The Ecology of Intentions: How to make Memes and Influence People: Culturology

by Adam Westoby (1944-1994)


  1. Foreword by Daniel C. Dennett
  2. Brief Background to Manuscript "Ecology of Intentions" by Mark Westoby
  3. The complete July 1994 draft (with bibliography)
  4. Appendices
    1. Bibliography of works by Adam Westoby
    2. Obituaries by John Spencer and Ron Glatter



Daniel C. Dennett, Director, Center for Cognitive Studies

Whether the meme meme deserves to flourish depends in part on how well if can account for itself. Adam Westoby's "The Ecology of Intentions" makes a fine double contribution to this reflexive task, both as analysis and example. If you read it, you will see for yourself the variety of original and incisive ideas about memes that prompted me to become its willing vector. And if you read it, you will yourself provide another data point measuring the power of memes--whatever their intrinsic virtue--to spread by harnessing human minds to the task of their further replication. The draft before you is not just unfinished and unpublished; it is full of blemishes, gaps, half-baked ideas that distract us from the best ideas in it. Life is short, so why will you read it? Perhaps to see how Westoby's memes got as far as this (the Zahavi Principle at work in the memosphere).

These memes exited their nest through an extraordinary bottleneck: the relentless activity of a single unparalyzed finger on a wordprocessor keyboard. That does not make them good ("for us"), but it does make them powerful; the task of getting them out dominated Adam Westoby's last years. Shortly after his death, his brother, Mark Westoby (some of whose own work in biology is briefly discussed by me in Darwin's Dangerous Idea, pp. 234-5), sent me the manuscript and the accompanying "brief background" account, with a request that I advise him about how to get his brother's work to the right minds. Some months later I found the time to look at this uninvited but curiously inviting package, and began to put in motion the process in which you are now participating. I considered undertaking the editorial task required to fit Westoby's manuscript for regular publication, but rejected it; the task was huge, and I had my own pile of projects to tend to. In the end, after sharing the manuscript with a few of my favorite advisors and informants on such topics--Richard Brodie, the late Ben Cullen, Aaron Lynch, Alex Rosenberg and Don Ross--and considering their advice, I offered to make the rough draft available as a Working Paper of the Center, which is the form in which you now see it, and in which it may be cited. Mark Westoby has provided me with further items about his brother and his work, which appear as appendices here. I never met Adam Westoby, nor have I met Mark yet, but some of their memes are now among mine, and I am pleased to have them on board.

The Center for Cognitive Studies has become something of an informal, self-selected depot for current work on memes, and I am sorry to say that I have been simply unable to filter, evaluate and transmit the material that has been sent to me so far. Piles of manuscripts lie as yet unread on my shelves--other authors should be warned of this--and Westoby's vehicle is the first that I now send on its way with this equivocal--but effective?-- endorsement. I wish I had had the opportunity to discuss it with Adam Westoby, since I would have tried to adjust his vision of several of the philosophical topics he boldly tackles, and also would have asked him to expand on the passages I found most suggestive and illuminating. But that is just a selfish reaction; every reader can execute one editorial function or another on this rich set of materials.

We at the Center would appreciate being informed of any discussions and commentaries of these ideas.

Brief background to the manuscript "Ecology of Intentions"

Mark Westoby

March 1995

The manuscript is of about 50,000 words and was written by my brother Adam Westoby. The current version dates to July 1994. Following that time, Adam's remission from myeloma ended and he died in November 1994. The July 1994 version represents a revision following comments he received on an earlier version, dated December 1993.

The manuscript takes the "meme" metaphor and applies it to a range of topics in cultural history, education and political economy. The metaphor is also developed beyond its usual form, notably by grafting "intentionality" on to it.

A brief outline of Adam's personal history may help to explain the mixture of ideas and knowledge he brought to the manuscript. In 1964 he went up to Balliol College Oxford, initially to read physics but switching within a month or two to Politics, Philosophy and Economics. He graduated with BA Hons I in 1967, and during 1967-8 did a one-year BPhil with a thesis on Haeckel's relation to Marx. By the mid-60's he was active in trotskyist politics. Much of his time went on activism (newspaper sales, union organization etc) and on marxist theory for some years. During this period the question of the nature of the State in the Soviet Union (also Cuba, China and the soviet satellites) was a key issue among Trotskyists. By the mid-70's he was no longer active in trotskyist organizations (there had been a series of splits). His interest in the structure and political nature of these states continued, however, especially in the three major books of 1981, 1985 and 1989 (see short publications list below).

From 1970 he was appointed to a Lectureship in the Dept of Education of the Open University, a position he held for the remainder of his life. He developed readers and course materials in the sociology and economics of education.

In 1973 he was diagnosed with syringomyelia, a progressive spinal cord disability. He underwent a number of operations to slow its progress, but by the 80's he was spending much of his time in a wheelchair. From the late 70's on he lived with Sabitha Hasan, a lawyer (now judge) who had been disabled as a child by polio. They had two sons, born 1984 and 1987. During the 80's he was involved also with his father's progressive disability and eventual death (1988) from motor neurone disease. His experience of his young children, combined with his sharp-edged relationship with his own father, further shaped his thinking about the transmission of ideas. In 1989 he was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, contracted pneumonia while under chemotherapy, and was not expected to survive. He emerged alive, though much weakened, and in clinical depression during 1990-91. By this time he could move only in a powered wheelchair, could sit up only for a few hours at a time, and could use a wordprocessor only with one finger of his right hand.

During 1989-90 the whole face of Soviet-bloc politics had changed, and it had become impossible for him to recover his former expertise in this area. At different times from 1989 onwards I had conversations with him about memes (my own background is in evolutionary biology), extending first over many weeks in hospital, then days at a time at his home, interspersed with phone and email conversations from Australia. The manuscript "Ecology of Intentions" takes the metaphor of memes and applies it to a range of themes from Adam's continuing interests, including some large ones (the subjectivity of meaning; money and the social surplus).

The Ecology of Intentions: How to make Memes and Influence People: Culturology

Draft - please comment

Adam Westoby

75 Chambers Lane

London NW10 2RN

tel 081-459 4668

fax 081-451 1641

Note to readers of this draft

Thank you for commenting. This note is to help you do so more effectively.

The date of this draft is printed above. It supercedes previous drafts.

Errors. Please point these out. Do not fear that your explanations will be too elementary.

Main text and footnotes. I hope to make the main text as readable as possible, consigning details, problems etc to the notes. Help in this regard will be especially welcome.

Footnotes. These are a miscellany of:

  • references to sources, sometimes ill-remembered
  • notes and reminders to myself, and
  • short or unsatisfactory versions of what might go in the text.

Drafting/editing comments are placed in square brackets [thus]. They are mainly intended to be intelligible to me.

References/bibliography. This is very much a working version, both overgrown and incomplete. Conversely, the fact that I have annotated an item does not imply that I have read all of it. Some items got there via book reviews etc.

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Many thanks

Adam Westoby

School of Education

The Open University

Milton Keynes MK7 6AA



In brief

This draft explores some ideas that see culture as organic.

Viewed as livng things, cultures as a whole, and their parts, depend on at least two types of adaptation:

  1. They must be adapted for inhabiting human psyches; and
  2. They must survive the mortality of individual humans.

Culture must be adapted for direct or indirect transmission from living humans to other living humans; much of it is learned behaviour. It must be adapted, crudely speaking, for both parasitism and reproduction. Cultural objects must dwell within individual psyches, and they must pass between them.

Much of what follows is a sort of "natural history" of cultural objects, paying particular attention to these two features and the interplay between them.

I also have a practical - or, if you prefer, ethical - aim: to help us discuss what forms of culture we humans can most happily share our world with.

Phases and metamorphoses

Because cultural objects need both to get inside individual humans, and to pass between them, they exist (like carbon-based forms of life) as sequences of differentiated phases. This has some general consequences which it may be useful to sketch at the outset:

  1. "Mental" phases, as experienced by human subjects, alternate with phases which have evolved to transmit well to, from and between subjects. We humans experience the contrast between mental and external phases as a gulf between subjective and objective. My discussion concentrates on evolution of the transmissible, objective phases of cultural objects.
  2. Cultural forms arise - like embryos and organisms - by evolutionary accretion. Historically later forms are modifications of earlier structures, and actual structures embody the consequences of earlier development. The cultural forms experienced by present day humans incorporate long evolutionary histories.
  3. This, in conjunction with the relatively fixed scale of individual humans (for example, our limited brain size and life span) imposes a cumulative process of abbreviation on cultural transmission. For example, modern school curricula must recapitulate in a few months devlopments that first took shape over thousands of years of cultural history.
  4. This places a premium on forms of transmission which yield advantages in compression of this sort - such as, for example, extended symbolling, reuseable artefacts, or money.

Corresponding to "parasitism" and "reproduction" in cultural objects are two enigma-areas of the human sciences:

  1. the problem of meaning, or that of the subjective versus the public; and
  2. the problem of social reproduction.

These problems are linked. Indeed I might recast them as follows:

  1. the problem of meaning may be approached as that of the separation out of persons, and the development of memory; and
  2. the problem of social reproduction is that of the cultural development of neophyte persons, or that of education.


I return to these problems in more detail later. However one approaches them, they are problems of complexity, of wholes being more than the sum of their parts. If I mention them now, it is only to introduce an "atomic" device which I think can help us make them a little more manageable: memes.

This derives not from physics but from biology. To begin with evolutionary biology analysed variation and natural selection among organisms. More recently its focus has shifted towards genes - the units of biological inheritance. Biologists remain divided on how best to think about relations between genes and organisms, and about how far life is naturally organised as organisms.

When questions analogous to these are transposed to human cultures they give rise to severe difficulties. I try to make progress by sidestepping them, at least initially. To do so I borrow a term invented by the biologist Richard Dawkins: memes, the units of cultural inheritance and selection.

What sorts of things are memes? Dawkins defined memes by analogy with genes. Just as, in biological reproduction, genes replicate themselves and "jump" from parent to offspring, surviving beyond the limited lifespan of individual organisms, so we may think of memes as a new form of life, leaping from mind to mind in human cultural transmission. Memes are "patterns of information that can thrive only in brains or the artificially manufactured products of brains - books, computers and so on". Memes replicate themselves (Dawkins holds) like genes: "by imitation ... in the broadest sense". They share certain fundamental characteristics with genes: "longevity, fecundity and copying-fidelity" (1976, 208). However, memes also vary, and the more successful variations proliferate. {footnote 1}

Memes range from relatively slight - a few whistled notes of a popular tune - to great interconnected assemblages of memes. Such collaborating assemblages of memes are analogous, Dawkins argues, to the "survival machines" (that is, organisms) in which biological genes congregate to propagate themselves from generation to generation. We could, for example, regard "an organized church, with its architecture, rituals, laws, music, art, and written tradition, as a co-adapted stable set of mutually-assisting memes" (Dawkins 1977, 212). I shall come back to the question how memes are incorporated in larger cultural objects. For the moment I ignore the distinction between simpler and more complex memes and treat them all interchangeably. The letter "i" is a meme; so is a paperback, a supermarket orange, a character in a film, a funeral, a screwdriver, a military command, a firework display, a quadratic equation, or a political party.

Writers such as Daniel Dennett have pursued the idea that memes proliferate just because they are good at proliferating, not neccessarily because human beings want them to. At first, Dennett concedes, we resist the idea of our brains "as a sort of dung heap in which the larvae of other people's ideas renew themselves, before sending out copies of themselves in an informational Diaspora". But this view captures an important truth. And it raises the question "Who's in charge, according to this vision, we or our memes?" As Dennett points out, there is no simple answer, and in his discussion the question leads (among other places) back to the enigma of the human self. (Dennett 1991, 202-3)

An advantage of the meme meme (as Dawkins rightly calls it) is that it gives us a relatively commonsense way of looking at problems of subject and object, personal and public, without collapsing one into the other. Thinking of memes as life forms which parasitise or domesticate humans helps avoid one-dircctional teleologyg. Memes make use of humans in senses just as real as those in which humans make use of artefacts and ideas. And it helps us to avoid humanist prejudices: by keeping memes conceptually separate from people, it allows us to examine some of their intrinsic characteristics, which cannot be reduced to those of human individuals.

My core argument is that the principles of cultural selection, as encapsulated in the notion of "memes" and their evolutionary interplay, may have much to offer the human sciences - a little as the principles of natural selection have increased the understanding of biologists. I discuss various ways in which memes affect people, in which people affect memes, and - particularly important - in which memes interact with each other in the larger ecology of memes.

Memes serve as my working answer to the question "What is a cultural object?" I know that there are powerful objections to thinking about cultures as collections of objects, and I do not mean to dismiss these. (Later on (Chapters ) I look at some of the problems thrown up by a memetic view of human - and other - cultures.) I simply want to suggest:

  1. that such a view can illuminate some aspects of culture; and
  2. that some of its insights may help us to develop cultural forms with which we can more pleasantly share the world.

I take it as widely agreed that human culture is not yet so "user-friendly" as to be open to no improvement. I want to suggest ways in which we could helpfully think of this - as the problem of breeding better-domesticated memes.

By taking Dawkins' meme as a starting point I don't mean to dismiss its various near-synonyms and connected ideas. I discuss some of them ("culturegens", "brain bugs", "viruses of the mind" and the epidemiology of beliefs, etc) in Chapter X. One of the things I should like to do is "evolve" (that is, vary and select from) the meme meme, to help it function and proliferate a little better. {Footnote 2}

Varieties of meme adaptation

"Tell me, how did you love my picture?" - Sam Goldwyn

What types of meme might we expect to be successful?

Let us look at some common meme adaptations, using the convenient shorthand of biological functionalism. What sorts of things might memes do if they "wanted" (and for our purposes they all do) to increase their success among the population of memes? More specifically, what sorts of things might memes do

  1. in order to make better use of human beings, but also
  2. in order to succeed better in their interactions with other memes?

Memes' environments, after all, consist largely of other memes.

One - but only one - possible way is for a meme to adapt so as to be more palatable or more desired by more human beings more of the time. A very large number of human artefacts are of this sort.

Consider the orange laid out in neat peeled segments next to my keyboard. It is an outcome of combined genetic and memetic selection, and allows us to compare them.

What is chiefly interesting to me about my orange is its convenient packaging of pulp and juice, high in sugars and distinctively flavoured. I enjoy eating it; it refreshes my concentration; and it forms a healthy alternative to biscuits.

The orange however, began its career with quite different functions. Fruiting developed (starting about million years ago) as a secondary adaptation of the sexual reproduction of flowering plants. Natural selection acted in favour of variants which surrounded their seeds with tissues appetising to animals. Two factors, in particular, acted through the foraging behaviour of animals to drive the evolutionary development of fruity organs around seeds:

better seed dispersion allowed offspring plants to populate the surrounding terrain more widely and proliferate better (for example by competing less intensely for light) improving seeds' chances of rooting by depositing them on the ground well mixed with animal excrement

Natural selection, however, explains only certain basics of my orange. It has also been greatly changed, in the last few moments of its evolutionry history, by cultural selection. The package of genes has become a meme.

In the few centuries that orange trees have been cultivated humans have applied increasingly knowledgeable selection, driving evolution at an accelerated rate in pursuit of enhanced desirability to humans. The characteristics that have been modified or emphasised by human selection include:

colour: attractiveness to animals has been enhanced to attract consumers

sweetness and taste: quite different selective pressures have been applied to my eating orange than, for example, to oranges for marmalade or Cointreau

seedlessness: the original raison d'etre of the orange's evolution has become an inconvenience. The very few seeds that may make it into my intestinal tract will pass on into an urban sewage system in which they have no hope of germinating.

uniformity: the varied shapes and sizes of fruit on wild orange trees have yielded to the astonishing similarity of Grade I eating oranges. This allows them to be shipped on carton with standard indentations, to be sold for a standard price, and to reduce the cost of distribution. The uniformity in the supermarket tray arises from cultural selection both between orange tree genes, and, at grading, between harvested fruit.

And, before the orange slides along the check-out counter to become mine, further cultural selection occurs, in which orange tree genes from round the world - Spain, Florida, Morocco and South Africa - compete to reproduce. They do so, however, not through excrement-smeared seeds, but through quite different memes - such as coins and balance sheets.

