291-2, bold emphasis mine)
The laws of physics, chemistry, biology, psychology, sociology and culture include: the 3 laws of fractal HOLON/partons.
And now a quote from Albert Einstein:
`A theory is the more impressive the greater the simplicity of its premises, the more different kinds of things it relates, and the more extended its area of applicability.’
And now from Rolf Landauer (1996):
`the laws of physics… are algorithms for the handling of information…’
`Information is physical
Information is not a disembodied abstract entity; it is always tied to a physical representation. It is represented by engraving on a stone tablet, a spin, a charge, a hole in a punched card, a mark on paper, or some other equivalent. This ties the handling of information to all the possibilities and restrictions of our real physical word, its laws of physics and its storehouse of available parts.
…our assertion that information is physical amounts to an assertion that mathematics and computer science are a part of physics. We cannot expect our colleagues in mathematics and in computer science to be cheerful about surrendering their independence. Mathematicians, in particular, have long assumed that mathematics was there first, and that physics needed that to describe the universe. We will, instead, ask for a more self-consistent framework…’
(Landauer 1996, p 188)
Source: Landauer, R 1996, ‘The physical nature of information’, Physics Letters A, vol. 217, pp. 188-93.
With all of these ideas in mind, the model below demonstrates the concept of:
Consilience – the unity (or, the vertical integration) of knowledge.
This diagram aims to show that when we scientifically study units of culture, (aka memes), that new knowledge is integrated with the knowledge in all the other sciences (as indicated in the diagram, above).
It’s also a good single natural classification system for everything in the universe.
Q: What are units of culture-?
Units of culture (i.e. memes) include:
ideas, processes, and products.
Thus, memes include:
Ideas, concepts, beliefs, philosophies, worldviews, theories (e.g. scientific theories, or even non-scientific, such as conspiracy theories!), also cultural traits, customs, words, languages, jokes, songs, books (fiction and nonfiction), movies, TV shows, games, religions, architectural styles, buildings, vehicles, weapons, poems, even lines of dialog (catchphrases), advertising slogans and tunes, laws, and… many many more: ideas, processes, and products!
…Everything in culture is: a unit of culture, a meme.
Memes (units of culture) are tools, and thus are technology.
`’Technology’, from the Greek techne, meaning art, skill or craft, is usually taken to mean the understanding of how to use tools, in the broadest sense of the word.’
(Bawden and Robinson 2012, p. 131)
Some units however spread further, thus are more viral (and, become: canon in culture) – while others are (much) less viral – and those units of culture become archive in culture.
Culture is made up of domains.
Examples of domains include: Science, Social Science, the Arts/Humanities/Media… and also Education, Business, Cooking – and vastly more… (far too many to list, here).
But for lists of domains in culture, here are 4 different ways of organizing those domains:
For example, here is the Dewey Decimal Classification – Second Summary – The Hundreds:
|Computers, Internet & systems
Library & information science
Encyclopedias & books of facts
Magazines, journals & serials
Associations, organizations & museums
Journalism, publishing & news media
Manuscripts & rare books
Astrology, parapsychology & the occult
Philosophical schools of thought
Ancient, medieval & Eastern philosophy
Modern western philosophy
Philosophy & theory of religion
Christianity & Christian theology
Christian practice & observance
Christian pastoral practice & religious orders
Church organization, social work & worship
History of Christianity
Social sciences, sociology & anthropology
Public administration & military science
Social problems & social services
Commerce, communications & transportation
Customs, etiquette & folklore
English & Old English Languages
German & related languages
French & related languages
Italian, Romanian & related languages
Spanish & Portuguese languages
Latin & Italic languages
Classical & modern Greek languages
Earth sciences & geology
Fossils & prehistoric life
Biology & life sciences
Home & family management
Management & public relations
Manufacturing specific products
Building & construction
Landscaping & area planning
Sculpture, ceramics & metalwork
Drawing & decorative arts
Sports, games & entertainment
Literature, rhetoric & criticism
American literature in English
English & Old English literatures
German & related literatures
French & related literatures
Italian, Romanian & related literatures
Spanish & Portuguese literatures
Latin & Italic literatures
Classical & modern Greek literatures
Geography & travel
Biography & genealogy
History of the ancient world (to ca. 499 A.D.)
History of Europe (ca. 500 A.D.- )
History of Asia
History of Africa
History of North America
History of South America
History of other regions
So that (Dewey Decimal System) is just one possible way to classify culture into domains of knowledge… It is also somewhat fractal in structure in places, as the (micro) 050 (Magazines, journals & serials) and the 060 (Associations, organizations & museums) sections, replicate the overall (macro) structure. As do, many of the actual library items within the 030s (i.e., Encyclopedias & books of facts). The 600s are classified as “Technology” but it can be seen that all units of culture are tools; technology for solving problems.
Now for an important point:
The structure of the meme, the unit of culture was discovered in 2016.
It was previously an unsolved problem in the domain of the study of culture, including in the disciplines of Cultural Evolution, Creativity Science, and even in Memetics.
The discovery was first published in 2016, as a book-chapter in the (peer-reviewed, academic) book:
(And, which is also why, you may not yet have heard of it! …Academic knowledge takes around 7 years on average, to filter out into mainstream, or, “common public knowledge”.)
i.e.: The full (original) chapter reference is:
Velikovsky JT. (2016), The Holon/Parton Theory of the Unit of Culture (or the Meme, and Narreme): In Science, Media, Entertainment and the Arts. Chapter in: Connor A and Marks S (eds), Creative Technologies for Multidisciplinary Applications. New York: IGI Global, pp. 208-246.
And, as a discovery, it (the structure of the meme)
solves many problems, in many domains and disciplines of knowledge.
Think: Same as the discovery of the structure of DNA by Watson & Crick (1953) in the domain of biology – but – this one (2016) is: the discovery of the structure of the unit of culture, in the domain of all culture.
That landmark 2016 book-chapter was then re-published in an Appendix to Dr. Velikovsky’s (2016) Ph.D dissertation / thesis, “Communication, Creativity and Consilience in Cinema” (Velikovsky 2016).
Once it was realized what a breakthrough this huge discovery was, it was also republished (a shorter, condensed version) in this Encyclopedia, in 2017:
And FYI, the reference there, is:
Velikovsky JT. (2017) Chapter 405: The Holon/Parton Structure of the Meme, or, The Unit Of Culture, in: Khosrow-Pour M (ed) Encyclopedia of Information Science and Technology, Fourth Edition. New York: IGI Global, pp. 4666-4678.
To briefly explain Information Science, and Information Technology:
`The concept of information technology is usually associated with computers and networks. But, in a wider sense stemming from the original meaning of the word, the technologies of information include all the tools and machines which have been used to assist the creation and dissemination of information throughout history… from ink and paper, through printing, to mechanized documentation technologies, and the photocopier. Ben Schneiderman (2003) gives a thoughtful meditation on the nature of information technology, and its empowering effects, while Nicholas Negroponte (1995) provides an early, and very prescient, account of the impacts of IT; Markus Krajewski (2011) examines the idea of card index files as a ‘universal paper machine’, the forerunner of the computer.’ (Bawden and Robinson 2012, p. 132)
So now, returning to the consilience diagram (at the top of this page), we can see that:
Once there exists: Physics, Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, and a Geology (i.e., a stable planet, with land, water, and an atmosphere)…
Life can emerge – as it has, here on planet Earth… (see the green arrow, below)
This means that Biology emerges (or, can emerge, if you are lucky) from all of those systems underneath it, in the diagram.
