Units of culture vs. Units of biology

There are some remarkable parallels and similarities of units of culture to units in biology.

It applies to: letters, words, sentences, books, songs, movies, novels, anything in culture.

The details are in:

Velikovsky, J.T. (2019) “The Holon/Parton Structure of the Meme, or The Unit of Culture.” In Advanced Methodologies and Technologies in Artificial Intelligence, Computer Simulation, and Human-Computer Interaction, edited by D.B.A Mehdi Khosrow-Pour. Hershey, PA: IGI Global.

Velikovsky, J.T. (2018). “The Holon/Parton Theory of the Unit of Culture (or the Meme, and Narreme): In Science, Media, Entertainment, and the Arts.” In Technology Adoption and Social Issues: Concepts, Methodologies, Tools, and Applications (1st Edn), edited by IRMA, 1590-1627. Hershey, PA: IGI Global.

Velikovsky, J.T. (2017). “Chapter 405: The Holon/Parton Structure of the Meme, or, The Unit Of Culture.” In Encyclopedia of Information Science and Technology, Fourth Edition, edited by Mehdi Khosrow-Pour, 4666-4678. New York: IGI Global.

Velikovsky, J.T. (2016). “The Holon/Parton Theory of the Unit of Culture (or the Meme, and Narreme): In Science, Media, Entertainment and the Arts.” In Creative Technologies for Multidisciplinary Applications, edited by Andrew Connor and Stefan Marks, 208-246. New York: IGI Global. (This chapter was an Appendix of my 2016 PhD.)

See this post for more details.

But – here’s just one way to understand it… (Can you tell by the metaphor below, I’ve been reading some Doug Hofstadter lately?)

Imagine a sentence that contained the instructions for expanding it out to a short story – and now, also imagine – the resultant short story, which still had the instructions within it.

Like say, when a seed becomes a full-grown plant, and creates more seeds…

(1) This sentence should be expanded out to a paragraph which contains the story of a man who was born, lived and died, and should also retain this instruction.


(2) This is a story of a man. It’s composed of sentences. It should be easily understood what’s happening here. It was expanded out to a paragraph, which contains a more detailed tale. It is the story of a man who was born in Calcutta. He lived and died, there. He was obsessed by the works of Tagore and Einstein. You should also retain the wisdom they imparted. This type of wisdom, this instruction for living and good behaviour, are timeless. Now extract words 1, 11(-1), 13, 14, 22-28, 35-42, 46-48, 58, 61-63, 72, 73 of this paragraph, and do 3 more variations (i.e., slightly different stories). Or of you like, do: What Brian Boyd (2009) calls `cognitive play with pattern’.


This fun little exercise above shows, analogously, how: DNA creates an organism, that in turn, creates another organism. A seed produces a plant, which produces more seeds.

…What’s all this got to do with how creativity works the same way in biology and in culture, you ask?

Of course, not too many short stories contain literal instructions for creating their offspring. (That’d just be: weird.)

Instead, a writers’ imagination encounters the second story (e.g., the expanded paragraph) above, and thus, ideas are triggered, inspiring another short story.

Only some of the elements are retained. Thus, some works of Kafka, Poe, Henry James, Valéry, and Chesterton result in some of the works of: a Jorges Luis Borges. (Those are his acknowledged main influences.)

Or, say – the works of Kubrick (2001), Kurosawa (The Hidden Fortress) and Asimov (The Foundation novels) result in, a George Lucas movie (Star Wars)…

So. In this sense,

Creativity – overall – works the same way in culture as in biology.

The evolutionary algorithm: Selection, Variation, Transmission.

And, Multi-Level Selection (MLS)…

…Food for thought…!

Think of the multiple levels in biology…

Atom, molecule, organelle, cell, tissue, organ, organ system, organism, superorganism, ecosystem, biosphere… All these levels have selection pressure on them. (They can each: survive, or, die – or even go extinct…)

Think of the levels in a unit of culture. A book, say.

Letters, words, sentences, paragraphs, sections, chapters, the book, the genre, library, all libraries, all Earth culture…

All these levels also have selection pressure on them. (They too, can: survive, or die, or go extinct… Think of how books are created/written – by writers selecting and discarding ideas/ phrases/ sentences/ even entire chapters – and, think about which books become canon/survive & thrive, and which go archive/extinct, thanks to their environment: the minds of the global audience)…

In other words – why are some things popular, and others not?

See also, this journal article: The Robo-Raconteur artificial writer. (Namely, the diagrams in it!)

Creativity scholars (Csikzsentmihalyi, DK Simonton, RK Sawyer, etc) note many similarities in the evolution of biology and culture… As do Evocriticism scholars (e.g. Brian Boyd, Joseph Carroll, Scalise-Sugiyama, Gottschall… and also E O Wilson, and D S Wilson).

Also it’s clear that creativity often occurs when one domain in culture is examined, and some of the concepts, models, or intellectual frameworks are translated over to another… e.g. Watson and Crick discovering the structure of the units in biology (DNA)…

They asked the right question… What is the structure of the unit/s, in biology?