Derivative memes

Markets - with their continual revolutionising of both products and tastes - provide one modern, general forum of meme selection. In markets, money forms the institutional environment in which commodity-memes complement and compete with each other (through market research, product development etc, with their feedbacks on production and consumption). Comparisons between biology and commerce are now commonplace, and terminology naturally exchanges: market research creates economic "niches"; superceded commodities become "extinct", etc.

Palatability or desirability to humans is not neccessarily direct. In markets memes can be desired because they give access to other memes - for example, because they may be exchanged for them. If a type of meme emerges which can easily be exchanged for many other types, it can become desirable independently of any use of its own, emancipating its desirability, so to say, from particular desires. Money is such a meme, and the recomposition of desire as avarice, and the sense of the magical quality of money which humans now acquire in childhood, is one of the great accomplishments of memetic evolution. Intention becomes separated from all specific desires and all particular desirers; replicating its value, it passes, endlessly, from hand to hand. The emergence of money memes has had profound effects on the overall ecology of memes, forcing other memes to evolve effective symbioses with money, or face extinction.

(Some parenthetical questions: why do some variations of money succeed over others? Why does bad money drive out good? Essentially because simulating or diluting the currency are variations which shift the balance of probabilities as between the two things that holders of money may do with it: hold on to it, or spend it. The paradox is real partly because it is apparent.{Footnote 3} One of the reasons why you can't take money with you when you die (if you try, it ceases to be money) may be that this destroys its exchangeability - put more generally, its intentionality. I return to the question of intentionality later.{Footnote 4}

The method of reproducible experiment in science can be viewed as another pervasive meme, in some ways like money. Very occasionally it gets subjected to analogous tests: Is it falsifiable? Or forgeable? Can it be replicated? It circulates tirelessly among expanding numbers of human individuals and institutions, insinuating itself into mental life wherever it can. Where it does it transforms our methods of thinking, and with it the practical world we create.{Footnote 5}

Why, then, does bad science not drive out good? Essentially because - like the spider's web, or the virus' sneeze {Footnote 6} - it has (to a degree) successfully imposed its own organisation of development, its own replicative history, on part of its environment, as "norms". Science's price for economic and intellectual freedom is - among other things - the capture or exclusion of other memes. Similar relations hold for other normalising memes, and their obverses: deviance, disability etc.)

In invoking money, or science, we also implied small galaxies of other memes (property/theft, ownership, contract, price, etc, in the first case; and reason/mysticism, evidence, law, order, etc, in the second). This is quite natural, as memes, like genes, go around in gangs.{Footnote 7}

Indirect palatability can take other forms. Human beings also compete, and a meme's unpalatability to one person can be the basis of its desirability to another - rather as an insect repellent or an antibiotic is a meme designed to be objectionable or lethal to other species. An eviction order, like a bullet, is a type of meme which proliferates by making itself desirable to (some, but not all) human beings.

Certain memes, however, seem to be irreducibly unpalatable. Perhaps, as sociobiology occasionally seems to suggest, it is negative prescriptions - "Thou shalt not commit adultery" - which are most like this. This sort of meme has various options open to it to increase its circulation. It can link itself as tightly as possible ("Till death do us part") to other memes that are highly palatable - parental enjoyment, domestic bliss, home cooking, and so on. Marriage, incorporating and preserving its prohibitions and irritations, is such a meme-amalgam - analogous to the fruit that disperses many types of seed.

For some unpalatable memes, though, the pill simply won't carry enough sugar. At this point a meme's adaptation may need to work more interior changes. It may, for example, try to persuade carriers by distinctively human mechanisms: not that it would, on balance, be pleasant to ingest it, but that they ought to do so. Law, morality, political correctness and good taste are meme-ingredients of this sort. Various subsidiary means have developed to encourage these. Some appeal to human beings' wish simultaneously to conform to and maintain status within the group: socialisation, and its modern philosophical expression, universalisability. Others reinforce themselves with a moral carrot - eternal salvation - or with a stick conscience, hellfire, etc.

Yet linking a meme to its "should" need not be a grim business. Fashion, as much as morality, is fuelled by others and their expectations. Many delights of flirtation - and of social reproduction in general - are "frequency dependent" - accentuated by being generally relished: Cosi fan tutti.{Footnote 8} And many memes proliferate by causing their human vehicles to internalise purposes beyond themselves and their kin: in a word, to embrace meaning in life.{Footnote 9}

Considering meme adaptations will also lead me to ask - though not to resolve - some more opaque questions. Let me mention a few of them here:

Memes have numerous adaptations to their symbioses with humans. How have humans adapted to their memetic environments?

Why, even in solitude, do we feel shame, or joy, or laughter? What drives the evolution of our species' taste for meaning in life?

Why are we caught in the momenta of moods which seem to arise outside and despite our selves?

Is the relative speed of meme evolution changing? In the past generations upon generations of our ancestors changed so gradually that it was imperceptible. Yet today teenagers inhabit a world unrecogniseable to their parents. What has accelerated?

As this Cook's tour of culture suggests, Dawkins' meme meme promises (or threatens) to apply to a rich variety of cultural phenomena. It may indeed do this, but only by behaving as DNA-based life has done in colonising the biosphere - by evolving very diverse forms suitable for particular niches and problems.

Facets of memes: an overview

Like biologists, our task is thus to make some sort of preliminary classification of memes' features - only now slightly more detailed than the distinction between parasitism and reproduction with which I began. I have found it useful to distinguish 12 principal facets, to each of which the general principles of natural selection apply. What follows is, of course, intended as a shopping list, not as dogma.

  1. Infectiousness. Unlike genes, memes can pass not only from parent to offspring, but between unrelated humans. They are like "infections" or "viruses" which proliferate by jumping from one human mind to the next. Good examples of this sort are fashions in dress, crazes that sweep school playgrounds, or jokes that make the rounds. The crucial adaptations are transmissibility and memorability.{Footnote 10}
  2. Teaming. For this characteristic it is no longer adequate to treat memes as leaping or infecting from individual humans to other individual human "atoms". The "meccano" aspect of memes links individual humans together in shared institutions and purposes. A football team is a good example of this aspect. This sort of meme links a number of individual humans together for common purposes. This happens through bonding mechanisms - a little as atoms link together to form molecules, and as certain types of molecules link to form macro-molecules capable of self replication.
  3. Bonds. But there is a crucial difference. Human "atoms" link to each other via intentions and expectations. In football, each player wears a distnctive shirt to make clear which team he belongs to. The shirt is a visible shorthhand for his intentions - which goal he is trying to kick the ball into. In football teams and other memes of this sort individual humans act in concert by treating each other types of as tools or dolls - but as walking, talking, hoping, planning, feeling dolls.
  4. Feelings (team spirit, in this case) are what allows human dolls to link to other dolls, and together manipulate the world. We do not need uniforms to recognise each others' feelings and act through them, but we do need some links. Uniforms depend on feelings at least as much as feelings depend on uniforms.
  5. Immortality. This feature also subordinates individual humans to memes, but across time rather than space. Memes can endure across many human generations. A church provides a good exammple. So does a language or a state. So - to take more modest instances - does a song, or an accent. Rather as a candle flame, or an organism, can remain the same while most or all the atoms which make it up are changed, such memes endure historically through the replacement of the human atoms which compose them. A football team largely lacks this characteristic, since it is assembled for a period and for purposes shorter than the typical human life-span. But a football club has it - changing its players from season to season and its fans from generation to generation. For many people their football club, indeed, binds them more tightly than their church. I term this the immortality or eternal flame aspect of memes.
  6. Memes within memes. Memes are constituted not just of "raw" humans, but also of other memes. Memes ingest, parasitise, inhabit, invade, include and conjugate with other memes. If we examine either the external or the internal environment - the anatomy - of a meme, much of what we see consists of other memes. (Though the distinction between inside and outside is an even more difficult one for memes than it is for organisms.{Footnote 11})
  7. Values. Memes link humans by means of values as well as feelings. The members of the football team (and the club) are integrated by the common value they place on kicking the ball between the other side's goal posts - and, through and beyond that, on getting the particular vehicle for doing this nearer to the head of the league table. Values may also include commandments, rules, ideals, orderings and faded dreams. Change key values and you may destroy the meme. We can imagine a Martian studying our football match. S/he/it might easily draw the conclusion that if twenty-two grown persons wanted to propel a leather sphere as often as possible through a wooden hole, they should do so in concert. That would, however, be failing to see the memes for the people. Like memes, values derive from other values.
  8. Meme vehicles. Successful memes persist across human genrations by assembling into complexes which are capable of self-reproduction: societies and cultures. Societies are themselves memes, which incorporate other memes and memetically "inscribed" human beings and many other types of artfact. To endure, societies must reproduce values and feelings, as well as human beings. The meme vehicle, taken as a whole, must reproduce itself, including its atoms and bonds.
  9. Selective extinction. Many of humankinds' earier cultures are extinct. This is not only because they originated a long time ago, but also because meme selection and evolution confer relative advantage on (some) of the more elaborate variants. Simillarly, the primitive nucleic acids through which life on earth first developed have long been displaced by more complex descendants - cells, organisms and species. The evolution of culture resembles that of life in that it confers advantages on (some) latecomers. Culture, like life, expresses combined and uneven development.{Footnote 12}
  10. Scratchpad effect. A related point in studying memes, therefore, is that their evolution involves erasures and extinctions, as well as additions (new speciations). The cultural scratchpad incorporates traces of many vanished memes. As in biology, reconstructing history, much of which is invisible to our present eyes, is an essential part of understanding. History - change over time - greatly complicates classification, but it is essential to explanation.
  11. Genotype/phenotype. Memes lack any single physical replication mechanism such as carbon-based life makes use of in the DNA helix. Consequently memes lack organic life's more clear cut distinction between genotype and phenotype.
  12. The "culturological principle". Any explanation or definition is itself a meme, with its own history and evolution. Earlier, less adapted, forms of biological explanation, for example, try to abstract from the problems of the new arising in time - but have, consequently, more limited success. Modern evolutionary biology arises from centuries of memetic evolution, from creation myths, through efforts of classification, to the recognition that no life form is final. The same principle applies to all memes, including all explanatory ones. I call this memetic principle the "culturological principle" (in allusion to the "cosmological principle" by which astrophysicists remind themselves never to assume that the Earth's positon in the universe is a privileged one).
  13. Humanism. Our view of memes is coloured by certain to characteristic illusions or necessary apearances, analogous to creationism or vitalism in our thinking about organic life. One is the conviction that memes get their purposes from enities other than themselves, even from us. Another (in a sense the obverse) is that memes arise solely from other memes (or that values cannot derive from facts, or culture cannot derive from nature). It is possible - indeed common - for a human individual to entertain both these memes at once.

These features of memes are neither exhausive nor exclusive. They do not, even together, define memes. And we cannot draw wholly watertight distinctions between them. For example the borderline between feelings and values is extremly fuzzy. I have nonetheless found it helpful, in trying to think about memes, to separate out these 13 points, and I refer back to them in the following chapters. This is why I have given them shorthand names.

Culture and psychology

"Culture is the passion for sweetness and light, and (what is more) the passion for making them prevail" - Matthew Arnold, Literature and Dogma

What sorts of problems might the meme meme help with? One, I think, is the apparent autonomy of culture.

The transmission of culture means, among other things, its passage from one human mind to another. A cultural trait is one that passes reasonably successfully, in recoogniseable form, from mind to mind, and is to that extent independent of particular minds and psychologies. A standpoint prominent in the human sciences at least since Marx and Durkheim is that of the autonomy - relative, or less so - of culture. It has been greatly encouraged by mass manufacture and mass education.

On this view the psyches of new born human infants are highly malleable - blank slates, or "general purpose" software - ready for the learning which their cultures of upbringing subsequently imprint upon them. A concommitant principle of this independence of cultural "software" from neuro-psychological "wetware" is an emphatic anti-psychologism, such as that which Durkheim expressed:

"The determining cause of a social fact should be sought among the social facts preceding it and not among the states of individual consciousness."

However, over the last few years ideas from human biology, in the form of "evolutionary psychology", have laid seige to views of human psyches as blank sheets of paper on which cultures autonomously evolve their messages. "Evolutionary psychologists" take aim at social science's assertion, or assumption, of cultural autonomy. They argue it is wrong to suppose that social and cultural regularities are all sui generis, not dependent on human beings' evolved biology. The life sciences are now starting to explain many important components of human psychology as adaptations of the hunter-gatherer life lived by human beings until the relatively recent evolutionary past (up to about 10-12,000 years ago, when agriculture began to take root in the Near East). Human beings' assymetries of sexual preferences; our patterns of male jealousy and of female adultery; the propensity of young men to form agressive coalitions for war; children's play fighting; attachment (and grief) between carers and children; our sex differences of spatial perception; our colour categories; our body language; our tastes for salt, sugar, fatty foods and open landscapes - all these (argue "evolutionary psychologists") may in principle be understood as universally human, "species typical" adaptations of hunter-gatherer life in a largely untouched nature.{Footnote 13}

The programme of "evolutionary psychology" raises problems of its own.{Footnote 14} Can we separate out genetically transmitted adaptations from culturally transmitted ones? Can we combine genetic and cultural transmission within a single ("co-evolutionary") framework? I discuss such problems below in the context of the sociobiologists' bete noir, the "Standard Social Science Model".

Cultural diversity and biodiversity

A related problem is that of cultural diversity. Nowadays our world is very different from the natural surroundings of our hunter-gatherer ancestors. Almost everything that urban humans see has been made or modified by other humans. Consider tangible artefacts alone. Many of these are mass-produced objects, but their variety of types rivals that generated by organic evolution. The contemporary individual, it is estimated, may encounter (and need to discriminate) 20-30,000 different specialised objects of common use during her or his lifetime (Petroski, 1993, 23).{Footnote 15} If our active vocabulary has greatly contracted, compared to our hunter-gatherer forbearers, with respect to living species (see, eg, Levi-Strauss, ), it has much expanded with respect to made objects.{Footnote 16} Indeed Basalla estimated that the number of distinguishable technical inventions now patented exceeds by a factor of two or three the number of different flora and fauna species identified by biologists.

How does technodiversity come to rival biodiversity? Knowledge of the basic machinery regulating evolution among genes has transformed biology. We now think in terms of the chemical mechanisms of genetic replication, of the discrete nature of inheritance, of the sources of variability and selection, of specialised reproductive organs and the isolation of germ lines, of speciation, sexual recombination, and kin selection. Such concepts are fundamental to our understanding of the diversity of life-forms based on DNA-RNA replication. And they form the groundwork which evolutionary psychologists bring to bear on humans' universal, "species-typical", psychological architecture.

The history of biological classification suggests some of the difficulties. Early classifications tended to distinguish species pragmatically - as, for example, in creation myths, or in "herbals" which grouped plants according to their medicinal uses.{Footnote 17} Only gradually did biological thought come to distinguish species in the modern manner (Aristotle, for example, did not always view them as reproductively separated) or to see their distinctive organs in terms of their functions for the organisms themselves.{Footnote 18} From there it was a further step to the Darwin-Wallace view of the evolution of species, and of the biological present as a "still" from a much longer historical film. Darwin developed his theory with almost nothing of our present systematic knowledge of inheritance{Footnote 19} or of the molecular patterns which transmit genes. And there remain arguments among biologists on the relative uses of classifications by adaptations, by evolutionary descent or by reproductive separation.{Footnote 20}

By placing memes at centre stage our understanding of culture can gain additional help from biology. Genes are difficult and arbitrary of definition, but that does not make them less real, or less fundamental to our understanding of biological evolution. I suggest that we allow that memes are similarly difficult to define, but nonetheless treat them as real. Studying the natural history of memes and their selection may even help nature/nurture debates to yield more fruit.

Several approaches have already been developed, though they have attacked the matter from different angles and used a variety of terminologies. Population biologists have refocussed their tools on learned or cultural traits ("memes" or "culturegens") and have developed formal models of the incidence and spread of learned behaviours in communicating populations of organisms. The transmission of learned behaviour has been studied in a variety of animal as well as human populations (Bonner 1980, Delius 1991). Models have been developed of cultural and genetic "coevolution" or "dual inheritance".{Footnote 21}

There is a conceptual difference between a form of learned behaviour as a cultural trait, replicated by transmission from human individual to human individual, and the part which the behaviour plays in the replicative cycles of a cultural complex. Singing Silent Night is behaviour learned by multitudes of small children; the song's collective rendition is a commonly-encountered element in Christian congregations' rituals of winter renewal. The direct replication of memes from person to person is part - but only part - of the processes through which institutions persist across generations.