And, with (biological) organisms there comes: a Psychology.
And with groups of organisms, there are Social Systems (thus comes: Sociology)…
And, from all of these, emerges: Culture (and thus: Culturology).
And – all of it is evolving… all of the time.
There are many evolutionary algorithms: BV-SR, SVT, S&T, i=P, etc.
But now, let’s look at possibly the most important algorithm on the planet (possibly the universe…).
(And – it’s actually, incredibly simple…)
From this simple evolutionary algorithm emerges the phenomenon we call creativity, as: some of the new units will be better-adapted to their environment.
Namely some of these new units will be: “new and useful”, or “original and effective” in their environment (i.e. see: The Standard Definition of Creativity – Runco & Jaeger 2012). Though I prefer the 3-part definition of creativity: new, useful, and surprising.
These creative units of culture spread further and faster, than do other, competing units.
The units, that the algorithm (and thus: selection) operates on can be in Biology (e.g.: gene, DNA, cell, organism, group) or, in Culture (e.g.: a word, a phrase, a clause, a sentence, a paragraph, a section, a chapter, a book, a (literary) genre, a library, etc.)
This evolutionary algorithm (Selection, Variation, Transmission) underpins all of the domains; see Cosmic Evolution: The Rise of Complexity in Nature (Chaisson 2001) for more detail if desired
There are many kinds of selection: 3 kinds of natural selection, and also, artificial, sexual, and unconscious selection.
So, human culture (i.e., units of culture – memes: ideas, processes, products) and both the creative (canon) and uncreative ones (arcive) can be studied in a consilient manner, using the scientific method.
It should also be noted: Evolutionary Culturology (2017) arose from Velikovsky’s (2016) Ph.D, and thus – consilient Communication Studies, and Information Science and Technology, and, is NOT connected with:
The (Russian) Culturology, (though – they do have some good ideas!)
Postmodernism, and/or Continental Philosophy, nor any of that anti-science nonsense, either.
Creatology – although there are some great ideas in there, too.
Memetics – except that units of culture are sometimes called “memes”.
Evolutionary Culturology comes out of Systems (and Complexity) Science, Systems Philosophy, Systems Theory, and Systems Thinking.
For more detail on those (if desired), see:
On Systems Theory and Evolution:
- StoryAlity #70 – Key Concepts in Systems Theory, Cybernetics & Evolution
- StoryAlity #70B – The Systems View of Life: A Unifying Vision (Capra & Luisi 2014)
- StoryAlity #70C – Systems Philosophy (Laszlo 1972)
- StoryAlity #70C2 – General Systems Theory: Problems, Perspectives, Practice (Skyttner 2005)
- StoryAlity #70D – The Evolving Self (Csikszentmihalyi 1993)
- StoryAlity #70E – On Human Nature – and Evolutionary Psychology
And see also:
On Consilience – Evocriticism, (a.k.a. Bioaesthetics, Biopoetics, or Literary Darwinism)
- StoryAlity #71 – On Consilience in the Arts / Humanities / Communication
- StoryAlity #71B – Invalid criticisms of Consilience
- StoryAlity #71C – Consilience and Vertical Integration
And see Velikovsky’s (2016) Ph.D (free PDF online) for much more detail.
So – with the Systems View in mind, here is a model of some systems, from quarks up to multiverses:
Each of the systems pictured on each level in the diagram above is: a HOLON/parton.
HOLON/partons are a whole and a part at the same time.
Another view of a HOLON/parton, (as a binary Cantor set) is below.
The three laws of holon/partons are that they:
- Compete and/or co-operate, with units on the same level
- Command and control, the units on the level below
- Integrate upwards into the larger unit on the level above, of which they are a part.
While undertaking his Ph.D study, Velikovsky (2016) discovered that the holon/parton is also: the structure of the meme, the unit of culture.
And which means E O Wilson was right in Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge (1998) when he noted, he believed that the laws of physics would also govern: culture.
(Note: This is kind of a big deal; Velikovsky (2016) demonstrated that it is true.)
There are e-memes (external memes, namely: ideas, processes and products in the external, physical world, or Popper’s “World One”), and, i-memes (internal memes, which are inside the human mind once they have been perceived and stored in memory).
And – a more complete version of that model:
And here is a diagram showing the extended model of Creative Practice Theory, which underpins Evolutionary Culturology:
Here is another model, with more detail included:
For additional details of the theory / the model, see also this article:
StoryAlity #141 – The StoryAlity-Theory `Robo-Raconteur’ artificial-writer
Velikovsky JT. (2017) Introducing `The Robo–Raconteur’ Artificial Writer – Or: Can a Computer Demonstrate Creativity? International Journal of Art, Culture and Design Technologies 6, pp. 28-54.
And so, using the holon/parton structure of the meme model, (and also Creative Practice Theory, if more details on the 5 P’s of creativity are desired, i.e. the creative person, process, product, place, press (and persuasion), we can track the spread of units (memes) in culture.
Here is a Tree of Culture diagram.
Obviously just some domains in culture are shown here in this Tree of Culture diagram; there are vastly more. However those “branches” in the tree are the dates of the first international conferences for those domains in culture.
The branches diversify and complexify (and become more specialized – and less general) as they “speciate” off, downwards, however they all unify upwards into: Science.
(Notably the Arts/Humanities/Media Studies have diverged from Science in their practises, mainly due to The Two Cultures problem (Snow 1959), however using tools like Evolutionary Culturology, they can indeed be studied, as a science.
Note also the many Schools of Thought in the Arts/Humanities/Social Sciences/Communication. These are all memes, units of culture.
Charles Darwin in The Descent of Man (1871, p. 60-62) noted that words and languages (which are both memes, i.e., units of culture) evolve via natural selection; some words and languages go extinct, while others spread.
Here are 2 great articles:
And below is an `Indo-European family tree in order of first attestation (Partial tree of Indo-European languages) (2008)‘, from Wikipedia.
- Branches are in order of first attestation; those to the left are Centum, those to the right are Satem.
- Languages in red are extinct or dead (aka “archive” in culture; the languages in green are “canon” in culture – i.e., currently “alive”; still spoken and written)
- White labels indicate categories / un-attested proto-languages.
`Indo-European family tree in order of first attestation’ (Wikipedia, 2008)
by Multiple Authors (2008), first version by Mandrak (Original work)
So, as we can see, due to natural selection in culture, units of culture, i.e. memes, (words, languages) are either canon (alive) or archive (extinct).
Let’s now zoom-in on the Indic (Indo-Aryan) part of the phylogenetic tree:
And now, the Latin (Romance) languages one:
The green ones are still spoken (they are both: canonical e-memes, and i-memes in culture).
The red ones are not. They are extinct, or archive units in culture.
Religions are memes, or units of culture.
The include: ideas, processes, and products.
Here is a mind-blowing infographic. The World Religions Tree, at The 40 Foundation, created by Funk & Consulting. If you open the link, you can zoom in on the details. (I am not sure just how accurate it is, but in broad terms, it feels about right. There apparently are over 10,000 religions, and according to Godchecker.com, about 4,000 gods at last count.)
And if you like this sort of thing (i.e. evolution), see also:
StoryAlity #139 – On the evolution of Darwin’s `Tree of Life’ Diagram
Examining some Archaic Words going extinct (or: “archive”) as Canonical Words Out-Compete them in cultural evolutionary survival tournaments
This next section of this post has some very simple Evolutionary Culturology examples (in this case, examining and comparing: certain words – and phrases – as units of culture [memes] in evolutionary survival tournaments, over time).