When we ask the right (and equivalent) question (i.e. What is the structure of the unit/s, in culture?) we get an astonishing answer, that unlocks some age-old problems…

For more details, see: The 3 universal laws of holon/partons (in physics, chemistry, biology, culture). Or see the 4 articles listed at the start of this post.

In short, E O Wilson (Consilience, 1998) was right!

Some of the laws of Physics apply to Culture!

Also, part of creativity is in asking your own (new, useful and surprising, i.e. creative) Domain Question – and also, finding its actual Answer

Creativity (Csikszentmihalyi 1996)

To cite from the brilliant masterwork, Creativity (Csikszentmihalyi 1996, pp. 95-6):


Problems are not all alike in the way they come to a person’s attention.

Most problems are already formulated; everybody knows what is to be done and only the solution is missing. The person is expected by employers, patrons, or some other external pressure to apply his or her mind to the solution of a puzzle. These are “presented” problems.

But there are also situations in which nobody has asked the question yet, nobody even knows that there is a problem.

In this case the creative person identifies both the problem and the solution.

Here we have a “discovered” problem.

Einstein, among others, believed that the really important breakthroughs in science come as a result of reformulating old problems or discovering new ones, rather than by just solving existing problems.

Or as Freeman Dyson said: “It is characteristic of scientific life that it is easy when you have a problem to work on. The hard part is finding your problem”.

(Csikszentmihalyi 1996, pp. 95-6)

Anyway, you probably see what I’m suggesting here…


“Perhaps, if I am very lucky, the feeble efforts of my lifetime will someday be noticed, and maybe, in some small way, they will be acknowledged as the greatest works of genius ever created by Man.” – Jack Handey, Deep Thoughts


But, to make it explicit: Previously, (prior to: 2016), despite 20 years of hardcore Memetics study – that fizzled out – the problem was, nobody had asked, what the structure of the unit of culture was…

…Funnily enough, Leibniz had a very good crack at it, in his (1666) PhD – but, he got stuck on the symbolic representation problem…

But here’s (below) and illustration of the exact same thing that he was getting at in 1666. Namely: All complex concepts (in culture) are composed of smaller, simpler concepts… One example that we can break down into its component units, is: The StoryAlity Theory of High RoI Movies

For more details see: The holarchy/partarchy of StoryAlity Theory.

Also – Isn’t it all rather odd, how: Herman Melville wasn’t appreciated for his novels (e.g. Moby-Dick, now called by many “The Great American Novel”) while he was alive? They (his contemporaries) all saw him as a Travel Writer(!) So he died, an unrecognized novelistic genius.

The Moral: Sometimes, it takes a while for the Field to catch on.

Some folks are just: ahead of their times?

Strikes me as both tragic, and hilarious.

Think, also of: JK Toole, A Confederacy of Dunces. Think of The Third Policeman, Flann O’Brian. And, of Kafka, Van Gogh, Vermeer, and – if you wanna get really depressed:

10 Famous People Who Died Unknown

Talented Folks Who Died Unrecognized

More of the same depressing/hilarious stuff

Hey – Was Leibniz right, about this bit?

“The universe that God chose to exist is the best of all possible worlds”.

I suspect, not…?

Given evolution, statistics, and probability – it seems vastly more likely, we’re living in a Simulated Multiverse (see: Nick Bostrom 2003), and, find ourselves in an endlessly splitting universe, as per MWI, Hugh Everett (1957)…?

Either way – in this universe, consider MLS (Multi-Level Selection) in the levels of the diagram, below.

Vertical integration of Disciplines (Velikovsky 2014, 2019)

So, hey – on the bright side, in some universes, I’m not a heresiarch? 🙂

In short, I’m a Dataist. (See Yuval Noah Harari’s 3 great books, for more on it.) Or, call me a Methodological Naturalist, as D S Wilson calls it.

I heart science!

(And I still think, Science should become a formal religion 🙂

…Thanks for reading!

Comments always welcome!

(and, will ensure your digital immortality. …Unless I delete them. Mwahahaaa).


JT Velikovsky, Ph.D

& High-R.o.I. Story / Screenplay / Movie & Transmedia Researcher & Consultant

& Human (& Computer) Creativity Researcher 

& Evolutionary Systems Analyst

For more details: See the research in my 2016 doctoral thesis: “Communication, Creativity and Consilience in Cinema”, elements of which are reproduced here for the benefit of fellow screenwriting, filmmaking and creativity researchers, and bio-cultural evolutionary scholars. 

For more academic articles by the exact same author, see https://aftrs.academia.edu/JTVelikovsky

See also: StoryAlity Screenwriting Masters course outline.

JT Velikovsky is a million-selling Transmedia writer-director-producer and game designer & writer. He has also been a professional Story Analyst (i.e., Screen Reader) for major movie studios, film funding organizations, independent film production companies and also for the national writer’s guild. He is also a judge for the writers guild and the director’s guild. Velikovsky’s Transmedia-Writing weblog: http://on-writering.blogspot.com/




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