[WHAT is the meme, virus in this example?]

[Historical studies of technological and cultural change have often treated it as broadly analogous to histories of biological organisms.{Footnote 22} And crucial qualitative distinctions have been drawn between different types of meme, and the relationships between their evolutionary characteristics, and those of the humans who carry them.{Footnote 23}{Footnote 24}]

What sorts of phenomena might an evolutionary ecology of memes help us to understand?

Is the social superorganic: a meme's-eye view?

In my opinion the most interesting is the central conundrum in response to which ideas of the autonomy of culture have spread in the social sciences: the compulsiveness of the cultural and social. Cultural beliefs and practices have a variable and often arbitrary character. They combine this with their compelling, obligatory, "instinctive" action through and on individual human beings. "Our" institutions precede us and prevent us choosing. Students of society thus often posit the social as something independent of and - at least logically - prior to the individual, and reject ideas of already-formed human animals. Indeed many social scientists err in the opposite direction, conceptualising the cultural and cultures as things developing independently of individuals, and reifying culture alone as the propellant of individual action. This is a view which, in its pure form, "evolutionary psychologists" regard as fantasy.{Footnote 25}

Suppose, however, we set aside for a moment our questions about how the social and cultural drive individual humans in the ways that they do. Let us also set aside our even larger questions about what memes essentially are, or if they really exist at all. Suppose, instead, we ask questions of the following types:

  1. what sorts of adaptations might memes incorporate in the course of evolution in order better to equip themselves to proliferate among individual humans?; and
  2. why may this or that characteristic of a meme have been selected as an adaptation to its (then) environment?

These are two distinct questions, since much of the environment of many memes consists of other memes.

Rather than puzzling over the problem of how memes drive individual people, let us step back a little and concentrate on the distinct question: what drives meme evolution - the selection of traits to become more frequent among memes?

In borrowing such concepts as adaptation, together with connected ideas, such as exaptation from evolutionary biology I do not mean that they are easy of definition there. (An exaptation is, roughly speaking, an adaptation which, over subsequent evolutionary time, has assumed a different function from that which initially gave rise to selection pressure in its favour. An example is the ear-bones of mammals, which began as the gill-structures of our remote aquatic ancestors. Exaptations are rather important among memes.) The idea of an adaptation is, however, so central to understanding why organisms (and memes) are as they are, that it is unavoidable.{Footnote 26}

Memes' and genes' environments

What is the environment of a particular meme? Or, to borrow a further idea from evolutionary biology, what formed its "environment of evolutionary adaptedness" - that is, the (historical) environment in which the meme's (or organism's) characteristic adaptations arose and became incorporated. The environment of evolutionary adaptedness may be very dissimilar from the present environment. A central contention of "evolutionary psychology", for example, is that the environment of evolutionary adaptedness which has shaped the "species-typical" psychology of today's humans is not today's environment, but the environment in which our hunter-gatherer ancestors lived before the agricultural revolution.{Footnote 27}

To anticipate by a little the answer to the corresponding question about memes' environments of evolutionary adaptedness: for most of the memes we are familiar with not only do (or did) their EEAs consist largely of other memes, but those other memes were themselves already adapted through memetic evolution in highly complex ways.

One - but only one - of the ways in which a meme's adaptations can increase its meme's success is by helping its incidence in a human population. The compulsive - though arbitrary - power of culture has much to do with this: a meme tends to succeed among its coexisting and competing memes if, for whatever reason, it can predominate in individual humans and among human populations. In this indirect sense memes are democrats; in order to get selected they must "try" to find ways of getting and staying in human beings. In similar fashion, genes "try" to get incorporated in species (or "gene pools").

Selection, invention and intention

There is an important distinction between the environments of evolutionary adaptedness of biological organisms, and those of memes. Biological adapations arise, are selected for, and become embodied in the organism because they are successful for the organism in its current environment (though they may then endure long after the environment of adaptedness changes - and this includes the other adaptations gathered in the same organism). Natural selection is "blind"; it "tries out" solutions, selecting or discarding them, just on those problems which it can feel under its hands at the moment. The functional design of organisms is not the result of any supraorganic intention. Insofar as we may speak of organisms "trying" out variations, this is a convenient but metaphorical shorthand.

With memes, however, it is otherwise. They do frequently adapt to the future as well as to the present and past. Successful memes are (almost by definition) those that adapt most successfully to their actual future. Memes are intricately bound up with intentions, in a way that genes are not. My introduction of intention is a small but significant mutation of Dawkins' meme-concept. Dawkins conceives of memes as consisting essentially of similar copies in living human brains, and as replicating through imitation. I broaden the matter slightly: one - but only one - of the forms intention can assume is imitation.

An example or two may help illustrate the difference. The meme threatening hell fire, as Dawkins points out

" highly effective. It might almost have been planned deliberately by a machiavellian priesthood trained in deep psychological indoctrination techniques. However I doubt if the priests were that clever. Much more probably, unconscious memes have ensured their own survival by virtue of those same qualities of pseudo-ruthlessness which genes display" (Dawkins 1977, 212).

There are two distinct questions about memes and consciousness here. The first is: Are (human) consciousness and intentions integral to memes' propagation? And the answer, for many memes, is Yes. The second question is: are memes conscious? Dawkins implies that the answer to this question is No. But for some types of meme, at least, the answer may be a complicated sort of Yes.

Take on of the more complex memes in which the hellfire and other memes have been incorporated - the Protestant reformation. When Luther composed his theses attacking the Pope's marketing of indulgences to finance St Peter's, and nailed them on the door of the church at Wittenberg, he was intentionally propagating one complex of memes (armed with people - people who were, in turn, to be armed with Luther's new-forged memes) to compete with another: setting, so to say, one family (or coalition) of memes to catch another. The Roman church had encouraged the commercialisation of indulgences as a solution to certain future problems posed by prior memes: Pope Leo X's extravagance and his need for funds to complete St Peter's; and, on the part of the purchasers of indulgences, the dread of hellfire and the intention (or at least hope) of avoiding it in exchange for cash. Fusing the attractions of salvation and economy, Luther's recombined complex of doctrinal propositions spread through Germany "in a fortnight".{Footnote 28}

Notice that the memes involved varied along a sort of spectrum from rather sophisticated ones, that had evolved among and in relation to other memes which themselves already had an elaborate evolutionary history - like Luther's denial that the Papacy could delegate the remission of sins to professional pardoners - to relatively "primitive" ones - like the fear of pain or fire. We may think of parallels, perhaps, with the increasingly complex chemical history of biological evolution, or of analogies with higher organisms, many of which have evolved wholly within elaborate cycles of adaptation and dependency on each other - for nutrients, for shelter and support, for reproduction, and so on.

The evolution of intentionality

Intentionality is involved in generating scientific as well as religious memes. Here is how another biologist, Wolpert (1992, xii), sees scientific innovation, contemplating both his own experience and the overall evolution of science:

"Since science is unique, it is to be expected that scientific creativity has its own special characteristics quite different from those of the arts...Scientific genius is often characterised by a "psychic courage" which requires scientists to include in their ideas assumptions for which they have very little evidence."

Perhaps significantly, Wolpert sees natural science as arising out of the lineage of Western Christianity, with its penchant for logic among a paucity or confusion of evidence{Footnote 29}. He sums up the problem thus:

"The puzzle lies in how scientists decide which experimental data or which theoretical construct they are willing to give up when these are in conflict" (Wolpert 1993, 116)

The decision what to cling to and what to abandon is not peculiar to science. However, it arises for memes in a way that it does not for genes.

Memes raise a fascinating but difficult question, with roots in the histories of biological reactivity and animal behaviour: that of the emergence of intentionality, self-consciousness, and rational thinking as a function of organic life.{Footnote 30} This is a question I skirt round. More generally, I steer as clear as possible of general questions about ultimate or essential sources of change in memes. At this stage of our knowledge a piecemeal "natural history" approach, describing memes and some of their adaptations and relationships, seems to me the more useful.

But turning away from theorizing about origins and toward investigating the historical details of particular adaptations, does not mean escaping from the problems of intention. Human history involves the continual inception of new intentions in a least two senses:

  1. old humans age and die and are replaced by younger humans who absorb similar patterns of intention; broad, habitual, patterns of intention are (approximately) replicated from generation to generation;
  2. among these habitual patterns new types of intention arise, and some of these proliferate powerfully.

Any overview of memes and the patterns of intention linked with them requires us to consider types of intention that only arise in fairly recent, historical times. However there may be a compensatory advantage to this: we have fuller and directer evidence on intentions for the more recent past. Provided we avoid getting hung up on questions of essential or ultimate origins, and concentrate on particular adaptations, we may take advantage of the fact that evidence on the historical past is very rich compared with that on Pleistocene or earlier times. Since then there have arisen many psychological processes and practical techniques that were not around earlier. Can thinking about memes help us understand them? Can memes and their evolution be studied as phenomena distinct from DNA-based evolution - a little as our understanding of organic life is distinguishable from (though consistent with) physics and chemistry?

We need to take account of intentions. But we must avoid getting bogged down in questions about what intention (or its associated notions: meaning, consciousness, free will, etc) essentially is (or, for that matter, biologically was). Instead I take a fairly matter-of-fact view of intentions and meanings, and ask more prosaic and immediate questions about how they are transmitted, preserved, disguised, enforced and so on. One point I underline is that intentions need not be either individual, mental or subjective. They take effect through minds, but to pass from one mind to another they frequently take extra-somatic forms: for example, in an artefact made by one subject for use or consumption by others. The physical phase of such a meme embodies intention, not only when it explicitly expresses intention (as in a No Entry sign, or an "If ... then ... do ... " instruction in a computer programme), but when its impersonal purpose is implicit in its nature (as in a lollipop, or an airliner)

One advantage of intention is that it enriches the evidential record, at least compared with that left by genes and organisms, whose remains survive mainly in fossils. The primary reason for this is that many memes are made to last - by a combination of invention and selection. This applies to intangible as well as tangible memes; the song survives the singer, though the temple may crumble. Organisms, on the other hand, are designed to reproduce, senesce, and die. Very few individuals provide lasting remains; only their genes are immortal, recombined in their descendants. Whatever the difficulties of interpreting it, the trail of historical evidence is of great importance. As far as carbon-based life forms are concerned, an estimated 99% of the species that have lived to date are now extinct (though, granted, classifying memes among "species" is even more difficult).{Footnote 31}

Limits on change

That history is such an important source of evidence does not contradict the fact that it acts on the present only indirectly, through the structures it has already produced.{Footnote 32} Evolution "tinkers"; it must start from the functional equipment already in existence. We may sometimes feel, as the traveller who got lost in Yorkshire was told: "If tha' really wants to get to Bradford, tha'd best not start from here". But the fact is that all evolution, biological and cultural, starts from where it's presently at, and all adaptation is modification of, and to that extent incorporates, previously existing forms.

In culture, as in biology, ontogeny remains rooted in phylogeny - though not in the same way. For languages based on the Latin alphabet, for example, the QWERTY keyboard, though suboptimal in several respects, has become ontogenetically incorporated in typewriter and microcomputer design. Efforts to step round or short-circuit its irrationality run into memetic obstacles embodied in humans' enculturation and training.{Footnote 33} For memes as for genes, co-evolution - interdependent natural selection of multiple entities - leads seamlessly into irrationality, extravagance and invention.{Footnote 34}

In biological structures variations are more likely to be viable - that is, not lethal to the organism or its offspring - the later they come in the organism's development.{Footnote 35} What the genetic code of an organism specifies is not a depiction of the organism at any future stage of its development, but a developmental programme for the organism's life cycle (including the all-important and oft-repeated "loop" specifying reproduction of the organism's genetic code). The chances of a random change being made early in the program and leaving subsequent steps viable or functional are less than for changes later in the developmental sequence. If we think of one of those many storied buildings one can contruct with dominoes on a hard table, it is clear that a very slight disturbance of a domino nearer to the base is more likely to bring the whole thing tumbling down than a similar disturbance to one of the upper dominoes.{Footnote 36}

With memes, however, intentional redesign substitutes, in part, for chance variation. The possibility thus arises (or, to be exact, becomes vastly more probable) of substantial alterations to the base of the structure: substituting dominoes near the bottom, replacing some of them with completely different types of building blocks, or even removing superfluous ones altogether.

Consider the following account of meme adaptation. It is Lorenzo da Ponte, explaining how he turned Beaumarchais' The Marriage of Figaro into the libretto for Mozart's opera:

"The duration prescribed as being usual for dramatic performances, a certain number of characters generally introduced into the same, and some other prudent considerations and exigencies imposed by morality, place and spectators, were the reasons why I did not make a translation of this excellent comedy, but rather an adaptation or, let us say, an extract.

"To this end I was obliged to reduce the sixteen characters of which it consists to eleven, two of which may be performed by a single person, and to omit, apart from an entire act, many a very charming scene and a number of good jests and sallies with which it is strewn, in place of which I had to substitute canzonettas, arias, choruses and other forms, and words susceptible to music, things which can be supplied only by verse, but never by prose."{Footnote 37}

Human intentions allow meme adaptation to "cut through" or "streamline" existing structures, finding alternative routes to existing or imagined outcomes, in a way that biological redesign cannot.{Footnote 38} {Footnote 39} They also encourage exaptations - the turning of existing adaptations to new uses. Indeed, a great deal of cultural evolution consists of inventing new ends which existing means can be converted to propel.{Footnote 40}

Invention and necessity

When they embody intentions, memes in some degree detatch them from individual human agents. In one famous passage of his Decline and Fall, Edward Gibbon asks about the adaptations to human intentions that made Christianity so successful:

"Our curiosity is naturally prompted to inquire by what means the Christian faith obtained so remarkable a victory over the established religions of the earth. To this inquiry an obvious but satisfactory answer may be returned: that it was owing to the convincing evidence of the doctrine itself, and to the ruling providence of its great Author. But as truth and reason seldom find so favourable a reception in the world, and as the wisdom of Providence frequently condescends to use the passions of the human heart, and the general circumstances of mankind, as instruments to execute its purpose, we may still be permitted, though with becoming submission, to ask, not indeed what were the first, but what were the secondary causes of the rapid growth of the Christian church?" (Gibbon, XV)

The "secondary causes" of any successful ideology includes myriad of individual human intentions, coherently oriented. Intentions may be embodied in very specific and (especially where expressed in symbolic systems) apparently minor ways.

A further theological meme - that of the Trinity - furnishes an example of this - and of intention's streamlining effects.

Most of today's Christian memes of God descend from the doctrine of the Trinity adopted by the Council of Nicea (325), which proliferated as orthodoxy in the mystery at the heart of the Nicene Creed. How was the tripartite God to be defined in a way which did justice to its family origins, its administrative functions, and the divinity of Christ? The theologians settled upon an ambiguous but precise formula: a single God existing in three persons and of one substance, the Son being perpetually generated by the Father but simultaneously co-eternal with Him.

But they did so only after years of disputation, in which arguments and counter-arguments sprouted vigorously, producing doctrinal tangles which included most of the imaginable ways in which the components of the Trinity could be put together.

Thus one of the key decisions of Constantine's Council at Nicea was procedural rather than substantive: to reduce the thickets of previous controversy, and consider just two alternative Greek terms, differing by a single letter, for describing the identity or resemblance between Father and Son: either St Athanasius' assertive homoousion ("of one substance") or the more cautious homoiousion ("of like substance") favoured by the supporters if Arius of Alexander.

The single iota separating them marked a distinction (as Gibbon faintly exaggerates) "invisible to the nicest theological eye". More visibly, it was expressed in the formidable array of anathemas, against Arianism and other heresies, behind which the Nicene theologians sought to protect their preferred formula. The concentration of intention - in this case organizational and political, as well as theological - shaped formulaic choice and heightened doctrinal creativity. The decision that the doctrinal edifice as a whole should balance on the inclusion or deletion of a single letter was recognition of the many (and often poorly-understood) alternative combinations of formulae that had been advanced and found wanting, many of them before the disputants were born.

Barkow (1989, p250) writes of meme variation:

"Some categories or subcategories of cultural information do seem to lend themselves to a "meme" or "culturegen" approach; for example, whether I brush my teeth with a rotary motion or up-and-down and side-to-side. Others, such as my perception of the nature of the Holy Trinity, do not seem to lend themselves to particulate approaches."