Using research methods and tools from the Digital Humanities, we can use Google NGram Viewer to obtain some data.
You can also try these, yourself! (…They’re fun!)
The corpus of books that Google Books has scanned serves as a proxy for the population of memes (both e-memes and i-memes) in culture, at various points in time…
If you’re unfamiliar with Google NGram, maybe you’d like to read this short article on how to use it: How to Use the ‘Ngram Viewer’ Tool in Google Books (Karch 2018)
So – on to some examples:
As the great Steven Pinker notes in The Sense of Style (2015): The word “whom” is being deselected over time, in favor of the word “who”…
Here is an NGram of it! (…Try it yourself, using Google NGram.)
Note the uptick, in the use of “whom” from 2000 to 2008…
Wait – Is it making a comeback? – (…Whom can say-?)
In evolution, units on the same level compete for the same cultural niche; it is a struggle for survival.
Another interesting case:
The word “account” becomes canon as it replaces (outcompetes) “accompt” which goes archive…
The (archaic) word “accompt“, which occurs (rather frequently) in the first issue of The Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society (1665) – the first official science journal – has been replaced by the word “account“…
As we can see from the below, accompt went archive (not quite extinct) in the 1750s.
What about the words, et cetera vs. etcetera?
Shouldn’t the space in between “et“ and “cetera” get culled out of there by the brute force of natural selection?
But… NO !
The reverse has been true to date. Et cetera is still (twice) more populous (or: popular) as: two words! Et (and) Cetera!
In the 1830s, people stop calling them “manufactories”, and we now call them “factories” for short:
And – another interesting 3-way battle (or: evolutionary survival tournament) for the spelling of encyclopedia. (versus: encyclopaedia and encyclopædia)…
…We have a winner! (i.e.: Encyclopedia) …The grapheme, æsc or ash, formed out of the letters a and e, went archive.
i.e. So Darwin (1871) and Sir C. Lyell in ‘The Geological Evidences of the Antiquity of Man,’ 1863, chap. xxiii were right!
And actually this comparison of synonymical phrases – about the concept of evolution itself – is interesting too:
So. Just a few (fun) examples…
It’s fun to check old archived (ie “archaic”) words against their replacements…
See: the Oxford English Dictionary‘s list of archaic words.
As an example, using the OED’s list, go to Google NGram, enter the date-range: 1500-2008, and compare:
and so on…
For even more NGrams, see:
StoryAlity #138B – Cultural Analytics, and “yada yada yada”
But – many other units of culture – such as books, films, television shows, phrases, inventions, and more – can be tracked now that the structure of the unit of culture has been discovered.
But remember – it is actually very simple – units of culture are just: ideas, processes and products.
So, that includes words, pictures, and symbols.
And remember: A picture’s worth a thousand words, and a symbol’s worth a thousand pictures.
Actually – just for fun, let’s check on that unit of culture…
At any rate; those are just some examples of how we can track the evolution of certain memes, units of culture, in this case: words and phrases…
We of course need to explain – in evolutionary terms – why some words don’t compete as well as others in the evolutionary survival tournament… (and: without them being “just-so stories”!)
I won’t go into it right now, here but it has to do with design; evolution (the algorithmic process) is a satisficer, not an optimizer.
It likes things: fast and cheap, though – not necessarily, good…! Rather, for evolutionary survival, good enough will do the job.
In terms of units of culture being tools (and thus: technology), the key point to remember is that (as Popper said, in 1999): All Life Is Problem Solving.
Here is a table, with some memes (units of culture) and the Problems they Solve…
(It should be noted: a Process is an algorithm; a series of steps for achieving a goal. A recipe is an algorithm. So is a computer program.)
making new Products)
using Products, for the Transmitter/Producer
using Products, for the Receiver/ Consumer
anyone in the culture)
A way to communicate (verbally) in real time?
Some kind of verbal sound (discrete unit) that means something / communicates information (such as: a spoken word)
The process(es) of making new spoken words (eg add modifiers to a word (e.g., prefixes, suffixes), or combine two old words to make a new one, etc)
The processes of using spoken words (whether old or new or both). Converting (encoding) a web of mental ideas into a string of spoken words via rule sets (words, spelling, grammar, syntax).
The process of hearing and decoding (interpreting) the messages and intended meanings of words; phrases; sentences; etc
A spoken: word; phrase; sentence; discourse; speech; language; (e.g., English, Chinese, Russian, Esperanto, etc)
A (nonverbal) way to communicate in real time?
Gestures (and/or facial expressions, postures) that mean something
The process of making new gestures, facial expressions, postures (as meaningful symbols)
The process(es) of gesturing, making facial expressions, adopting a specific type of posture
The process of seeing and interpreting (decoding) the messages and meanings of these
A gesture (e.g. Go away; Come here; a shrug for `I don’t know?’, a scowl for disapproval, etc)
A way to communicate, time- shifted? (so the message can be read later at any time)
Written symbols that mean something; diagrams; pictures
The process of inventing writing, diagrams, pictures
The process of using (writing down) words, numbers, symbols, diagrams, pictures
The process of reading and decoding (interpreting) written words, numbers, symbols, diagrams, pictures
Written words, numbers, symbols, diagrams, pictures (e.g. on clay tablets, street signs, in books, emails, letters); dictionaries
A way to: provide heat and light; cook food; and ward off predators/wild animals/insects
A small, controllable, contained fire
The process of creating fire (e.g. rub two sticks together; or, use flint; or use a match; or use a cigarette lighter)
The process of maintaining a fire (e.g. add dry grass (or paper) and wood (or coal, gas, fuel, etc) as needed
The process of using and not getting injured by a fire or choking on the smoke; the process(es) of cooking
A campfire; hearth/ fireplace inside a house; blacksmith’s forge; industrial metal smelter, etc.
A way to provide: shelter from the weather / the environment
A roof, walls, door(s), room(s), window(s)
Ways of creating (building) a domicile
The process of maintaining and protecting a domicile
The process of maintaining and protecting a domicile
A cave; a lean-to; a tent; a house; a condominium; a yacht, ship, etc
A way to lift/move heavy objects?
Some sort of lever and fulcrum
Ways of making (and using) levers and fulcrums
Ways of using levers to lift/move heavy objects
Ways of using levers to lift/move heavy objects
A long pole; a car jack; forklift; a crane
Another way to lift/move heavy objects?
Some sort of rope/cable/chain, and pulley arrangement
Ways of making (and using) ropes/ cables/ chains and pulleys
Ways of using rope and pulley systems
Ways of using rope and pulley systems
A rope and pulley; a block and tackle; elevators
A way to chop down trees, cut branches or meat, kill prey/enemies?
Some sort of sharp heavy cutting tool (like say, a hand-axe)
Ways of creating hand-axes (e.g. the Oldowan method, vs Late Acheulean, vs. other ways)
Ways of using hand-axes to achieve the desired goal
Ways of using hand-axes to achieve the desired goal
Hand-axe; axe with handle; saw; chainsaw
A way to communicate (verbally) in real time, over long distances?
Some way to transmit sounds (thus: spoken words) over long distances
Ways of transmitting sounds over long distances
Ways of amplifying (or transmitting) sound signals; using a telephone/the internet
Ways of having a conversation using that technology
Two cans linked by string; megaphone; telephone; internet
A way to travel on land that is faster and easier than walking?
Some sort of vehicle, with wheels and an engine
Ways of making wheels and engines, seats and steering mechanisms, thus vehicles
Ways of using vehicles
Ways of being driven around in vehicles as a passenger (enjoy the ride!)
Bicycle; Car; Train; Truck; Motorbike; Hovercraft
A way to travel across water that is faster, easier (and less cold, wet and dangerous) than swimming?
Something that floats, propelled, that humans (and other objects) can get inside
Ways of making (and of propelling) boats
Ways of using boats
Ways of being driven around in boats as a passenger (enjoy the ride!)
Raft; canoe; sail boat; rowboat, steamboat; motorboat; jetski; ocean liner; hydrofoil ferry, etc
A way to make maths easier and quicker?
Some sort of automatic calculating machine
Ways of making an automatic calculating machine
Ways of using an automatic calculating machine
Enjoy watching how fast & easy that calculation is, now!
Abacus; Babbage’s Difference Engine; Turing’s Universal Computer; an electronic calculator; modern computer, quantum computer
Ways of mechanically reproducing printed matter?
Some sort of copying machine
Ways of making copying machines
Ways of using copying machines
Enjoy the extra copies (maybe even: distribute them)
Printing press; duplicating machine; photocopier; computer with an electronic printer
Ways of preserving (storing) large amounts of information?
Some physical object that can store and preserve data / information
Ways of making data storage objects
Ways of using data storage objects to encode information
Ways of decoding the stored data
Books, libraries, CD-ROM discs, DVD discs, Blu-Ray discs, USB drives, computer hard drives
Good ways of injuring or killing an enemy?
A tool/technology to injure or kill people (the idea of a weapon)
Ways of making such weapons
Ways of using weapons
Ways of defending against such weapons (defensive: shields, armor, helmets, tactics, strategies, jamming technologies, etc)
(resulting in: evolutionary arms races)
Rocks, big sticks, clubs, hand-axes, knives, swords, spears, bows and arrows, crossbows, guns, cannons, missiles, bombs, lasers, sonic weapons, drones, disease, deadly chemicals
Good ways of diagnosing illnesses, and making sick people healthy again? Or even: avoiding sickness?
Ways of (and tools for) diagnosing illness; healing sick people; curing diseases; alleviating symptoms; staying healthy
Methods of making such tools/methods; medicines, medical treatments, diet, etc.
Ways of using diagnostic tools, healing the sick, curing disease, avoiding illness
Ways of accepting medical science, cures, treatments
Medicines; drugs; vaccines; surgical tools (scalpel, anesthetic, bone saw, laser surgery); X-ray machines, blood tests, etc
Ways to make a delicious dessert?
A sweet food to follow a main course
Ways of making delicious sweet things (e.g., recipes for desserts)
Ways of preparing (or purchasing) desserts
Ways of consuming desserts
A recipe for strawberry cheesecake; a cookbook full of cheesecake recipes; an actual strawberry cheesecake
Ways to entertain bored people?
Ways of entertaining people (stories, jokes, songs, music, dance, films, books, games, other media)
Methods and tools of creating/inventing (devices) for entertaining people (e.g. combine acting, music, singing, dancing and story into: a movie musical)
Ways of making entertainment artifacts
Ways of consuming entertainment artifacts
Stories, jokes, poems, songs, dances, movies, games and sports, videogames, painting, books, magazines, comics, television shows, opera, ballet, etc
Ways to find: truth about causal relationships?
Ways of finding out: what causes what? (How to control and predict the future to some degree)
The scientific method
Ways of finding new problems to which we can apply science!
Ways of using the problem-solutions that science has provided
Science (journal articles, science books, science television programs, documentaries, telescopes, microscopes, lasers, the Large Hadron Collider, the Very Large Array radio astronomy observatory, etc)
Table 1 – Some problems – and some of the units of culture
(memes: i.e., ideas, processes, products) that solve them.
On this view, all units of culture (all memes: all ideas, processes, products) are problem-solutions.
All are tools.
All are technology.
Anything used for solving a problem (i.e., achieving a goal), whether it is a physical cultural artifact / product (a hammer, a car, a computer), or a process (a method, a recipe, an algorithm), or a mental model (a concept or idea), can be seen as a tool.
All tools are considered technology, whether they are as simple as an Oldowan hand-axe, or as complex as a Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II fifth-generation jet fighter.
The above diagram shows some domains in culture, as tools / technology.
CONTROL and PREDICTION
With this holon/parton evolutionary scientific model (aka theory) of cultural creativity, what science can we do?
What can we control, and what can we predict?
We must first ask: What can we predict, in biological evolution?
In general terms, regarding natural selection, we know that species evolve to fit (adapt to) their biological niches in ecosystems; and so, changes in ecosystems, thus selection pressures, create different (survival) problems.
Evolution (through the operation of the evolutionary algorithm, and its ecosystem outputs) provides different (new and useful) solutions… (to survival and reproduction problems, but see also Abraham Maslow’s (1969) hierarchy of human needs, with its 6, not just 5, levels!)
Yet – convergent evolution (e.g.: wolverines and Tasmanian Devils!) shows that some solutions co-occur… in different places! (See also: Multiple Discovery and Simultaneous Invention, in human cultural creativity! See: Darwin and Wallace! Liebniz and Pascal! etc…)
Meanwhile, over in artificial selection in biology, we can predict that: dogs, cats, cows, sheep, pigs, chickens and other domesticated animals and pets will continue to be selectively bred, and the direction of species evolution and creation controlled, to achieve the goals (to: solve the problems) that humans decide are desirable. Ranging from savage pitbulls as guard dogs, to greyhounds as hunting and racing dogs, to King Charles Cocker Spaniels (the dog-breed that bites the least!) as companion animals…
Likewise, with woolly, docile sheep; cows that produce superior quality and quantity milk or meat, or field work; chickens that lay eggs better and faster, and so on.
We now have CRISPR gene editing technology!
…So; over in culture, given that we now understand
the structure of the meme, the unit of culture –
– What can we Predict?
Regarding natural selection operating on words and languages, as Charles Darwin (1871) implied: different cultural ecosystems provide different selection pressures…
We can thus expect (i.e., predict) that American English spellings will continue to tend towards more phonetic spellings (compared to British and Australian English spellings; i.e., `humor’ versus `humour’; `color’ versus `colour’); and that silent letters (like the k in `knife’) will be dropped (e.g.: `nife’).
Interestingly, for some reason, American speakers often limit themselves to 4 syllables (a-LOO-min-um instead of 5 in al-yoo-MIN-i-um, and LAB-ro-to-ry instead of la-BOR-a-to-ry).
Maybe Miller was generous about 5 (+/-2) items being the limits of the average human memory; it seems to be 4 (syllables) for many Americans? As a serious scientific question: Why is it so?
Phone-texting (SMS) also causes written language to evolve (speciate) in different directions: emoticons rise in abundance, and abbreviations and acronyms appear (e.g., LOL, WTF, IMHO, STFU).
As culture becomes more direct, transparent, honest, and truthful over time – relinquishing conservative and religious dogmas, probably the pornification of popular culture will continue?
Popular music videos and song lyrics may well become even more sexually-explicit, probably more swear words will enter the mainstream discourse. (See the new words recently added to the dictionary!)
Note also, these new words added to the Oxford English Dictionary in September 2018.
(Note: OBSCENITY WARNING !!! There are a lot of obscene words in that list!)
More interestingly, a whole lot of film terms entered the list:
Which is also a clear case of cultural products (film styles in this case) impacting the language. Memes (movies!) creating new evolutionary niches in culture.