This needs qualifying. What may be suceptible to "particulate approaches" are particular variations. These can appear quite local within the overall meme-complex they inhabit, but have very general, and partly intended, consequences for the larger meme.

The point is that apparently trivial symbolic changes can contain large intentions with profound repercussions. When the iota was reintroduced "The whole world groaned and marvelled to find itself Arian". The Arians succeeded partly by increasing the infectiousness of their meme, setting their theological ideas to music as popular songs. In the 320's common folk from Alexandria to Constantinople could be heard singing ditties to the uniqueness of God the Father.{Footnote 41})]

God memes have one distinctive and interesting feature. While they evolve, the object to which they refer, being eternal and unchanging, does not. This furnishes us with a sort of rudimentary experimental control. When God-memes undergo rapid change, we can reasonably attribute this to the memes' circumstances. In the context of our Arian example, the candidates needed to gain the assent of the senior ecclesiastics promulgating doctrine - a requirement that reduced the variants to two, rather simply related, contenders.{Footnote 42}

Selection among biological structures is absolutely "blind", genetic variation arising wholly by chance, while memetic adaptation is only relatively so. The fact that cultural adaptation has intended as well as unintended consequences focuses variation, injecting an element of conscious design and accelerating the incorporation of successful features and the attenuation of unsuccessful ones. The distinction between genetic and cultural evolution is only relative. They combine in domestication, the foundation of much human culture, and, more recently, in the possibilities opened up by direct examination and manipulation of our and other species' genetic material.

The idea that acquired characteristics cannot be inherited is rather basic to biology - now almost one of its defining characteristics. But what phenomena the principle applies to, and in what ways, remains an empirical question. A large part of the study of culture involves investigating how acquired characters are transmitted - and how transmissibility gets acquired or invented.

It is certainly possible, as Delius (1991) argues, that the apparent ability of memes to transmit changes acquired within individual brains (and its corollary ideas, of intention, creativity etc) is an illusion, arising from the very limited extent to which we understand meme selection within the individual's memory and its underlying neural structures. Thus what we call "intention" is in fact a concealed process of random variation and selection within a long-lived host of memes with a much shorter lifespan, analogous (say) to intra-host evolution of micro-organisms' antibiotic resistance. Edelman's (1992) "theory of neuronal group selection" - which draws on our understanding of how immune systems learn - has similarities with this view. {Footnote 43} I remain agnostic, concentrating on processes of meme transmission between humans, and continuing with the commonsense, or "folk", view of meme change within individuals as (at least partly) "intentional".

Group selection?

For gene-contred biology the vehicles for genes, and therefore the "candidates" for selection among them, are individual organisms, not species. Traits such as genetically transmitted altruistic behaviour (alarm calls at predators) or altruistic organs (mammary glands) or even whole organisms (sterile worker bees) - which benefit other individual members of the same species can therefore evolve only where the individuals benefitted share genes with the individuals expressing the trait: Hamilton's (?1964) kin selection, or inclusive fitness.{Footnote 44} This modern, gene-centred view has largely replaced earlier habits of thought which supposed that traits could be selected "for the good of the species"{Footnote 45}. More generally, the appropriate units of selection remain difficult and debated matters in evolutionary biology.

But human beings are sometimes nice to some of those who are not their kin. And some are nasty to those who are close kin. What is more, some people would like to be nicer than they generally are. And prisons, psychiatric hospitals and committees contain yet others who would be even nastier than they are, if they were allowed.

This is where an advantage of treating memes as real comes in. Memes can evolve (and many of them have evolved) powerful and sophisticated means for coercing, motivating, persuading and repelling human beings - fruit, saliva and teeth, so to speak. True, we are still a long way from understanding the "biochemistry" through which these adaptations work.{Footnote 46} But there is less doubt that they exist. Organs - such as patriotism, or prisons - that would require group selection to evolve among individual humans may, nonetheless, evolve from variations among memes.

One common characteristic through which natural selection between memes takes place (though it is certainly not the only one) is differences between memes in the numbers and qualities of human beings they succeed in "recruiting" or "ingesting" - a very rough analogy, perhaps, to differences between individual animals of the same species in foraging or predation efficiency. Patriotism (regarded as a virtue, even by the other side) emerges from a long process of competition among loyalties on a variety of territorial, linguistic, etc bases, where the size of groups competing for individuals' loyalties ranges from the family to humanity as a whole. Prisons remind us that recruiting or ingesting support is often indirect. Prison restrains and punishes those it incarcerates, but it succeeds by being a morally appealing device for the politically powerful. Its nutrition comes both from those incarcerated and, more importantly, from the values and intentions of the population at large.

These examples contain a more general point: the compulsions of our social world may become more intelligible once we get into the habit of seeing them as efficient meme adaptations, rather than as final causes of individuals' behaviour.{Footnote 47}Naturally, there are many things, such as love, or war, which we can get to grips with only by combining accounts of memetic and genetic adaptation.{Footnote 48} Many memes develop a sort of "territoriality" - personal, not spatial - whereby they include or repel humans according (chiefly) to their memetic characteristics. (The quotation marks are essential, as notions of species, individual organisms and hence territoriality do not transfer easily from genes to memes.)

Applied biology - antibiotic drugs, for example - raises the question of who is being domesticated by whom: humans by bacteria, or bacteria by humans? Similar questions arise with humans and memes. Human populations, and their culturally and morally differentiated groups, act as both prey and predators of memes. From our point of view some moral memes - for example - are frighteningly supra-organic, unpredictable and often rapacious. But from their point of view, memes are just getting on with the everyday businesss of life. And some memes - some formal organizations, for example - engage in elaborate intercourse with each other. Like you and me at breakfast time, such memes are not concerned with the feelings - still less the intentions - of their sausages, or the atoms (or humans) of which they themselves are composed. They are too busy telling each other their plans for the day, or last night's dreams (and, perhaps, persuading themselves that their dream-work was perfectly proper). We can get inside their skins only by regarding them as being as real as organisms, or persons.


The assemblages in which memes unite for survival and propagation do not neccessarily have physical or even biological foundations. Memes can hang around together for more general reasons, and in more abstract ways. In many cases this is because they have gotten used to each other in the past - as in the specialisms of academic knowledge, or the division of labour more generally. But new and unexpected affiliations can also form. Like upwardly mobile football hooligans, memes seem to dissolve and reassemble their ranks for each season (indeed for each match, even each penalty). They form and reform as gaudily clad but often hostile crowds: orthodox versus heretic, U versus non-U, entailed versus excluded, true versus false, and so on and so forth.

Naturally, the patterns of meme-crowds are also memes, and get transmitted around as such. Myths, magic, religion, mathematics etc are (so to speak) "carnivore" memes whose life patterns reflect the general feeding, nesting or swarming habits of other forms. These more specialised meme machines - which, of course, may compete vigorously with each other - are reinforced by numerous forms of invention or recruitment.

Many memes go in for differentiated infection or domestication of human beings, forming a sort of "priesthood" of specially conditioned human types, and evolving markedly different morphologies within their life cycle for more effective spread - that is, for becoming endemic or epidemic in the human population. This point sounds abstract, but is actually quite familiar to the humans who specialise in the initial spread of the more abstract, "spore" memes: ideologists and intellectuals. As Plekhanov expressed it (in one of this century's more successful memes):

"Propaganda is providing many ideas to a few people. Agitation is moving many people by means of a few ideas. And agitation depends on propaganda."{Footnote 49}

Similar infective and innoculative technologies are fundamental to education.

Memes may succeed by organizing their human disseminators in new and highly differentiated ways, rather as modern military forces employ most of their personnel on administrative, logistical and technical tasks, and only a minority on combat duties (or, perhaps, as parasites may inhabit different hosts at different phases of their life cycle). The military simile is apt, since one important function of such meme meta-machines is to contain and reduce the opposing meme meta-machines of rival meme-complexes. Rivalry is defined by reference to yet other - logical, ideological, and theological - meme complexes.

Here, as in many other meme contexts, truth or falsity are not necessarily the important things, and sometimes they are completely irrelevant. Adaptations are selected according to the maxim: "My meme, right or wrong!" National anthems and advertising, the defense of orthodoxy against heresy, dictatorship and the doctrine of cabinet responsibility, a national curriculum and a guillotine, hypothesis and experiment, even the conventions of peer review - are various forms that memes' equipment against their competitors have evolved. I do not mean to suggest that truth is unimportant, merely that it is just one category of meme (or meta-meme) among many, surviving as best it can in a testing environment.

Other adaptations

"What are you famous for?" "For nothing. I am just famous." - Iris Murdoch, Flight

Memes do a wide range of things in their efforts to propagate. They rhyme, scan and get themselves set to music; some make themselves sweet, or sour, or both; some exaggerate their obnoxiousness or durability ("The word of God endureth for ever"); some become succinct or memorable, or simply turn up the volume; some parade gorgeous tails - or tales; some sprout wings and take off; some lumber after their mates, or pursue their prey, on thousands of footnotes.

One of the interesting and relatively recent things memes have done is try to emulate the more exact replicative techniques (and the built-in obsolescence) of biological life. This was first and most effectively done with tangible mass production - pins, cars, wedding rings, and so on - but similarly potent technologies are fast developing for moral and aesthetic memes. For both there is a trade-off between durability and cheapness - partly analogous to that between longevity and fecundity in organisms.{Footnote 50}

Many of these cheaper and more plentiful memes require the human beings who use them to be reshaped a little. Schools ensure that hearts and minds develop in accordance with proper templates.{Footnote 51} The development of standardised, quality-controlled production lines seems to require - for memes as much as for genes - the protection of the germ-line from the clamour and accidents which afflict the soma: insulating the design shop and the specialists who work there from the hubbub of the proletariat on the factory floor.

Memes and genes

"Population genetics .... may be defined as that branch of epidemiology that deals with infectious elements transmitted exclusively from parent to offspring." - GC Williams, Natural Selection, p13.]

As meme selection proceeds the main mechanism emphasised by human sociobiology and "evolutionary psychology" - the adaptive pressures of hunter gatherer life on genetic characteristics of the human psyche - never disappears. (It could do so only if memes switched species.) But as a mechanism of adaptation it acts so slowly and "blindly", it is so relatively inefficient, that its effects are increasingly smothered by more recent, meme-derived and meme-dependent, mechanisms. Indeed, so relatively rapid is cultural transmission that even memes which deliberately and drastically lower individuals' inclusive fitness (contraceptive technologies, for example) can, when favourably enmeshed among other memes, saturate a human population in little more than a generation.

Ball (1984, 147) suggests a fourfold typology of memes, classifying them according to their adaptiveness for (a) themselves and (b) their carrier-organisms:

  1. A symbiotic meme promotes behaviour that is adaptive for itself and adaptive also for its organism... ("Sex is fun; pass it on.")
  2. A difficult meme promotes behaviour that is maladaptive for itself but adaptive for its organism... ("I know how to do it but can't explain it.")
  3. A parasitic meme promotes behaviour that is adaptive for itself but maladaptive for its organism...("Praise the Lord; send money; tell your friends.")
  4. A bad meme promotes behaviour that is maladaptive both for itself and for its organism...("Get away from it all; be a hermit.")"

Meme selection tends to favour symbiotic/parasitic varieties, and Delius (1991) further disaggregates this category into its subdvivisions in the biological study of symbiosis:

  1. Mutualism, from which both species gain fitness
  2. Commensalism, where the guest gains without cost to the host, and
  3. Parasitism, where the guest gains at the expense of the host.

In such terms a successfully disseminated contraceptive technology - or the thirst for upward social mobility which encourages it - is a "parasitic" meme: one which promotes behaviour that is adaptive for itself but maladaptive for its organism. Memes may vigorously recruit to the ranks of "their" organisms, even when the effect on the organism is to reduce its life-expectancy greatly (as in patriotic or kamikaze-style heroism).

Moreover, as the density and diversity of memes increases, forms can emerge which, though psychologically very powerful, have only slight direct connections with the psychological drives shaped before the neolithic revolution. Similarly, while it is true that new species evolve to occupy vacant niches, it is equally true that most niches are opened by other species, which define them: the woodpecker presuposes the tree. (Develop on organism and environment.)

The appetite for post-compulsory education, for example, is only remotely connected to the mechanisms emphasised by "evolutionary psychology". It increases generation on generation, despite the fact that educating individual humans significantly reduces their inclusive fitness. The effect outweighs the increase in parental investment per child. And (as high rates of dropout suggest) the level of human organization (gene, individual, nuclear family, extended family, peer group) of the units of selection is a complex problem.

Uneven, often countervailing, "co-evolution" of memes and people complicate attempts to classify the relations between memes and people. Dennett categorizes memes three ways: good, pernicious, and mixed. His categories are related in a general sense to Ball's, but more pragmatic:

"...many - most, if we're lucky - of the memes that replicate themselves do so not just with our blessing, but because of our esteem for them. I think there can be little controversy that some memes are, all things considered, good from our perspective: ... such general memes as music, writing, education .... The Marriage of Figaro, Moby Dick, returnable bottles...Other memes are more controversial; we can see why they spread, and why, all things considered, we should tolerate them, in spite of the problems they cause for us: shopping malls, fast food, advertising on television. Still others are unquestionably pernicious, but extremely hard to eradicate: anti-semitism, hijacking airliners, computer viruses, spray-paint graffiti." (Dennett 203)

Dennett's "our" and "we" contain a problem. I mentioned it earlier when I referred to "humanist" illusions in studying memes. Why are "pernicious" memes so hard to eradicate? (Those that are readily eradicated cease to be memes at all.) Even "pernicious" memes are good from some peoples' perspective; that is the major reason why they are so hard to eradicate. One person's meme is another person's poison, but the reverse also applies. Graffiti and racism would not need control if there did not exist reservoirs of support for them in the human population. Many memes divide people, rather as diet divides species, or reproduction divides sexes.{Footnote 52}

A "pernicious" meme (in Dennett's terms) is one that changes categories (in Ball's terms) - as you shift from organism to organism or from perspective to perspective. Many memes are of this type, or contain such components. Ball's typology classifies behaviour socially according to its effect on memes (how far does it promote the meme-type's replication and proliferation in the society of memes), but only individually for people (how does it affect the individual's functioning). This may be why his example of a symbiotic meme ("Sex is fun; pass it on") seems slightly unconvincing. Societies persist and expand even with powerful memes prohibiting and restricting sexual activity. Indeed human societies, as institutions for raising single, socially-competent offspring through protracted juvenile dependency and heavy parental investment, depend on such memes.

Putting Dennett's and Ball's typologies of memes side by side underlines the fact that a framework for understanding organism-meme co-evolution must take account of the replicative machineries of each. Dennett's categories do not really distinguish mechanisms of meme replication or variation in memes' replicative effectiveness; Ball's do, but only to the extent of distinguishing memes that transmit well (by whatever means) from those that do it poorly, and transecting that distinction with a comparably coarse distinction of adaptiveness for the individual human carrier.

It seems to me unlikely that a satisfactory framework can be developed by multiplying such distinctions: the number of categories would explode far faster than their discriminative potential. I return to this problem below, when I discuss the "standard social science model" versus "evolutionary psychologists'" collections of specific adaptations. {Footnote 53}I shall also return to the question, implicit in Ball's and Delius' "parasitological" classifications of memes: what sort of memes, and in what sorts of ways, can be considered analogous to organisms or species?

Meme replication and imitation: humans and other species

What can we say about how memes reproduce and proliferate themselves? The differences with biological organisms are at least as important as the similarities. Memes, like genes, do replicate (as Dawkins has it) by " the broadest sense".But we must be cautious against interpreting "imitation" over literally.{Footnote 54} Although imitation may be the principal means of cultural transmission in other species than humans, in humans it is only a particular case. (I leave aside the interesting problems posed by human training of other species.{Footnote 55})

When scientists studying primate behaviour watched a troop of macaques trying to extract food grains that had been mixed in sand, it was a middle-aged female who first puzzled out how to separate out the grains from the sand (she did it by putting the mixture in water, so that the sand sank, while the grains floated). In this species the innovation spread through the troop by imitation, becoming generalised in a few generations.{Footnote 56} We might describe it as becoming "fixed" as an adaptation of the monkeys' culture - if it were not for the difficulties of applying notions of adaptation and speciation to culture.