Side Note, specifically on Screenwriting:
If you want your latest screenplay to be hip and up-to-date (and, IF it is set: Present Day), you probably should keep a close eye on, all new words added to Dictionaries… And, use them in your screenplay dialog.
e.g. UPDATES TO THE OED, and, similar Dictionary-update sites.
Just one Possible Winning Strategy or possible Good Trick, of: Thousands 🙂
And – as technology advances (artificial intelligence, machine learning, big data, social media, hyperconnectivity), the languages of technology will spawn more words, as new technological phenomena arise, and thus new ecological niches (and: problems) open up in culture which require new problem-solutions (and – new words/labels, to describe them).
Accents and dialects evolve. Words that are used more often over time become more efficient (shorter, quicker to write; easier to speak) as selection pressure in bioculture forces their benefit/cost ratio to rise. A longer word costs more to type – or to say – in energy (and printed: matter) and in time, than does a shorter word that means the same thing. Note how the word `manufactory’ contracted to `factory’ over time.
Informal Australian (`Strine’) English is known for playful (if: a bit lazy?) contractions: swimming-costume becomes `cossie’ (pronounced `cozzy’); biscuit becomes `bikkie’.
As global warming increases and the climate in the already-harsh landscape of Australia becomes ever more brutal, we can predict the effort of speaking in hot weather to become even harder, thus: more contractions. (There are vastly more reasons than this; hardly anything ever has just a single cause…! See the Anna Karenina Principle.)
At the same time, just like organisms evolving and complexifying in biology, the complexity of a language increases the longer it exists and grows, and the more that new ecological niches (new inventions, new technologies) emerge due to creativity (i.e., the evolutionary algorithm) itself…
As for artificial selection, can we control our language?
In a free and open society, nobody actually controls the language…!
See Oscar Tay’s (PhD in Linguistics) answer to this question on Quora:
i.e. To quote Oscar on it:
`When people use language, they have a dictionary in their heads, their mental lexicon if you want to be all fancy about it and use the technical term.
This is wildly different from any dictionary in print: plenty of dictionary words are missing from any mental lexicon, of course, but there are also plenty of mental lexicon words you won’t find in a dictionary.
In fact, most of the words in use aren’t found in a dictionary: seefor a small selection of slang terms that are unlikely to work their way into Merriam-Webster anytime soon. Not that it would really matter, as there’s no such thing as an “official word”: dictionaries and style guides have no authority over the language; they’re supposed to be that people will be likely to want to look up and know about.
People don’t speak a language, or even a dialect; they speak their idiolect, their “I-language”, the one with all the rules they personally adhere to, all their mannerisms and pronunciations, their personal menu of slang. It happens to be very similar to the idiolects of the people around them, because people like being understood, but you’ll get variance from person to person.
So you have idiolects, which each contain different mental lexicons, and those mental lexicons cannot be impacted by dictionaries or style guides, unless the writer of that mental lexicon wants it to be. It’s in these mental lexicons, in how people use language, that the language slowly changes, one idiolect at a time.
And right now, changes are happening. Everywhere, in everyone’s idiolects, yours included. “Whom” is being dropped, case distinctions are disappearing, “literally” is getting promoted to an intensifier, “they” has been growing a singular use, et cetera, you could write the list yourself., but getting you to like language change is outside the scope of this answer.
One of these changes occurring in the mental lexicons of some people is a gradual compounding of certain words in the model of “alot”.’ (Oscay Tay, Quora.com. 2018)
Meanwhile, creatives will continue to invent words (e.g., combining two old words to get a portmanteau word; adding affixes, and so on).
e.g.: As far as I know, I made up the words filmovie, and, humanimal.
A filmovie is a movie that is popular (a movie) and also art (film) at the same time. (Those kinds of cinema come along rarely. Rocky (1976) is an example, it was a Top 20 RoI movie, but it also won the Oscar for Best Picture!)
Humanimal just means: human. It reminds us humans that we are also animals. (The fifth great ape, the third chimpanzee, etc!)
But apart from Orwellian 1984-style `top-down’ control of words by authoritarian or religious governments, we can predict that in (Popper’s) Open Societies, new words (memes, units of culture) will continue to compete and to spread, from the `bottom-up’, in the holarchy/partarchy of languages… Specialist domains will continue to spawn jargon words as new products (memes) and situations (processes) require them.
However words are just products; technology; solutions to (communication) problems (goals, obstacles).
…What about: Ideas?
Can we control ideas, via: directed biocultural evolution?
Yuval Noah Harari (quite rightly) thinks we sure ought to. (See his excellent book: Homo Deus, 2017). There are many ethical issues involved!
DARPA also hopes so; some memes – some ideas, values, and beliefs (such as extremist religious terrorism) would be better off, eradicated from society. See: A Memetics Compendium (Finkelstein 2008).
However – ideas are problem-solutions to physical, chemical, geological, environmental, bio-psycho-socio-cultural problems; the ideas (memes) of terrorism and suicide-bombing do not spread in a vacuum, among easily-influenced minds alone; we must look to the specific problems that the idea (meme) of suicide-bombing solves (or: appears to solve, to those convinced that it is a good idea).
Those problems start at the top of the consilience diagram (see above) and they go all the way down to Mathematics and statistics; people are systems in an environment.
To fully understand why certain ideas (memes) spread in bioculture, we must investigate all of the underlying, vastly complex bio-psycho-socio-economic and environmental causes and factors that result in the concept of suicide-bombing spreading as a `viral meme’.
INSERT: (I should note: …THAT IS AN INCREDIBLY-COMPLEX TASK! …See the Consilience diagram at the top of this post!
Humans are bio-psycho-socio-cultural systems! …So many variables-! Lots of complex systems, all in action at once-!
So – Non-Linear Dynamical Systems Theory (NLDS) — help us out, with all this: Chaos! …er, Theory.)
Consider, say, the memes / memeplexes of: Marxism, or Freudianism, or Capitalism, or even Universal Basic Income… (which I am all in favor of!)
The problems they solve (in each specific case) are fairly self-evident.
Religions likewise; they do some good, but a lot of bad! Cognitive biases can be exploited by a memeplex!
Check out: Wikipedia’s big list of cognitive biases…
And, see this one, too…
So – that’s seriously sobering for us mere mortals, or, us humble humanimals…
(…See what I did there; I am trying to learn to write in Classic Style.)
Memes do: solve problems.
But some of them also exploit cognitive biases, which are an ecological cultural niche!
The Moral of this Story: We need creativity now more than ever, to solve the world’s – and humanity’s – problems…
i.e., Poverty, War, Inequality, Racism, Sexism, Ageism, Overpopulation, Climate Change… and so on.
Meantime, the study and understanding (and – prediction and control) of Cultural Evolution is probably the most important problem that needs solving…!
The meme puzzle, assembled & solved
The diagram below isn’t quite literal; it’s a metaphor. But – it does illustrate how various past theorists on memes each saw part of the picture; but when you assemble all of the elements they mention, you end up with 3 categories of units in culture: Ideas, Processes, and Products.
Ed Witten’s (1995) M-Theory in the domain of Quantum Physics united five competing (and conflicting) string theories.
Similarly, past authors on memes (brilliant thinkers such as Dawkins, Dennett, Blackmore, and many more) all solved certain parts of “the grand puzzle of the meme” (see: Further Reading / Relevant Websites: Memetics bibliographies, below).
By standing on the shoulders of these giants, and assembling the correct parts of their views, (and, by using an Evolutionary Systems Theory lens), a complete and holistic view of the meme, the unit of culture emerges.
Blackmore (The Meme Machine, 1999) is quite right that many units of culture (Note: which are: ideas, processes, products) are communicated between humans via imitation.
However additionally, the transmission (i.e., communication) of information is possible via any communication or media channel.
Blackmore is also quite right to take `the meme’s-eye view’, but units of culture are not the self-replicators, rather they are what is replicated, by humans (or by mechanical storage devices, computers, robots) when a problem-space emerges, and a specific creative problem-solution spreads. Be it an idea, process, or product. Or all three!
On this view,
(1) the producers, and the users / consumers of memes (i.e., us humans),
(2) their environment/s, and
(3) the tools (the ideas, processes, products; the memes)
are all integral elements of multiple biological, psychological, social and cultural (or, bio-cultural, for short) evolutionary systems in action.
See the diagram below.
So; to think of viral memes (i.e., those units in culture that spread more quickly, and, become canon) as “special” or “unique”, is to accidentally also ignore the silent population of the archive units of culture.
All units of culture (ideas, processes, products) are memes.
However some of these units are better adapted to the environment of: human minds.
It depends in each case on (a) the problem that the meme solves, and (b) how it solves it.
As an example – various religions, as belief systems / worldviews, “solve” the psychological problems of: a fear of death, and/or a hope that there is an afterlife. (A unit of culture does not have to be true to go viral. It just needs to work.) For those who are convinced by a religion, it works! It thus “solves” some of the person’s problems (e.g., say, fear of death, a fear that there is no afterlife, a fear that they are here via an accident of evolution, a fear that there is no wise, all-knowing, controlling, sky-wizard “running” everything, etc.)
Similarly, the brilliant Dan Dennett (Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, 1995) is quite right that the evolutionary algorithm operates on culture.
However, this same algorithm (recipe, or process) operating in bioculture is much more clearly seen, when viewed as: (1) selection, (2) variation and (3) transmission, as in the figure below, rather than, in the (usual) order of: (1) heredity, (2) variation and (3) selection (as it is usually phrased, in biological evolution).
Dennett (2018) is also quite right that memes are indeed, ways of behaving: but this only reflects the `process’ (or algorithm, or recipe, or method) part of the whole picture of memes (units of culture) as: ideas, and/or process(es), and/or products.
Dennett (2018), in his brilliant book From Bacteria to Bach and Back phrases it like so:
`What are memes a kind of? They are a kind of way of behaving (roughly) that can be copied, transmitted, remembered, taught, shunned, denounced, brandished, ridiculed, parodied, censored, hallowed. …we might say that memes are ways: ways of doing something, or making something, but not instincts (which are a different kind of ways of doing something or making something). The difference is that memes are transmitted perceptually, not genetically.’ (Dennett 2018, p. 206)
And of course Dennett is quite right again; units of external culture (i.e., memes) are transmitted perceptually, and not genetically.
As for whether memes are like genes; certainly also, some units of culture (some memes: ideas, processes, products) actually are:
(1) instructions for making – or copying – a product,
(2) just a product (which can be copied, via reverse-engineering),
and some units even contain
Thus, some alternatives for units of culture include:
(3) copy both.
Organic viruses, and nanobots can indeed create copies of themselves – but only some units in culture (some: memes) have this same `viral replicator’ ability, structure, function and purpose that is similar in process to: DNA in cells replicating, and then building another “biological machine made of cells with DNA inside, some of which cells with DNA inside are designed to: make more DNA in cells“.
Indeed computer viruses (e.g., worms, trojans) are a unit of culture with deliberate self-propagation processes (algorithms) built-in.
However all these variations of culture – in their unique complexity – should not cloud the issue that memes – units of culture – are: ideas, processes, products.
Because life brings problems (and thus goals, and thus values) with it, any effective (new and useful/valuable; i.e., creative) problem-solutions are likely to spread to as many human minds as can become aware of them.
Recall Dawkins’ (1976) mention of: catchy tunes, good ideas, memorable phrases, popular fashion trends or fads, effective methods of making products or of building specific things…
Here is the original quote from (the brilliant!) The Selfish Gene:
Dawkins (1976 / 2006) coined the term `meme’ for:
`a unit of cultural transmission…
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 catch[e]s on, it can be said to propagate itself, spreading from brain to brain.’
Perhaps without noticing, Dawkins here is, quite simply, talking about: the evolutionary phenomenon of creativity.
He is describing creative (original and useful) cultural artifacts.
The better (more effective) problem-solutions (memes: ideas, processes, products) are the more creative ones.
We can actually view this resultant `virality’, or mass communication influence, in terms of The 5-C model of creativity:
The above 5-C Model of Creativity (Velikovsky 2018) first appeared within my article on creativity in The Journal of Genius and Eminence (2018).
Category 5, in the diagram above, Highly-eminent geniuses (Boldface-C Creatives) create “viral” memes (units of culture: ideas, processes, or products). e.g. Newton, Einstein, Darwin, Mozart, The Beatles, Da Vinci, Picasso, Shakespeare, Nabokov, Austen, and so on.
As an example: in 1961 Joseph Heller’s novel Catch-22 was published, selling over 10 million copies in 21 languages. The phrase “catch-22” thus entered the lexicon in 1961. (By the way it was originally going to be: Catch-18, but, which is not as, er, catchy.)
We can do an NGram: (…and you should try it yourself, at Google NGram Viewer !)
It is unclear, how many of these (in the NGram above) are (a) quoting the title of the 1961 book, or, (b) using the phrase “catch-22” to describe a paradoxical, no-win situation. But the terms “vicious circle” and “vicious cycle” are also compared in the NGram. No doubt some of the time, instead of those latter terms (“vicious circle”, “vicious cycle”), the term “catch-22” is being used. This is an example of competition (of words, or phrases) for a niche in culture.
The problem being solved (the niche, being filled) is: a phrase to describe a “no-win, vicious circle situation”. The term “catch-22” solves it quicker (i.e., in less letters, shorter words) than do the longer phrases. It also has a lighter, humourous, satirical, absurd tone (due to the narrative tone of the Heller 1961 book itself), whereas the word “vicious” has scarier/darker connotations.
On the Evolution of the ampersand symbol (i.e. the “&”)
Oscar Tay (2017) writes on Quora:
`The “&” itself was originally just a shorthand way to write the Latin word et
(which also meant “and”):
This was later borrowed into English. For a while, it was placed at the end of the alphabet (i.e., “X, Y, Z, &”), where it was called “per se and”. When children recited the alphabet, they would say “ex, wy, zed, and per se and”. The “and per se and” part eventually turned into the modern name for the symbol, the ampersand.’
That’s a pretty clear case of creativity: i.e., combining two [or more] old things to get a new thing, and it works. (i.e., Combining the e and t in `et’ to get the: & symbol).
As is, the word ampersand, from combining “and per se and”.
An extremely important point for the scientific study of creativity
(…and: I believe, I’m the first person to notice this?)
Kullback-Liebler divergence is: a measure of surprise.
This has very important implications for memes…(!)
First, note that the standard (bipartite) definition of creativity dating back to the 1950s (Runco & Jaeger 2012) is “new and useful” (synonyms for this are: original and effective, novel and appropriate; see Gorny 2007)
But – the tripartite definition is “new, useful and surprising”.