Other cultural behaviours among animals pass between individuals by more restricted imitation. Local "dialects" of bird song, for example, are transmitted from mature adults (with by-then fixed song patterns) to fledglings during the latter's "sensitive" periods (Catchpole 1986, Lynch and Baker 1993).

Among human beings equipment for meme replication and transmission has become specialised and highly elaborated. Even where cultural transmission is more-or-less replicative, it may still be rather indirect, the "teacher" not actually doing what the learner is learning to do - and sometimes the latter not doing it either. Moreover replication of behaviour is only one type of cultural transmission. When we ask empirical questions about some of the arrangements memes have evolved to propagate successfully, we should bear in mind that meme propagation does not take place only by imitation - or, like genes, by the use of physical templates and moulds (though it is sometimes does - as in printing, or factory production more generally).{Footnote 57}

Moreover, even insofar as replication is involved, there are other fundamental differences. Memes adapt not only particular variation by particular variation, but also by rewriting of the codes in which they are inscribed and transmitted. This can be quite literally the case. The evolution of language, writing, or the alphabet have revolutionised the overall ecology of memes almost as fundamentally as the cell has revolutionised that of life. In both cases a "pause" for investment in structure pays off as faster evolution subsequently. But one difference is that memes have already spent a significant part of their histories "tinkering" with the codes they themselves are inscribed in, and, what is even more important, devising new materials to write on and with; this is a matter that genes have only recently started to address.

Variation and differentiation among memes

What are the sources of variation in memes? We already know, in general terms, that the sources of memetic variation are wider than those of DNA-based life, since they include both random replication errors ("mutations") and deliberate or partly deliberate variations of design. Does the biological analogy, at this point, career off into unmanageable dissimilarity?

Not, I think, if we are careful. Let us prune the problem down with a narrower analogical question from biology: what sorts of arrangements have genes (and memes) evolved in order better to control their own variation and to increase the evolutionary advantages they can derive from it within their particular environment? For genes, remember, the particular environment is very largely made up of "adjacent" genes. What sorts of adaptations have gene-complexes and their survival machines evolved in order the better to regulate their own evolution?

Biologists regard two general forms of differentiation as particularly important among genes: speciation, and sex. Organic life separates its forms into isolated gene pools. And, within many of those pools, it generates opposite processes which continually stir up and remix the gene pool from generation to generation. One of the most important of these is sexual recombination. Speciation, often in combination with sex, bifurcates the "bush" of evolution. There are numerous problems in the relations between (biological) speciation, and sex, and evolution. But our main question is: can we point to analogous mechanisms for cultural - memetic - evolution? I believe we can.

One of these we can describe, as a first approximation, as combined specialisation and concentration of memes. It based on the tendency - indeed the necessity - of memes to "cluster" according to similarities and complementarities of function. This tendency is so general that it is easy to overlook it. Selection among and in favour of more robust meme complexes - and therefore of larger and more complex ones - tends to eliminate loosely-bound memes, just as natural selection acts against the re-emergence of very short DNA sequences.{Footnote 58}{Footnote 59}

The human structure of culture

Some types of clustering are rather closely grounded in cultural evolution's biological basis - that is, in the lifestyle of a socialising savanna primate with an erect gait, reversible thumbs, moderate sexual dimorphism, single offspring, a prolonged fetal/juvenile phase, a large cranium, and a typical life cycle of a few decades. Just as genes build up their "survival machines" - organisms - over vast periods of time as slow, imbricated accumulations of adaptations to long but finite DNA sequences, so culture develops through the more - and less - gradual succession of meme adaptations. This sort of "clustering" - perhaps "chaining" would be a better term - seeks, often literally as well as metaphorically, to exploit the finite capacity of individual human beings by combining them in organised ways. The sexual and occupational divisions of labour are central examples. Each new modification starts from the shapes set by previous cultural evolution. Neither "clustering" nor "chaining" are ideal terms; perhaps "cohesion" or "integration" would be better.

You can get a cultural quart into the biologically given pint pot - but not immediately, and only through a variety of indirect means. You can stretch the pot just a little (though the anatomical compromise between brain size and human birth canal has already set a tight limit on this). You can redesign the pot a little - which may also involve reorganizing the pottery. More important you can increase your overall meme capacity by overflow and interface devices: ducts, siphons, membranes, tubes, pumps, valves and so on connecting the pots one to another and allowing - or driving - their contents to move to and fro between them.

Even more important you can work on the contents of the pots, compressing, concentrating, summarising, generalising, enriching, so to speak, the cultural soup, so that any given configuration of pots has a greater nutritional capacity. And, perhaps most important of all, as the cultural broth cooks and condenses, parts of it will take solid shape, "caramelising", so speak - and (to conclude the domestic metaphor) these crystalising solids offer - among other things - possibilities for makng new types of pot and - no less significant - new types of connections between pots. Of course, many of these constructions are relatively unsuccessful and are sooner or later redissolved into the memetic soup. Others, however, endure or get replicated. And as they do, they vary.

Human beings are certainly not the only organisms to link intentions or goal-seeking behaviour over time or across individuals.{Footnote 60} But they are distinctive in the elaborate chainings of intentions that they sustain and wield. In us memetic evolution has chanced across a species that can bond together vast linkages of memes. They and we form "strategic" structures that, pushed at one node, produce action, both intended and unintended, at enormous spatial, temporal and personal distances. When the ideogram-reading Korean factory worker stencilled on the packaging of my personal computer the roman lettering that guided it to my desk, s/he also allowed me to quote to you Aristotle's definition of man as a political animal, and caused this paragraph to carry its meaning from me to you.

Most of these great "chainings" of intentionality are invisible or incomprehensible to the individual humans who link them at particular loci, but through socialisation they come to participate in them with impressive facility and confidence. One of things this has encouraged (or selected for) is our ability to recognise and pursue - individually and in concert - large and remote purposes. Hence our species' itch for meaning in life.


One of the most familiar forms of clustering among memes is expressed as cultural differentiation and occupational specialisation between people. Consider one important type of this, which also fixes and transmits intentions in tangible form: writing and associated skills. Like all culture, writing and reading have evolved through increasingly complex differentiation. Originally they were arduous, highly specialist skills, never mastered by more than a tiny, relatively privileged, section of the male population, who learned their scribal skills in a form of lifelong apprenticeship.{Footnote 61} Today fluent literacy is general, and has integrated itself into numberless other technologies.

Between then and now there has occured a cumulative series of memetic innovations, of which one of the most important is the invention and imposition of the phonetic alphabet. This reduced writing's total of "atomic" symbols to a couple of dozen, and now allows it to be mastered by most six year old humans. There are many others, not least the development of the key means through which I (though distant from you, and perhaps dead) am enabled to speak to you: silent reading, and modern western punctuation.{Footnote 62} To return to our metaphor of pots and cooking, the history of writing is one of experimentation and successful innovation in making connections and interflows between pots and between connectors.

The Graeco-Roman alphabet, for example, has proved a remarkable success through simplifying the meta-connection between spoken and written language. In contrast, Chinese ideograms lack the direct linkage between script and pronunciation. Spoken Chinese evolved large differences between geographically separated areas of China, with the result that officials who corresponded without difficulty could, when they met, sometimes not undertand each other through speech{Footnote 63}. In recent times there has been persistent pressure on Chinese to be more conformable with the Latin alphabet.{Footnote 64}

Writing is an example of equipment that meme-complexes have evolved to reduce and correct copying errors in replication. Writing reinforces memes by extending their persistence through externalised physical texts, which fulfil some of the functions of transmission between people in non-literate cultures. It slows (or stabilises) "drift" in transmission; subsequent inventions, such as printing, further strengthen error correction. Printing does this more efficiently, essentially by increasing the resources devoted to error-checking. Printing with moveable alphabetic type, which reduced copying errors in scholarly publishing by an order of magnitude, type made Europe's scientific revolution possible.{Footnote 65}

The history of writing, and meme evolution in cultures embodying it, suggests something else. What once filled a few pots right to the brim (literacy) has now, through distillation and some other chemistry, become an unremarked minor ingredient in the contents of virtually all pots. But - since culture, too, abhors a vacuum - the spaces thus released (and already suffused, so to speak, with literacy) are soon filled with new - and newly differentiated - contents. These processes of concentration, accompanying the growth of the total of human knowledge, are the obverse of the continual recomposition of specialisms.

Academic knowledge

The modern academic division of knowledge offers an example. The boundaries between different disciplines and sub-disciplines are rigid in the short term, but more mobile in the long term. But focus, for a moment, not on the detailed placing of divisions, but on their general scale. Very approximately we can discern limits to the scale at which specialist academic disciplines can "deposit" themselves in and around individual humans. One minimum limit is set by the human life span, the period of maturation and working life, and the existing forms of specialist culture embodied in education - the duration and scope of the undergraduate curriculum, graduate training, etc. The "Not my period..." by which the twentieth century medievalist affirms and distinguishes his credentials is the lineal - we might almost say embryological - descendent of the elongated apprenticeship of his cuneiform scribal ancestor.

Humans physiological scale sets a variety of such limits. The span of consecutive adult attention sets the optimum duration for a dramatic performance, around one-and-a-half hours - which proves also to be about the same time typically allowed for classes in higher education. In each case the amount, and complexity, of the matter for exegesis must be constrained in order to be effective. If the producer wishes to push the duration, s/he is well advised to punctuate the proceedings with intervals, or, in extreme cases - Wagnerian opera, for example - with dinner breaks.

When a segment of culture - a population of memes, like science, or academic learning - comes to be finely divided among humans, both the memes and the humans must be organised. The memes are grouped in part to realise currently available economies of human effort involved in learning (and therefore teaching) them. Academic specialisation and the internal organisation of curricula express adaptation of this sort. Their groupings bear no very direct relation to what memes are "about"; the arithmetic developed on fingers later gets applied to football coupons and physics. But one thing the groupings are compelled to stay in close contact with is their own past histories. At this organizational level academic specialisms are largely held together by their shared historical descent in joint "survival machines" - subjects, textbooks, institutions, etc. But there is a positive side, in that crowding promotes synthesis: the importance of a scientific work (as the mathematician Hilbert remarked) can be measured by the number of previous publications it makes it superfluous to read.

Other limits of scale are set by the natural history of institutional life, together with some elements of game theory. For a subdiscipline to nucleate out requires, on a typical faculty board, a minimum coalition size of about three or four, or perhaps a little more. Two people is rather rare; perhaps it is too few for comfort, or for political triangulation. Barkow (1989, pp 12-4) emphasises ways in which interdisciplinary frictions and methodological spaces between disciplines may mutually sustain each other round historically arbitrary "cores". The mechanisms, he holds, are rooted in academics' appetite for reputation (see also Whittley 1985). Macro factors also play a part: the viability of journals, the scale of experimental work and the numbers and funds required for it, and so forth.

Cellular knowledge

Academic understanding and science, like much of the rest of human knowledge, develop "cellularly". Of course there are extra-cellular materials and tissues as well as intra-cellular ones, but understanding what goes on around and between cells depends heavily on our understanding of individual cells and their internal mechanisms. Human biology and organizational history set elastic but finite limits both to the possible functions and sizes of cells, and to the next modifications of existing organs. Bodies of theoretical knowledge become institutions, not only in a bricks-and-mortar sense, but in the self-regulating sense of consisting in a settled division of skills, training and effort among (replaceable) human beings.

Tensions persist, especially at the boundaries of different disciplines and - equally importantly - at the potential boundaries between disciplines which are presently far apart. But everyone now uses, every day, myriad artefacts, conventions and theories which they are quite incompetent to understand or maintain, and which to most users are "black boxes". Does this mean that common sense is being overtaken and absorbed by specialised knowledge? Well: yes and no. Specialised "research" organs continually ingest new material. The products of some of this, digested, then pass along general purpose channels to power and build the organism. The cathode ray tube, or slogan, or drug, or electronic chargecard, or tax loophole - meme - proposed today by a few specialists gets embodied as tomorrow's daily, commonsensical implement.


"Let her and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worst, in a free and open encounter" - Milton, Areopagitica

Milton's conditions for truth are poor ones for science. The memes of theoretical natural science, as Wolpert (1992) points out, are highly "unnatural" memes, remote from "common sense". Like cattle or sheep, they have been bred for generations into the forms preferred by their domesticators (of whom some of the most important are other memes). Testability, generality, uniform vocabulary, unambiguous meaning, internal consistency, and so on - even taken singly such traits are rare memes, and to assemble them all requires long intentional selection. The domesticated memes of theoretical natural science, having embodied such significant adaptations to artificial circumstances, could no longer survive reintroduction to the wild. They can live and breed only with the aid of rather complex arrangements to sustain them. The cultivation of theoretical science (like keeping sheep) has come to rely on auxiliary breeds, such as scientists - rather like sheepdogs, who keep the flock together and bark at intruders. By comparison, much social science consists of more "common sense" memes, less "deformed" by domestic breeding. They more resemble semi-domesticated breeds which forage freely on the mountain slopes in summertime, but are herded in for the winter.{Footnote 66}

One of the most interesting of domesticated organic species is humankind: interesting because humans are self-domesticators. We serve as both sheep, and sheepdogs, and instructors of the sheepdogs. To instruct each other and ourselves we deploy memes. We are now far too far domesticated, too dependent on memetic cultivation, to survive in the wild.{Footnote 67}

Do memes have "survival machines"?

When I referred to individual people as "vehicles", each transporting a collection of memes, I was using a rather approximate analogy. For gene-centred biology the fundamental unit on which (biological) natural selection operates is the gene. Organisms - the expressions of developmental programmes inscribed in genomes - are differentially selected, but what is important is that some genes get selected in preference to their rivals. Organisms are "survival machines" built by combinations of genes (genomes) as their means for survival, replication and proliferation.

In multi-celled organisms, the genome builds "survival machines" at two interdependent levels. At an aggregate level the genes specify a developmental program for an organism. But, more immediately, they specify a developmental program for each cell, with the site and context of each cell interacting with the genes to determine the cell's destiny as a component of the whole organism. So genes are carried and expressed in "survival machines" at two levels of organization; individual cells develop so as to work effectively within a whole phenotype; the gene's chances of being transmitted reside both in the attributes of the whole organism and in the attributes of individual cells.

How far could we use an analogous model for memes? For example, could we think of an assemblage of memes being brought together in the socialisation and education of an individual human, then of the interplay of suitably prepared individuals in memetic "organisms" - as conventions, rituals, institutions? Culture, on this view, would be reproduced through processes of replication on (at least) two levels: individuals, and institutions.

The parallel has its points, but also its limitations. Certain memes (a common language, for example) are involved in the formation of all or virtually all individual humans within a given (national or linguistic) culture. Like the common genome in cells' nuclei, it is repeated almost identically in all the "cells" of the "organism". But the particular part that a cell is called upon to play within the life history of "its" organism is affected not only by the developmental program written in the genome, but on the time and the anatomical and physiological context under which the developmental algorithm of the individual cell starts running and gets committed (ie where and when it is formed). The genome of every cell plays the same basic melody, but on an instrument, at a pitch and volume, etc which depends not only on what is in the score, but where within the orchestra the instrument develops. Like multicelled organisms, the operation of an organisation as a whole depends on a complex differentiation among parts which are formed on a modular basis.{Footnote 68}

Perhaps, though, the orchestra metaphor has allowed us to slide too easily from genes to memes? One key issue is how far we can identify things which, replicated across individual humans, help us account for the characteristic, enduring qualities of institutions (or organisations, or cultures) across generations.

Darwinian evolution is not confined to organic life-forms, nor is it dependent on particular mechanisms of either replication or reproduction. Organisms, like cells, descend from similar parents, often by the more roundabout processes of sexual recombination. Persons are culturally assembled from a range of other people and memes, some closer, some remote. For example, children acquire much of their first language in imitative, repetitive play within the nuclear family: the "mother tongue". However, they acquire literacy later, in forms which are critically dependent on earlier language development, within formal organisations specialised for that purpose (schools), overwhelmingly composed of other humans who are not close genetic relatives. Literacy develops in the individual human partly by processes of reciprocal imitation with others (peer groups), and partly through functionally specialised humans (teachers).

Views about meme vehicles

In fact, writers about memes have rather various views of what relationships hold betweem memes and entities that serve as their "survival machines" or "vehicles". Dawkins, in his original formulation, starts from the view that memes replicate by imitation. He then speaks at various points of a variety of different things which can transmit memes: individual humans (or their brains), ideas, songs (as in Auld Lang Syne), physical artefacts (such as hymn books), symbolic systems (such as languages), formal organizations (such as churches), and social institutions (such as priestly celibacy).

Dennett argues similarly:

"Genes are invisible; they are carried by gene vehicles (organisms) in which they tend to produce characteristic effects ("phenotypic" effects by which their fates are, in the long run, determined. Memes are also invisible, and are carried by meme vehicles - pictures, books, sayings (in particular languages, oral or written, on paper or magnetically encoded, etc). Tools and buildings and other inventions are also meme vehicles. A wagon with spoked wheels carries not only grain or freight from place to place; it carries the brilliant idea of a wagon with spoked wheels from mind to mind. A meme's existence depends on a physical embodyment in some medium; if all such physical embodyments are destroyed, that meme is extinguished... "Meme vehicles inhabit our world alongside all the fauna and flora, large and small. By and large they are "visible" only to the human species, however. Consider the environment of the average New York City pigeon, whose eyes and ears are assaulted every day by approximately as many words, pictures and other signs and symbols as assault each human New Yorker. These physical meme vehicles may impinge importantly on the pigeon's welfare, but not in virtue of the memes they carry - it is nothing to the pigeon that it is under a page of the National Enquirer, not the New York Times, that it finds a crumb." (Dennett, CE, 203-4)

Let us look at some of these alternative meme vehicles in a little more detail. To what extent are they actually alternatives - rather than being, say, different phases of a developmental sequence? By looking at this we may be able bring the role of "imitation" in meme replication into clearer focus, and unpack some of the ways in which memes "leap" from one subject's mind to another's.

Physical artefacts

"No part of the walls is left undecorated. From everywhere the praise of the lord is drummed into you." - Nikolaus Pevsner, London. "Who is the Potter, pray, and who the Pot?" - Rubuyat of Omar Khayam

Even in some of the "simplest" forms of artefact-making there can occur great stability of the artefact's form over many (human) generations. The stone tools of pre-agricultural humans, for example, evolved fast in terms of biological time, but very slowly compared with today's rates of technological change. Their characteristic forms were highly stable in the shorter term. They developed over millenia through sequences of styles in the end-product - for example, flint arrowheads. The overall evolutionary development through recogniseable styles often allows archeologists - like paleologists - to date and source particular examples rather exactly. The evidence as a whole points to increasingly competent and exact processes of imitation.

Most (physical) artefacts arise from processes of replication and imitation. But the two are not the same. What, precisely, got imitated in the manufacture of early stone tools? It is a reasonable surmise that what was being imitated, from human to human, elder to neophyte, was not (or at least, not only) some finished example of the artefact itself (the flaked and shaped arrowhead) but rather the whole developmental sequence that led to it: from the searching out and selecting of suitable pebbles (all of which would be quite different from the finished product), via rough shaping, finishing, selection and perhaps grading, to final use. With our modern, elaborated division of labour between people the developmental processes of an artefact - considered as one sequence, from location of raw material to finished artefact-in-use - has been broken into numerous lesser, recombining, parts and much of it has passed beyond any one individual's view. If we want to reconstruct it we must do it in our mind, with the help of some very recent artefacts (including the technical and social sciences).

What gets imitated, therefore, is not immediately the finished, developed artefact, but its process of manufacture or development. And one of the intermediate products that must be reproduced is the artefact maker.{Footnote 69} Imitating another's artefact is, first of all, imitating the Other, and that imitation is itself a developmental process. The education of an individual in a skill - the skill (or more exactly, the ordered sequence of sub-skills) for producing an artefact-meme, in this case a neolithic hunter's particular style of arrowhead - requires that the particular meme's specialised reproductive equipment - the apprenticeship of the arrowmaker - itself be reproduced. Neolithic sites can often be recognised by their accumulations of unfinished tools and related debris, by-products of the joint production of tools and toolmakers. Education, including the imitation of other already-educated humans, is how a tchnology, a language or a culture endures across generations. As Dennett puts it:

"The haven all memes depend on reaching is the human mind, but a human mind is itself an artifact created when memes restructure a human brain in order to make it a better habitat for memes. The avenues for entry and exit are modified to suit local conditions, and strengthened by various artificial devices that enhance fidelity and prolixity of replication: native Chinese minds differ dramatically from native French minds, and literate minds differ from illiterate minds." (Dennett, 207)

Much change in artefacts, as in other memes, is marginal. It arises by design but not by inspiration. The usual propellant is disatisfaction with existing forms and the consequent, iterative search for an improved form. Henry Petrovski, writing on the history of design, argues that, contrary to design theory's conventional wisdom that "Form follows function" (design theorists being, so to say, the ideologists of successful designers), it is more accurate to say that "Form follows failure", and to see the inventor primarily as a critic, not as an artist (Petroski 1993; cf Oscar Wilde, The Critic as Artist){Footnote 70}

Life cycles and art cycles

"God is really only another artist. He invented the giraffe, the elephant and the cat. He has no real style. He just goes on trying other things." - Pablo Picasso (Gilot and Like, Life with Picasso)

Even in creative modern art, much modification of memes remains marginal. Here is how David Hockney improved his memes to help them gain better access to human minds, "the haven all memes depend on reaching":

"I realised that was the way most people were going to see this work, in this form of reproduction, because the number of people who could see the real piece, which is ten feet across, would be quite small. If you sell five thousand posters, not only are five thousand people seeing it, but maybe ten other people see each poster, so it means a lot of people. Therefore, I thought if that is the form it is going to be seen in mostly, let's make sure we do it as well as we can technically. That's why my posters began to be rather good. We took a little more trouble just making sure the work was photographed very well and the printing was of good quality. I was surpised that so few artists seemed to take an interest in that. I think now more and more artists are becoming aware that reproductions of their pictures are the way most people see them. After all, artists should have known that, because that's the way they themselves saw a great number of pictures."{Footnote 71}

Hockney goes on to describe how memes not only enter minds, but re-engrave them - how repotting remakes the repotter:

"For me, reproductions of my work were something that became more and more important, beginning with my first big book, Hockney by Hockney. I realised that not only had I got my work at my fingertips, I could flick through it, flick through my life as it were; I realised too that others could flick through my work, and I think this is also a part of art." (Hockney , 1993, 115)

Only in the fairly recent past (about the last two centuries) has human society become information-rich through memes capable of mass manufacture or transmission. Where, as recently as the last century, individual humans competed for news or entertainment, now the boot is on the other foot, and an "infoglut" of media competes furiously to be noticed by as many individuals as possible.{Footnote 72}

Postmodernity is society in which the key scarce resource is public attention (Baumann). But competition for this resource takes place among memes whose basic structures evolved in information-poor societies. A fifteen second television advertisement may assume fluent literacy in its audience, flashing its message in glimpsed, oblique word-fragments. But the alphabet it uses evolved nearly 3000 years ago in the eastern Mediterranean in peasant societies where a large majority of people could neither read nor write, and a large proportion had never seen a written artefact. The conservative element is not the physical artefact, whose design and production methods have been many times revolutionised, but the symbolic conventions with which human generations engrave their successors.{Footnote 73}

Even apparently "simple" artefacts, such as our neolithic arrowhead, raise the questions: What gets replicated? What reproduces? What, if anything, corresponds to the biological organism in population genetics? One of the difficulties in reconstructing the development programs of memes is that they involve the confluence of other and successive tributary inputs. "Tributary" itself oversimplifies: many intermediate products serve as input to several outputs. And many output-memes can be produced by a variety of combinations.

Over time combinations vary and alternative combinations get selected - evolve - so as to "enhance fidelity and prolixity of replication". Selection takes place partly through and partly outside human intentions. An important part of technical evolution is change in the artefacts used to produce other artefacts: finger-moulding of clay, the potter's wheel, the glass factory. Innovation in the end product is often an almost incidental result of selection among variants at earlier stages of a developmental sequence. Additions to the repertoire of intermediate artefact-memes - the wheel, iron smelting, paper, the steam engine - bring change virtually throughout the system of production.

How do meme-vehicles reproduce?

Where, then, in all this, should we identify memes and their vehicles? Is a completed artefact a "stably co-adapted complex of memes", or is it just one phase of the former's life-cycle, its "vehicle" or "survival machine"? If the latter, where are the memes - invisible, according to Dennett - that persist by replication through the life-cycle of the organism? How are memetically-structured (trained) human brains integrated within artefact-memes' development sequences? In particular, what gets replicated when the imagined idea of the pot gets shaped on the potter's wheel, or (to invert the problem of signifier and signified) when repeated practice at the elbow of a skilled potter educates a new potter?

Two differences between genes and memes (or, at least, the artefact forms or phases of memes) seem to me particularly important. In the first place memes in general have no physical "stencil", analogous to nucleic acid sequences, preserved through transcription and replication right across the life cycle; the mechanisms of replication are quite different. In fact DNA does not replicate itself directly: its double strands first separate into two single strands, each of which then bonds to free bases to re-form the double structure of DNA. There are more general reasons why nothing can replicate itself directly, producing itself, like the Christian god, from out of itself; the same thing cannot act simultaneously as maker and made. Replication (and its conscious form, imitation) must occur through at least a double transcription.{Footnote 74}

Secondly, artefact-memes can tolerate far more radical changes in the developmental sequences from which they issue than can genes and their survival machines. Major technical changes and substitutions can be introduced, a long way ahead of the finished product, which are not lethal but, on the contrary, increase both the efficiency of replication and the quality of the product: paper in place of parchment; animal muscle, steam, or electricity instead of human effort.

These two differences lead us into further problems. If biological replication takes place at two general "levels", the cell and the organism, how many levels can we point to for memes? What is a meme's equivalent of the organism's life-cycle, in which development takes place through a structured sequence of forms, including fertile phases but ending in the death and disintegration of the organism? Indeed, can we draw any generally useful distinction between genes and their vehicles or survival machines? Let us look at some examples of (complex) memes and the problem of analysing them into their conceptual components.

Memes must replicate. For them to do so there must be adapted equipment or arrangements in place. But must memes be self-replicators? Physical artefacts, on the whole, are not - if we leave aside particular and arguable examples, like machine tools, or software for writing softwre. Arrowheads do not reproduce arrowheads, and the inputs to a baked bean cannery don't include tins of baked beans (they do include uncooked beans, though slightly fewer emerge tinned at the other end). The meme-artefact has - so to speak - externalised its reproductive arrangements (the physical inputs and the meme-structured bean and can makers and their motives), and these are renewed through separate cycles of replication: the production of beans and tomatoes, steel, paper labels etc, and the cycles of socialization, education, exchange and employment that deliver the right mix of skilled and motivated workers to operate enterprises (for making beans, for making bean and can making equipment, and for making bean makers). Artefacts are produced by means of artefacts, commodities by means of commodities, people by means of people, and each of these have histories of memetic evolution. People and their psyches (and beans and their life cycles) also have histories of biological evolution, fixed as adaptations in almost all individuals.

Perhaps, though, it is more helpful to think of artefact-memes not so much as having externalised reproductive apparatus, but of the physical output as being part - just one phase - of a larger and longer self-replicative cycle. Biologists are used to thinking of organisms as self-reproducing machines, and of their design features as selected to be functional from this point of view. Could we not, by extending meme-processes, identify replication cycles which correspond more closely to those involved in biological reproduction?

If it makes good sense to biologists to think of a bird as an egg's way (or its genes' way) way of making another egg, or of flowers and their pollinating insects as parts of common reproductive cycles, does it not make equal sense to think of the species of bird as a particular type of nest's - or song's - way of replicating into another nest or song? And, by extension, can we not think of the bean cannery and its auxiliary agriculture as (another, intersecting) replicative route involving beans?{Footnote 75} Plants have "learned" over evolutionary time to use the distinctive behavioural patterns - the proto-motives - of insects, birds and mammals as they feed, nest and excrete to pollinate their flowers and disperse their seeds; similarly artefacts have adapted to use humans' complex patters of behaviour and motivation as reproductive equipment.

In fact, with higher forms of moral meme, the idea is already familiar to us. We have no especial difficulty in thinking of generations upon generations of human beings in the service of art, science, the mission of the church, or the juggernaut of progress. Evolutionary biologists do not think - except as a deliberate approximation - of species' evolving in a static niche, but of the co-evolution of many species (or, if you prefer, of arrays of many niches, and of the species which define and compose them{Footnote 76}).

As far as physical artefact-memes are concerned, we cannot point to common physical structures at the base of their forms of replication. Moreover their forms of reproductive separation and isolation are quite different from DNA's - another aspect, from one point of view, of the externalization of their replicating equipment. Replicating cans of baked beans need never involve starting with other cans of baked beans - though it well may, if the canners retain their appetite for baked beans. More generally the replication of artefacts, commodities and people takes place by means of artefacts, commodities and people - but different ones.

Cells, organisms and species can each be regarded as different routes for complex molecules' self-replication, and self-replicators' self-replication, and so on. DNA's replicative cycles vary, and selection takes among the variants, speciation being an advanced result of the process. The effects of biological evolution include many striking examples of functional integration and trade off between competing variants and meta-variants of nucleic acid sequences: exquisite balances among genes between the needs of survival and replication; intimate and exact co-evolution of functions among several species; ecologies as dynamic equilibria of (specialised and reproductively segregated) populations of molecules, cells and species.

Species, however, like individual organisms (or birds' songs, or candles' flames) are not static objects, but temporary processes. There is always the possibility they may go exinct or subdivide. For this reason the biologist GC Williams emphasises the clade as the general unit of selection. A clade corresponds to a set of entities of common ancestry (monophyletic). It may be a strain, a species, or a larger category. Clades "compete" at many levels, but

"The ultimate prize for which all clades are in competition is representation in the biota" (Williams 1992, p25){Footnote 77}

Recall Dennett's similar observation about memes:

"The haven all memes depend on reaching is the human mind..." (Dennett, 207)

But is Dennett's formulation a necessary truth about memes - that they can only infect human minds? Dennett adds that a human mind is itself merely a particular type of meme-inscribed artefect. Culture consists not only of minds but of many other artefacts. Cultural and technical evolution has seen memes develop increasingly elaborate, varied and circuitous routes outside minds, many of them inscribed in codes that evolved first in human minds. Could memes emancipate t hemselves from human beings altogether? They show tendencies to do in various directions, from the permanent transfer of memes from human culture to that of other animals [tits and bottles, bower birds], to incipient pattern recognition and intelligence among computers.

The meme-family of conspecific aggression among social mammals (and its inhibitory limitation) long predates hominids. But with the aid of humans it has "domesticated" many other vehicles: human artefacts from stones to nuclear weapons; other species (especially horses); more general memes of cohesion among humans (from parental investment to proletarian internationalism); and numerous more-or-less complex formal organizations, from the warrior band and the air force, to space technology and the Red Cross. Warfare, having engraved itself among our memetically transmitted preferences, seem to be proliferating by emancipating itself to an increasing degree.

Perhaps Dennett's insistence on the human mind as memes' irreducible "haven" is a residue of the "mentalism" or "humanism" that has - understandably - proliferated in memes about memetic evolution? Conclusively to establish the need for Dennett's "haven" we would, in a sense, need to prove a negative: that no meme could remain aloft indefinitely without perching for rest in a human mind.

There is nothing inherently impossible in the idea that the lineages of patterning that form life could be coded in other replicative structures than nucleic acids. Cairns-Smith has developed the speculation that the early history of life was formed on clay crystals, only subsequently being transferred to organic molecular chains.

[Perchless swallow. Human history of memes just an early segment of their learning curve?]


"Money is like a sixth sense without which you cannot make a complete use of the other five" - W Somerset Magham, Of Human Bondage ["Life is too short to do anything for oneself that one can pay ohers to do" - W Somerset Maugham, The Summing Up "As I take my shoes from the shoemaker, and my coat from the tailor, so I take my religion from the priest" - Oliver Goldsmith, quoted in Boswell, Life of Johnson (DQ)]

Organic life may almost be defined as patterns which have taken nucleic acid chains as their means of replication. By analogy, memes can provisionally be thought of as replicators which have taken vast chainings of human intentions as their means of replication - presupposing life just as life presupposes replicating molecules. However, while an individual intention neccessarily has a psychological ingredient, a chaining of many intentions is not neccessarily intentional - though it may be. This - the anonymous neccessities of the social - is a problem I return to. First, however, I glance at some ways in which individual intentions can and do unknowingly bind together - money: law; crowds; and formal organisations.