(I have published on this, in an article in The Journal of Genius & Eminence, 2018)
A brief excerpt:
Creativity is here understood as units of culture (ideas, processes, products, a.k.a. memes) that are judged as new and useful by a consensus of the field (Runco & Jaeger, 2012). While accepting this is currently the standard (bipartite) definition of creativity, I prefer the proposed tripartite criteria: new, useful and surprising(Bruner, 1962; Boden, 2004; Simonton, 2012; Velikovsky, 2016a, 2017b).
A meme is here understood as a unit of culture, and includes: ideas, processes, or products. A cultural product may be a book; an article; a scientific theory; a song; a joke; a religion; a game; a television series, season, episode, or advertisement; a movie; a word; a language; a soft drink; a FaceBook meme (image and/or text); and so on (Csikszentmihalyi, 1988, 1996; Velikovsky, 2016b, 2017b).’
Now, the problem that occurs in recognizing creativity sometimes is: To those people who are involved in a very specific subdomain, within a domain in culture, they often arrive at the same problem-solutions, or understandings (see also: multiple discovery, like say Wallace and Darwin, or Liebniz and Pascal, etc). So, then when they experience ideas by other authors, they do not consider them: surprising.
BUT – for the general field (i.e. non-experts) for a domain, if they haven’t considered certain problem-spaces, someone can come along and can explain some ideas, and to the audience unfamiliar with the whole problem area, it will seem: new, and surprising. (They may not even thus recognize its usefulness/utility as a problem-solution).
At any rate, Kullback-Liebler (or KL) divergence can get around (solve) this issue.
Check this great (preprint) paper (below) out!
It has massive implications for creativity (which is just: problem-solving).
Namely: relative information-gain. (I cannot over-emphasize how important this is, not just in creativity, but in everyday life… Speaking as a former rural firefighter: Most problems, accidents, mistakes and failures that occur are due to someone having incomplete information about a situation.)
Here is the Abstract of that terrific article:
`Search in an environment with an uncertain distribution of resources involves a trade-off between exploitation of past discoveries and further exploration. This extends to information foraging, where a knowledge-seeker shifts between reading in depth and studying new domains. To study this decision-making process, we examine the reading choices made by one of the most celebrated scientists of the modern era: Charles Darwin.
From the full-text of books listed in his chronologically-organized reading journals, we generate topic models to quantify his local (text-to-text) and global (text-to-past) reading decisions using Kullback-Liebler Divergence, a cognitively-validated, information-theoretic measure of relative surprise. Rather than a pattern of surprise-minimization, corresponding to a pure exploitation strategy, Darwin’s behavior shifts from early exploitation to later exploration, seeking unusually high levels of cognitive surprise relative to previous eras.
These shifts, detected by an unsupervised Bayesian model, correlate with major intellectual epochs of his career as identified both by qualitative scholarship and Darwin’s own self-commentary. Our methods allow us to compare his consumption of texts with their publication order.
We find Darwin’s consumption more exploratory than the culture’s production, suggesting that underneath gradual societal changes are the explorations of individual synthesis and discovery. Our quantitative methods advance the study of cognitive search through a framework for testing interactions between individual and collective behavior and between short- and long-term consumption choices.
This novel application of topic modeling to characterize individual reading complements widespread studies of collective scientific behavior.’ (Murdock, Allen, DeDeo 2017)
This also reminds me of one of the audience-questions (on Harari’s reading habits and information-search strategies) in this great Google Talk by Yuval Noah Harari (2018):
`Cat as a unit of culture is, actually, 19 units of culture’
Counting the units of e-memes (external units of culture)
and i-memes (internal, mental representations) – a demonstration
By JT Velikovsky
Due to the holon/parton structure of the meme, the unit of culture,
…The written word:
Is, actually: 19 units of culture…!
Let’s count them individually… (And, sorry – I will have to jump around between levels of the holon/parton a bit, but I hope it should be clear by the end.)
ANALYSIS OF: THE UNIT(S)
of the E-Meme
(External unit of culture)
RUNNING TALLY OF UNITS
(as measured in BYTES)
Some Issues of measurement
|Firstly, there is one word: `cat’||(…Thus: 1 unit of culture, so far…)||3 bytes
(i.e., one byte per letter, in Shannon information)
|Q: Can the reader understand English? i.e., How much (and, what, exactly) do they already know? (See: KL divergence!)
i.e.Variable: How big is this `chunk’ or engram in each person’s case? (It depends!)
|Plus on a lower level of the holon/parton, there are three letters composing the word, namely: `c’ `a’ and `t’||(That’s 3 more units – so, that’s 4 units, so far…)||As Shannon information – still just 3 bytes…(!)||Now we see emergence: the “meaning” (semantic information) of `cat’ emerges, as the whole (word) is more than the sum of the parts (3 letters: c a t).|
|Plus: the underlying concept of (a, i.e, any) “cat” that is being conveyed/ communicated/evoked as an i-meme, in the reader’s mind||(That’s 1 more, so: 5 units, now)||(…Yikes.) Who knows how many bytes the concept of `cat’ is, semantically? Let’s say there’s 42 words in the average dictionary definition of the word `cat’; so: 420 bytes… (but the semantic value isn’t being measured there!)…So: `cat’ (as a concept, an idea) needs to be measured as an i-meme in many brains, and averaged over the population. See next cell to the right ——>||How detailed is the reader’s (stored, memory) concept of: cat? (Do they know all the species, habits, etc of all real – and possible – cats?) How many dimensions can cats vary in? (e.g.: Genus; shape; size; colour; fur or not; typical behaviour and habits; diet; domesticated or wild? – etc!!)|
|Plus: the concept of the English language – and this is a huge unit.||(1 more, so that is 6 units…)
And by the way, the English language is: a HUGE unit of culture: well over a million words, and it grows by thousands of words every year.
– Plus, all its (evolving) grammar, syntax and spelling rules!
(See: The Sense of Style, Pinker 2015)
|The English language has a million words, each word is an average of 5 letters, so 5 million bytes.
(Some argue the `typical’ text word is 10 bytes, in which case: in the range of 5-10 MB)
|How much of the English language does the reader know?
(Also: How many words do they know the etymology of? Including, this one, ie `cat’)
|Plus: potentially – also 8 more units of culture
(8 more languages) there…
|i.e. The word cat is, `cat’, in: English, Irish, Lao, Hausa, Igbo, Somali, Zulu, Occitan, Scots Gaelic…
So – 8 more units of culture (plus 6, is: 14 units, so far…)
(…Are you still with me? LOL)
|Let’s add: another 10 bytes (a word) x 300k words) x 8 languages =
(i.e., Around 300,000 words in the average dictionary of a language… see this.)
|KL divergence again – depending on how many languages, the reader is already aware of / knows! (Most speakers have around 25,000 spoken words in their vocab)|
|Plus: the font it (the word, `cat’) is written in||Some possible dimensions of text fonts include: (1) serif or sans, (2) the unique visual style (e.g. Euclidean shapes, or organic & `curvy’ or even Sans Forgetica), also (3) bold/or not, (4) italics/not, (5) underlined/not, etc…That’s 5 more units… (5 more dimensions). (A domain, as a whole, is a unit of culture as a holon/parton.)
So, 19 units of culture…
|This gets messy… eg See, say, this.||Does the reader recognize (already know) the exact font? …Can they name it? Or, could they – accurately – pick it out of a `lineup’ of fonts?|
19 units of culture in the word “cat”
(as an e-meme – an external unit of culture in the physical world, as a tangible artifact)
= Er, lots of bytes.