If artefact-memes do not start from a common evolutionary substance - as life has, in large-self replicating molecular chains, varying and being differentially selected as they replicate - perhaps they may nonetheless have evolved, or be able to evolve, an analogous common substance? Something of this sort, I think, already exists, in the form of money. The differences - the external character of the common substance, and the reversed evolutionary ordering - correspond to the facts that while large carbon molecules and their macrostructures replicate themslves internally, from themselves, memes are replicated externally and by other memes (and by people). One - relatively late - result in their evolution has been the evolution, through exaptation, of a meme specialised in exploiting a particular niche: barter, leading into more generalised exchange.

One way of viewing life is as a vast set of interlocking mutually dependent routes for proliferating variant sequences of DNA. Simlarly, a monetary economy consists of a vast set of intermeshed alternative pathways replicating and expanding money. In the first case the common basic replicator is a starting point, in the second it is a result, but the effect is somewhat the same.

Being external and a relatively late product of evolution, the common replicator can also evolve to fulfil external functions - such as equilibriation across the overall mass of value expansion. The adjustments this brings into play also tend to maximise the rate of expansion of the whole mass of money.{Footnote 78} Indeed macro-economics is, in the view of one influential school, simply artefactory production with diminishing marginal returns - only writ large.

Money is also central to one of the ways artefact-memes expand the mass of value - through accelerating, creating, surveying and filling new openings in the overall replicative structure. Biological life, originally equipped only with direct, exact replication plus occasional (random) mutation, has had to evolve special, subsequent arrangements: speciation, to allow its ocean of genes to be divided into separate, specialising "gene pools", and, within many of those pools, sexual recombination to stir the genes more vigorously. Being superimposed on underlying, more fundamental, properties of the genotype which were selected for distinct reasons at earlier evolutionary phases, biological speciation and sex produce relatively awkward and slow-changing innovation mechanisms - compared, say, with some cultures, such as market economies. Viewed as a replicative mechanism money, partly through coming later in evolutionary development (insofar as we can make such comparisons across "zones"), also proves better at innovation.{Footnote 79}

When evolution works on intentions it tends to do so "backwards", selecting and thus modifying the intentions and expectations which issue from psychological processes via selection of means serving intentions further "down the line". An important class of social arrangements consists of "economic" meme-complexes which have the effect of shaping the intentions of some persons (slaves, workers, officials) in such ways that they meet the needs or desires - respond to the intentions - of others (eg owners, consumers, citizens etc) who are so remote they have never even heard of those to whom they respond. Individual humans are socialised and placed in their social classes partly by their minds being "engraved" (Dennett, check) by socialising memes which cause them to respond stereotypically to day-to-day memes.

Meeting the desires of some through the intentions of unrelated others is an important separation. It contrasts with the predominance of kin investment in many other species.{Footnote 80} Its effect is to attenuate the balance between effort and satisfaction that regulates the life of individuals among most higher animals: the fact, for example, that many animals cease foraging or predation once satiated. De-coupling the location - the human site - of the desire from the effort through which it is realised is what permits a social surplus to develop, and with it - together with other conditions, in particular the transmission of learned behaviour - luxury and invention.

But memes adapt intentions not only by expanding across more people the efforts they bring into play, but also by shaping expectations. "Ascetic" memes{Footnote 81}, or the restriction of expectations and the schooling in "deferred gratification" that goes on in the socialisation of every child, evolve as well as luxurious ones - and these stimulate their own forms of invention. These domestications of intention are also the work of memes - and memes which also often require of their human carriers/vehicles considerable effort in order to limit the consumer's calls on the efforts of others. The relation between asceticism - or luxury - for one person and the burden on others is often complex. As Gandhi was reminded by a follower, it cost a great deal of money to keep him in the poverty he had grown accustomed to.{Footnote 82} Conversely, even monarchists get drawn into debating whether the Royal Family provide value for money.

Asceticism of a kind can also be had by expanding the number of memes' consumers proportionately more than the total cost. The twentieth century electronic media do this spectacularly well, concentrating vast social resources on indivdual templates, which are then replicated at small or negligible marginal cost. Even the most elaborately designed templates, however, are often elaborations on ancient psychic equipment. The appetite for gossip about kin and familiars, which evolved as a key but high-cost - one-to-one - aid to inclusive fitness in our ancestors' pre-literate (and pre-pecuniary) hunter-gatherer bands (as Barkow, AM, argues), did much to propel the telephonic revolution, and has been incorporated (with crucial modifications) into many of the most successful genres of television - not only chat shows, soaps and sitcoms but also, for example, global news.

Money is a crucial adaptation of such memes, not only in the general sense that the technologies have evolved within moneyed industrial societies, but in the nitty-gritty competition between programs. TV advertising sells on the basis of charges [CPM?]: numbers of viewers weighted by their disposable income.

Global culture is a function not only of money, but of "species typical" adaptations: the fact that humankind's genetic unity entails (as "evolutionary psychology" accurately points out (CT)) compelling unities of anatomical and psychic design. Nowadays "Nikes are worn by cannibals." [check ref Twitchell]

[section on trashing of taste, mass media and unit cost of hominid gossip (Barkow). Cost per thousand dollars (weighted sum): money as regulator of the most intangibles]


One obverse of money's meshing togther unlikes, by connecting their like linkages, is an omnium gatherum notion of "work" as something detachable from the experience of the human animal who performs it. In reality the division of labour is a separation of lives:

"There is no greater modern illusion, even fraud, than the use of the single term work to cover what for some, as noted, is dreary, painful or socially demeaning and what for others is enjoyable, socially reputable and economically rewarding. Those who spend pleasant, well-compensated days say with emphasis that they have been "hard at work," thereby suppressing the notion that they are a favoured class. They are of course allowed to say that they enjoy their work, but it is presumed that such enjoyment is shared by any good worker. In a brief moment of truth, we speak, when sentencing criminals, of years at "hard labour". Otherwise we place a common gloss over what is agreeable and what, to a greater or lesser extent, is endured or suffered." (Galbraith, 1992, p 33)

Socialism shares the difference and consequent fiction. Haraszti (1977) came to think of workers and their managers in the "workers' state" as distinct species, partly co-inhabiting common space{Footnote 83}. From time to time social science fiction has projected a future in which the reproductive isolation of classes becomes (or is made) absolute, and speciation occurs.{Footnote 84} But the differentiations could also, and perhaps better, be expressed in terms of differences among the species' of memes by which humans are domesticated.{Footnote 85}

The related point that the social organism becomes complex at the expense of individualism has often been made. Here is Mikhailovsky's essay on progress in [187?], attacking the paens to industrialisation of Herbert Spencer and the social darwininsts:

"If society makes a transition from homogeneity to heterogeneity, then the process of integration in the citizens which corresponds to this transition must proceed from heterogeneity to homogeneity. In short, individual progress and social evolution (on the model of organic evolution) are mutually exclusive, just as the evolution of organs and the evolution of the whole organism are mutually exclusive....In an organism it is the whole that experiences pain and pleasure, not the parts; in society it is the parts that experience pain and pleasure, not the whole" (quoted in Edie, Scanlon and Zeldin, II, 180-1)


Law and property, as systematic means for modifying and redirecting the efforts of others, precede and underpin the emergence of money. Legal norms endure by replication. The origins of "justice" in the sense of fairness and impartiality lie less in moral considerations than in the evolution of legal and quasi-legal memes for the more efficient administration and operation of law. The operation of law goes far wider than the tiny minority of situations in which it is explicitly invoked or enforced; it regulates and circumscribes much of everyday life because legal memes evolve in such a way that they easily enter into the habits and motivation of most of the population, even where they do not crystallise as explicit awareness. The law acts as both efficent and final cause of law-governed behaviour, not so much because subjects select among their intentions to eliminate unlawful impulses, but because their intentions are formed already "engraved" by the extant legal memes. An important element in the design of legal memes is the jurisprudential principle that "A law is best the less it must be enforced", and the fact that temporary or local lawlessness (the breakdown of law and order) is identified with situations in which coercion comes into play as a means of regulating behaviour.

Modern legal systms have evolved to the point that they are administered by highly trained, socially and occupationally segregated, legal professions and judiciaries, themselves complexly internally differentiated. In reality ignorance of the detail of the law is the almost universal condition, an ocean of vagueness, dotted with human islands of professional competence. These islands perform the social function of "radiating" awareness of the legal structure through the population as a whole. For the structure of legal memes to act effectively and continue it must generate - or more exactly, perhaps, emanate - popular quasi-legal memes which can readily enter into the habits of the population as a whole. The legal fictions that knowledge of the law is general or that ignorance of the law is no excuse - is nowadays essential to the integrity of legal systems. It is reflected in other general, but more practical, maxims: that minor or unintentional breaches of the law are not subject to sanction, that legal reform and administration should aim at commonsense consistency etc. And it elicits specialised adaptations - compliance officers, legal departments etc - in complex legal personalities. Just as language acts not through particular points of application or by the seriatim utterance of words, but through providing a structure within which meanings are transmitted, law operates not through particular episodes of enforcement, but through the general dispositions within which law-regarding habits and intentions crystallise{Footnote 86}.

But awareness of what? The simple image of law as objective, or at least as texts on tablets, dissolves on closer examination. Law which is stated in broad, popular but definite terms on one skin of the onion is, seen in more detail, an effect of memetic consensus among specialists. Often enough particular cases discover fissures in the consensus at one level, which must then be resolved by recontruction into more detailed consensus, new memes embrained, so to say, in the legal profession or judiciary or particular segments of it. The common law notion that judges, aided by lawyers, discover a pre-existing law is recognised by those engaged in it as the necessary appearance it is: an appearance transmitted and made necessary by the requirement that laws survive by propagating themselves in a form securing broad compliance - a compliance which is itself a condition of law being nourished by the economic system.

In its developed form law, like money, acts as a permanently adapting and structuring framework of intentions shaping other intentions, acting through a continual flux of memes. Money and law each embed themselves in social relations as an apparent structure of transmitted values and rules. In each case the individual feels her or himself to be, and as a consequence really is, directed by institutions experienced as "things" (but with intentions). More closely examined, though, these things are relations, transmissions, interchanges among people - relations which persist and replicate themselves, both severally and as the complex wholes they build up into. Their persistence and replication are strongly affected by natural selection, and consequently tend to evolve in their survival and propagation functions. They become, in the perceptions of individual humans - which is one of the most important things with cultural transmission - "reified", appearing as encrusted and coercive to the individual, human relationships transformed into things. And the thing for one individual is formed of the human relations of others.{Footnote 87}

Law and legal memes are good examples of how natural individual selection among memes can produce effects - behaviour coordinating genetically unrelated indivduals - which would require group selection to arise biologiccally. The legal meme with the greater capacity to replicate itself - principally by eliciting compliance - across the human group and over time is the one that tends to get selected.


In moving from money to law we shifted from a type of complex meme with a more-or-less tangible expression to a type expressed in less tangible social institutions - a change, so to speak, in the staining and magnification employed for our sociological microscope. Let us continue to vary the optics. Consider the performances of individuals in two moving but intersecting crowds of rush-hour commuters as they cross the concourse of a rail terminal. Each individual is oriented towards their next turning point - the exit, the kiosk, or whatever - and walks towards it at a speed whose elastic upper and lower limits are set by average capacities.

Yet collisions are far fewer than for two streams of particles on similar routes at similar velocities without forces of mutual repulsion acting at a distance. Between the individuals composing the crowds there take place continual, rapid, unreflecting - in a sense microscopic - identification, classification and tracking of others, and an estimation and reassessment of their intentions, integrated with the subjects own continual adjustment and readjustment of her own pace, posture, gaze and intention. Each individual can be considered as radiating a continuous stream of memes, and as continually selecting and processing memes from others. This generates interactions (of which the simplest is repulsion) between individuals and their intentions which are negligible at separations of more than a few meters, but are a markedly inverse function of distance at the lower ranges, so that near contact evokes a sort of reflex of recoil. Crowd behaviour as shaped by this meme-flux contains symbolic ingredients that differentiate it from herd behaviour. The moving, calculating commuter is continually recognising others according to symbolic and normative as well as physical-biological criteria. The symbolic criteria which come into play are those of the culture - of which the crowd forms a momentary agglomeration and concentration.


Dress and other accoutrements are among the most important of these. A currently-recognised uniform is more-or-less essential to interrupt or deflect the commuter stream. Even in Rome an individual dressed as a centurion is preumed to be on his way to a fancy dress party. One good measure of womens' inequality with men is the effort a female uniform wearer must project to successfully steer the crowd. On the transit systems of San Francisco or Paris the white stick carried by the person with impaired sight serves (like a green light for her, and a red for others) as an instant symbolic signifier to leave additional margins of space and time, and causes others to adjust very rapidly the image they hold of the stick-wielder's visual field, state of knowledge, and intentions. The effect is both familiar and symbolic or cultural - the white stick is an effective modifier of crowd behaviour in New York, but is unintelligible among crowds where a different symbolism exists, or where people with seriously impaired sight seldom go, or go unescorted, in public, as in much of the Third World.

The effect is also familiar in the sense of being the almost effortless consequence of recognising a symbol, rather than the outcome of any chain of deduction from particular circumstances of the situation. In deductive logic thick glasses should evoke the same sort of response as the white stick, only perhaps less marked. In reality the meme flux has evolved rapid-symbolling routines through which wearers of glasses alone are assigned to the category normal, and those with white sticks are disabled. Disability is expressed symbolically in the white stick, or the exaggerated, "warding away" gestures used to usher a wheelchair user through the crowd.

The evidence of impairment or the appliance to compensate for it has become a symbol - a radiator of stereotypical memes to others. One advantage of the stereotyping is economy of effort - rapid recognition and avoidance. Receivers of such stereotypical memes are rewarded by a direct gain in symbolic status. The white stick affirms the sighted avoider as normal and at the same time gives him an opportunity - more, or less, ceremonious or fleeting, seized to an extent that time and personality determine - for a demonstration of status and chivalry in face of one of guaranteed lower status.{Footnote 88}

Earlier symbols of this sort had such functions even more explicitly. The tolling of the lepers bell, the beggars' stumps at the cathedral door, served to highlight one's own wholeness and salvation. Alms cemented the reassurance; the monetisation of charity, as excoriated by Luther, grew from such everyday exchanges of status. Without the symbol the norm would scarcely exist. In Hitler Germany's the star of David, or the pink triangle of homosexuality, were memes of warning, but also of reassurance.{Footnote 89} As with the segregation of women in the mosque or synagogue, differences or supposed differences of biology are crystalised into memetic reaffirmations of humanity. But where the "minority" is a smaller proportion the psychological effect, to be general, must be correspondingly more intense.{Footnote 90}

In the anonymous, factory-dressed commuter crowd guarantees of relative status are all-too-scarce. The hunter-gatherer's anxious monitoring of self-vis-a-vis others for relativities in dominance flicks over a torrent of unintelligible, momentary others, negotiating a route through society like a smoke-signaller in the fog. Much of the crowd's suppressed tension arises from the fact that each of millions of individual subjects is simultaneously thirsting for sociability and dominance.

General clues - of age and personality, education and affluence, gender and motivation - exist, with their signals of inquiry and empathy, assertion and deference, and enter into the close-range interactions in mass society's crowds, generating the close-range "strong" forces. Up close the forces of repulsion among citizen-strangers are strong. One of the things the human mind is domesticated to do is negotiate the individual's route through a bombardment of normative claims, combining minute deftnesses of interaction with fine judgements of clearances and tolerances. In the crowd others are all potential animals or machines, animated but unfamiliar, in a potential human-jam, and uncertainty makes it neccessary for psychology - and thence action - to expand the clearances.{Footnote 91}

The human crowd differs from common types of animal herd in other domesticated species, such as sheep, where physical contact and ricochets do not raise stress levels so much.{Footnote 92} The stength of close-up forces once human body-spaces overlap {Footnote 93}can be judged by the violence of the measures sometimes neccessary to overcome them and pack the commuting atoms more densely. The Tokyo subway has special employees whose job it is to pack more people into the cars, squeezing bodies up against each other - and raising mute meme-exchange and repulsion to extraordinary intensities. In medieval towns, grown up round foot transit, those of high social status travelled with a retinue - "retainers" as much as body-guards - whose function was to buffer the protected individual against the continuous jostling of ordinary members of the crowds. The forces brought into play when crowds are obstructed soon overcome lightweight and hence symbolic inanimate barriers; the football crowd or demonstration must be held back with special retainers, whose powers of repulsion are amplified by special memes - the uniforms, drill and training of bodies of police.