At the least, 3 bytes of Shannon information. At the most, 30 MegaBytes. The semantic information involved makes it somewhat: tricky.
(as an i-meme inside a human brain)
…Needs to be measured (i.e., lots of folks, reading / thinking of “cat” in an fMRI – and, averaged out over the population!
So; 19 units, and (paradoxically) this is just for 1 unit, namely the English-language 3-letter-word: cat.
And – Holy cow, no wonder it took 40 years (1976 until 2016, or even since the dawn of humankind, but who’s counting?) for, someone random – like say, me – to crack the hard domain problem of how to measure memes. This all gets complex as all hell.
(Watson and Crick won a Nobel Prize, for the equivalent discovery in Biology.)
In Velikovsky’s 2016 PhD study, he examined 40 units of culture; the top 20 RoI movies and the bottom 20 RoI movies.
One of the top 20 RoI movies was the Oscar Best Picture winner, Rocky (1976), from whence the meme (said in a Rocky Balboa accent) “Yo, Adrienne!” sprang.
Also Star Wars (1977) was one of the memes (units of culture), from whence the memes “Use the Force, Luke” and “May the Force be with you” (and – many, many more) memes sprang.
Also, Napoleon Dynamite (2004) is in there (in the top 20 RoI movies dataset) from whence the “VOTE FOR PEDRO” shirts (meme) sprang.
Movies are holon/partons; they are memes, units of culture.
They are composed of smaller holon/partons, such as: memorable, quotable lines of dialog that become catchphrases.
Notably, no “viral memes” (such as: memorable, quotable dialog lines; popular catchphrases; iconic characters, etc) sprang from the Bottom 20 RoI movies (the biggest money-losing movies), and that is exactly the point.
Those (bottom 20 RoI) movies were not viral memes; they were the opposite of a viral meme. They became Archive, and not Canon, in culture.
Songs, Movies, Religions, Science – all these units of culture (memes) are structured as holon/partons. Those units can be measured and tracked in culture. For details, see the original (2016) book chapter, that was an Appendix to the StoryAlity PhD (2016).
The (2016) PhD dissertation is also a free PDF, online, here.
A quote from Graphs, Maps, Trees by Franco Moretti (2007):
`There are many ways of being alive, writes Richard Dawkins, but many more ways of being dead-and figures 30 and 31, with all those texts that were so quickly forgotten, fully bear out his point: literary pathology, one may almost call it. But instead of reiterating the verdict of the market, abandoning extinct literature to the oblivion decreed by its initial readers, these trees take the lost 99 per cent of the archive and reintegrate it into the fabric of literary history, allowing us to finally ‘see’ it. It is the same issue raised in the first chapter-the one per cent of the canon, and the ninety-nine of forgotten literature-but viewed from a different angle: whereas graphs abolish all qualitative difference among their data, trees try to articulate that difference.’ (Moretti 2007, p. 77)
For more on the 1% problem in culture, see also:
StoryAlity #114B – The Less Than 1% Problem in the Domain of Novels
StoryAlity #115 – The `Less-Than-1%’ Problem in the Domain of Film
Below is a very brief but interesting case study on how: A meme does not have to be true, to go viral.
How these memes were remembered (as i-memes), mutated, and spread (as e-memes) says a lot about: How the mind rearranges information (as self-contained: units of culture), to better suit its own needs…
(…okay yes; I know, Woody Allen made the movie Play It Again, Sam in 1972, and which partly explains why one of the above memes, spread in culture…)
In 2012, Peter Norvig analyzed the Google NGram corpus to examine English letter frequency-counts. Turns out the word “the” is the most common word, at 7% of all words used in writing. See: English Letter Frequency Counts: Mayzner Revisited or
ETAOIN SRHLDCU (Norvig 2012, online).
Also, not forgetting there are a few definitions of information that exist:
For more detail on that, see:
Bawden, D & Robinson, L (2012), Introduction to Information Science, Facet Publishing, London.
And… Thanks so much for reading!
—Thoughts, Comments, Feedback, always welcome.
Evolutionary Systems Theorist & High-RoI Story/Screenplay/Movie and Transmedia Researcher
The above is (mostly) an adapted excerpt, from my doctoral thesis (2016): “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 detail see: http://on-writering.blogspot.com/
Velikovsky JT. (2017) Chapter 405: The Holon/Parton Structure of the Meme, or, The Unit Of Culture. In: Khosrow-Pour M (ed) Encyclopedia of Information Science and Technology, Fourth Edition. New York: IGI Global, 4666-4678.
Velikovsky JT. (2016) The Holon/Parton Theory of the Unit of Culture (or the Meme, and Narreme): In Science, Media, Entertainment and the Arts. In: Connor A and Marks S (eds) Creative Technologies for Multidisciplinary Applications. New York: IGI Global, 208-246.
Velikovsky JT. (2016) `Communication, Creativity and Consilience in Cinema: A comparative study of the top 20 Return-on-Investment (RoI) Movies and the Doxa of Screenwriting’. PhD Dissertation, The School of Design, Communication and Information Technology; Faculty of Science and Information Technology. Newcastle, Australia: University of Newcastle.
Bawden, D & Robinson, L (2012), Introduction to Information Science. Facet Publishing, London. (in particular, see Chapter 4: Basic Concepts of Information Science, pp. 63-84)
Fisher, K, Erdelez S, & McKechnie L, (eds) (2005) Theories of Information Behavior. Information Today, Medford NJ.
Gleick, J (2011), The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood. Pantheon Books, New York. (Although, its Ch 13, on memes, needs some updating, since Velikovsky 2016)
P. J. Richerson & M. H. Christiansen (Eds.), Cultural Evolution: Society, Language, and Religion (Vol. 12), MIT Press: Cambridge, MA.
RELEVANT WEBSITES (on Memetics)
Although – in fact – because they are all so confusing, as they were written before 2016, when Memetics was still in a Kuhnian pre-paradigm state – it is perhaps best, NOT to read anything on Memes or Memetics, apart from Dawkins (The Selfish Gene, 1976), and, then jump straight to the book-chapter that solved the structure of the meme, the unit of culture, i.e.Velikovsky (2016). Otherwise it’s a bit like reading about phlogiston, or homunculus theory. Great thinkers were grasping for the truth, but not quite nailing it. You will -probably end up confused about it, if you read any of these works below. (Just trying to help! Not meaning to offend anyone; all of these authors contributed a lot! And we wouldn’t be where we are in our knowledge, without any of them.) But units of culture (words, sentences, inventions, songs, movies, etc) are not “self-replicating”. They instead get: Selected and Transmitted (or even: Selected, Varied, and Transmitted) as solutions to problems.
A Memetics Bibliography: http://memetics.timtyler.org/references/
Journal of Memetics (1997-2005) Bibliography: http://cfpm.org/jom-emit/biblio/
A final quote, in light of Evolutionary Culturology:
`This chapter is about measurement; specifically measurement of the quantitative aspects of the creation, communication and use of information… Informetrics is the study of the quantitative aspects of information resources and of the communication of information.’ (Bawden and Robinson 2012, p. 165)
For more detail, see the dedicated Evolutionary Culturology weblog.
PS – & a few more diagrams. If you like that kinda thing. (And I do.)
A picture’s worth a thousand words, but a diagrams worth a thousand pictures. (Information Compression! Thank you Jake & Elwood, I mean Claude Elwood. I mean Claude Shannon. Saves a lotta time, and time is a finite / limited resource, if you’re a living system 🙂
TIME: Don’t spend it all at once