Structuring the crowd: uniforms

The adoption of a uniform is a good example of memes achieving the group selection effect that genes cannot. Uniform memes emerge, like multi-celled organisms, only when simultaneously replicated on a fair scale - where more casual signals of status and function prove insufficient to maintain a coherent, lawful meme-flux ordering a crowd.{Footnote 94} Consider the differences between (a) two countermoving crowds of commuters flowing face to face into each other, and (b) two hostile battle formations of infantry engaging in hand-to-hand combat - the differences not only of overt behaviour but of moment-to-moment psychological adjustment. The multiple, more accidental attire which serves to orient the individual in the first case is insufficient in the second. A basic memetic adaptation of military action until quite recently was the bold stereotyping of the other as enemy or friend, object of lethal assault or potentially fatal altruism. A bayonet is a memetic weapon. When the forces of uniforms and patriotism grow weak it no longer functions to order, becomes just "a weapon with a worker at each end".

Animals other than humans are innocent of war (as distinct from, say. group predation or mobbing), not just because they lack the technological memes but because they have insufficient differentiation and recognition of individuals, incapable of sustaining command - one centre, coordinating others against yet others. Command is also stereotyped for easy recognition and compliance: the officer's insignia; the regimental colours. In war officers' bright insignia designed for recognition by comrades of other ranks may - like the peacock's tail - render the wearer especially vulnerable (because he is recognisable by the enemy). In the trench warfare and massed assaults of the First World War officers' uniforms made them particular targets of small arms fire, and over time battle dress differentiation was reduced to the minimum which would enable recognition by one's own side at close range.

Crowds gather at different places for different purposes, practical and ritual. The same individuals who will patiently tolerate a mother weighed down with shopping and toddlers, or an old person fumbling with packets and change in a supermarket queue, would elbow the same individual aside if she attempted the quite different tempi of the city rush-hour. The promiscuous body contact of the Calcutta market place or the pilgrim horde at Lourdes would be downright offensive on the pavement of the Via Condotti or the Rue St Honore. Individual social clues are also important: indicators of higher socio-economic status - the Harrods carrier bag rather than one from Tesco - may purchase space through amplified avoidance.{Footnote 95}

Formal organisations

The anonymous, unstructured crowd of commuters functions and flows by the continous person-to-person transmission of memes. It is also a (less immediate) result of replication among many other types of meme: those of factory or bureaucracy; of suburbanisation; of electrified means of communication and transport; of large-scale commercial and state organisation; of revolutions in information technology. Many of them involve the routine recognition, classification and use of other humans as predictable stereotypes - in the extreme, quasi- or virtual machines. Human minds (as Dennett has it) are engraved by memes to process other memes. Ease of recognition and use can give enormous replicative advantages to the meme complexes within which they function: the semi-skilled worker as a substitutable component of the assembly line; the post to be filled by the appropriate qualification; the lubricative effect of civic consciousness and civil rights in the crowd of citizen-voters-commuters; the orderly flow of the mass into office or Auschwitz.

There are, of course, also efficiency-penalties to substitution which overide individuation, especially where group tasks are complex, have moving goals, or make stressful demands on cooperative skills. The hoplite phalanx was a major innovation in infantry tactics, not only because it fused bodies, shields, armour and weapons into an orderly, relatively safe array, but because it did this on such a scale that most of the young men of the phalanx, drawn from the same village or district, knew each other as individuals and comrades. Attic citizenship, comradeship and eroticism in the phalanx aimed, by different means, at what the mass military schooling of Spartan education also sought; the integration of individual motives and impulses into machine-like mass action.{Footnote 96}

Formal organisations often find - by evolutionary trial and error - that they cannot dispense with the need for intimacy. At the tactical level modern military organization is a complex compromise between the dictates of equipment, unity of command, and training, battle hardening - and loyalty on the approximate scale of the hunter-gatherer group. The bureaucratic battle group cannot fully emancipate itself from its ancestry in the phalanx or posse. Troops may risk all for comrades where they would not put their lives on the line for commander, nation or fellow-citizens in the abstract.{Footnote 97} Similar considerations of scale and familiarity apply to the designed or traditional work crew, the surgical team, the school class, or the invisible college of academic specialisation.{Footnote 98} The family frequently collapses as the site of child care and socialisation, but when it does the state, saddled with infant citizens, can often do no better than reconstruct it.

Modern complex organisations are frequently built round explicit statements of intentions, mapped into organizational structures. Intentional change can then occur (in part) by linked modifications of goals and structures. Or it may occur - as our homoousion example (above, p ) suggested - in more local, inexplicit ways. In all cases where intentions are transmitted between people unintended consequences of social action arise - it is just a matter of their nature and extent.

The case for memes

What do our examples suggest? Let me briefly make the case for the "meme's-eye view". Psychological and cultural phenomena form - that is what monism means - part of a seamless universe. As such, they can be understood from various points of view. What is most effective depends on what specific phenomena we want to understand and, equally important, on the means of understanding available to us from meme-evolution (history) up to date. To take examples from our present historical location: we can view the human world from the standpoint of physics and chemistry (for example, in dentistry or pharmacology); we can see it as one specialised type of molecular-patterning replication (as in biology); we can think of culture as the interactions of individual human organisms (as in anthropology or sociology). Or, I'm suggesting, we can think in terms of the natural history and evolution of memes, chiefly of meme-forms specialising in the direct and indirect "domestication" of human beings.

These standpoints do not exclude each other. They require occupational differentiation among humans, and they are thus, to a degree, separated from each other, but the barriers are neither waterproof nor fixed. On the contrary, to regard the universe as seamless means that among the tests applied in meme-selection is the requirement (itself evolved as a complex meme) for logical consistency between the memes employed by different standpoints.

Looking at the world in meme terms is not new. History does it insofar as it seeks to be explanatory, or populates its narrative with ages, classes, styles etc. But its treatment has often been casual, anecdotal - or, worse, narrowly human-focussed and pragmatic, failing to see the memes for the people. The second part of my case for a (more systematic) meme's eye view is the claim that the study of memes can be effectively developed if it borrows models and insights from the existing natural sciences, particularly from evolutionary biology.

When we try to understand why the commuter crowd makes space round the man with the white stick, why the audience rises for the national anthem but weeps for the aria, why wife and husband, corporation and customer, TV and viewer, trick and treat each other as they do, why the bull and the Bolshevik see red so differently, or how rival personal computers compete, thinking in terms of the natural history and evolution of memes can be useful. This is not to deny that humans (or their sticks) consist of agglomerations of atoms and tissues, that they grow under the control of nucleic acids, or that speech and music accord with the physics of vibrating bodies, but just to suggest that a meme's eye view may have a distinctive purchase on these things.

Meme memes

This brings me to the third component of my case for memes, which is that of relative advantage. When we argue about ideas and theories one of the things we are doing is selective breeding of memes. And in defence of Dawkins' meme memes it can be said, at the very least, that their immediate competitors - the social and psychological sciences - have not recently shown anything like the pace of successful adaptation of natural science memes. There is, so to speak, a niche waiting to be inhabited. Insofar as explanatory power is an important criterion of selection, the environment for meme-theory looks a favourable and underpopulated one.

One objection to placing too many hopes in meme-theory may be the underdevelopment of psychology. We are still far short of understanding the macro- and micro-mechanics by which memes "parasitise" humans. But we can draw some comfort from the history of biology. Darwin, Wallace and their early followers were able to sketch an essentially accurate theory of natural selection even though they did not understand the physical machinery of heredity and variation, were unaware of Mendel's genetics, and were inclined to the false view that some naturally acquired characteristics could be inherited. They were able to develop their theory by drawing on what was available - evidence from fossils and geology, work on biological classification and the study of species' distributions, embryology, and the experience of commercial breeders and growers. Today, the study of human culture and psychology is not really short on empirical evidence; the problem is to locate it within unifying principles. Unfortunately meme-evolution has equipped us with powerful inhibitions against doing this in its differentiation of academic and scientific specialisation.

One universe

Our universe can be thought of as selected selective processes favouring patterns that endure.{Footnote 99} In terrestial conditions "elementary" wave-particles combine in various configurations - the more stable of which form nuclei. Among nuclei, some few dozens are stable enough that (after much meme-evolution) we now identify them as isotopes of distinct elements. The longer-lived among them - together with their longer-lived fission-products - form the atomic "stuff" of our world. Their electron clouds form - according to their total charge - more or less stable configurations. The more stable are inert elements; the less stable are prone to bind to others as compound molecules. At low momenta many molecules enter into crystal lattices; several possess more than one stable lattice pattern, and which crystal structure spreads may depend (among other things) on which is there to be replicated in the first place {Footnote 100}.

[Can Dawkins' (in The Extended Phenotype) be heard as saying that matter is simply the occurence of successful forms. See as quoted in Smith, Genes, Sex and Evolution, p 106 ff]]

Notice that natural selection does not require replication - at least, not in any strict or narrow sense. Water's action on granite separates the quartz grains from feldspar and mica, preserves and transports them, and organises them, finely graded, on beaches (Van Valen 1989).

Carbon and oxygen, though, bind with some other elements in a large variety of extended nolecules. Among these, some have the particular property, in a suitable chemical environment - such as exists within a cell, for example - of being able to serve as templates for the repeated assemblage of complex chains from shorter chains free in a water solution around them; their synthesis-sequences, acting together, both feed upon and generate the intracellular food in which they live. One in particular - ribonucleic acid - has the striking property of serving as its own template. Within cell nuclei it forms double chains, parallel spirals, with two types of assymetric "linkages", each of which has two "sides" and consequently two orientations - a total of four possible types of link making up chains of idefinite length and complexity. In cell division the double spiral peels apart, each side immediately replicating the double chain by binding to free bases in the soup.

While all cells employ this basic chemical machinery for replication, the life cycles of daughter cells also depend on the cell's environment. Cells inherit characteristics acquired from the environment; the developmental programs of a genome provide for cells to produce offspring whose traits are determined by the parent's acquired characteristics - that is, for "cultural" transmission between cells to affect cell replication.

Some cells restrict their evironment in their favour by cohabiting as groupings of several cells. Some among these further improve things by evolving patterns of specialising differentiation among themselves - organisms. Their coherence and structure derive from their cells' common ancestry and the presence of an identical development program laid down by the precise pattern of DNA replicated throughout each organism's cell nuclei. Because this provides the "atomic" basis of organisms' coherence, replicated in this infinitely repeatable way, all organisms' life cycles, no matter how differentiated and elaborate, involve a single-celled reproductive stage, which has to contain the overall development program for the organism.

The sub-program controlling the cell's own division and replication, however, must be rather sensitively attuned to the mother cell's environment and history if it is to produce a variety of appropriate types of daughter cells at the right times. "Copying errors" occur. In most cases these are lethal to the daughter cell, and excretion disposes of her remains. Occasionally, though, the copying error prduces replicatively viable daughters, or even cells with a replicative advantage relative to normal cells, such as those which form tumours. Sometimes errors arise at the single-cell reproductive stage, and very occasionally these are neither lethal nor disadvantageous for the offspring, but advantageous.

We can think of these replication processes in terms of DNA sequences or of "genes" - which interconnect but don't necessarily correspond to contiguous sections of DNA. Although genes are notional in a sense that contiguous DNA sections are not (or less so) biologists find that thinking in gene terms can have considerable advantages.{Footnote 101}

Memes and the evolution of psyches (expand on subjective side, below?)

"We keep passing unseen through little moments of other people's lives" - Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

Species have distinctive behaviours as well as structural adaptations. Many "extended phenotypes" (Dawkins 1982) have behaviours which use other species and/or external materials external structures as functional parts of their life cycles: parasitism/predation, nests, burrows, caches, colonies. Many have life cycles incorporating substantial "parental (kin, sibling) investment" in their offspring beyond their single cell reproductive stage - transferring resources to the offspring's physical structures or environment, or to form both structures and behaviours.{Footnote 102} In humans artefect making and investment in behaviour combine to produce particularly elaborate results. Lengthy childhood dependency develops humans ready to replicate other humans' intentions in extremely flexible and therefore powerful ways.

Memes and humans use other humans as tools, and these walking, talking "tools" themselves use other human tools, chaining them together (through language, shared artefacts, rituals, law etc) in sequences of connected intentions.{Footnote 103} Division of the meme's labour doesn't require this particular human tool, just one suitably adapted. Theatre, for example, turns on the tension between this and the irreducibiliy of the tool's own experience: mistaken identity with all its comic possibilities; or a human consumed in tragedy's realisation.

We can think of chainings of intentions in terms of human psychologies and of humans' minds and actions. Or we can think of them as phenomena in their own right - memes. Memes grow and replicate through enculturing, influencing and organising humans, somewhat as genomes do through growing proteins and nucleic acids. The core of the case for the meme's eye view is pragmatic: that it can help us understand culture better. We can think of the white stick, or the aria, in terms of the interactions of molecules, or of the interplay of human individuals. But it can be less cumbersome to think in terms of concepts more tailor made for the purpose. When evolutionary biologists argue through their ideas on aging, seed dispersion, altruism or immune systems in terms of genes none of them dispute that these things could in principle be described in molecular terms. But between the "in principle" and today's specialised humans, organised as they historically are with the artefacts they possess, there is a large gap. The idea of a gene helps reduce it a little - so meme evolution tends to adopt it. An important element of the case for memes about memes is that they can do likewise with culture.

"Evolutionary psychology" and the "standard social science model" (SSSM)

[Relegate more of SSSM section to notes?]

"It is natural for geneticists and evolutionary biologists to hope that their disciplines will throw new light on the human condition, and equally natural for social scientists to resist the threatened takeover" - John Maynard Smith, 1988, p86.

Thinking in terms of memes can complement "evolutionary psychology": the study of human psychological adaptations incorporated in our species in its genetic past. The success of a popular food (or a patent cold cure) may be understood as the outcome of our ancestors' liking for salt or sweetness at a time when these were rarities and hominids' reproductive success was affected by preferences for them. It may be understood through the neuropharmacology of our responses to sugars or salt. But it may also be understood as the evolution of families of foodstuff-memes: domesticable food-grains, or beefburgers (involving the co-domestication of cows, consumers and coins). Or it may be understood in terms of memes linked to the "reproductive" cycles of the foodstuff-memes: advertising, or factory farming. Or (as Dawkins argues in "the dissolution of the organism") it may be seen as part of larger self-replicative cycles by infective organisms.{Footnote 104} The explanations each have their own limits, and they overlap. The important principle is that they should be consistent with each other, or - apart from anything else - fuller integration will be impossible.

Thinking in terms of memes can help repair - or, at least, supplement - one of "evolutionary psychology"'s limitations. This is its tendency to work with a model of human "psychological architecture" in which the most "basic" structural components are humanly universal, "species typical" psychological adaptations to a Pleistocene environment of evolutionnary adaptedness. Culturally specific phenomena - language, diet, dress - tend to be explained only in part. Thinking in terms of memes can supplement "evolutionary psychology".

Historically, "evolutionary psychology" has evolved in competition with that important current in nineteenth and twentieth century thought which asserts that cultural phenomena can only have cultural explanations.{Footnote 105} The anthropologist Clifford Geertz, for example, seems almost to de-psychologise individual thought:

"Human thought is basically both social and public - ... its natural habitat is the house yard, the marketplace and the town square. Thinking consists not of "happenings in the head" (though happenings there and elsewhere are neccessary for it to occur) but of a traffic in what has been called .... significant symbols, words for the most part..." (Geertz 1973, p 45){Footnote 106}

Others have gone further, arguing that the specifics of human biotic evolution have no relevance to understanding the evolution of cultural entities.{Footnote 107}"Evolutionary psychology" castigates any such "Standard Social Science Model" (SSSM) (at least insofar as it segregates psychology from human evolution) and rejects the idea that newborn human psyches are infinitely malleable by their cultural upbringing. It seeks to restore evolved human psychology as the missing link between natural selection and social action.

Much of anthropology is indeed, as evolutionary psychologists complain, dismissive of psychological explanation. Marvin Harris' Cultural Materialism (a common textbook) roundly declares that "the human intuition concerning the priority of thought over behaviour is worth just about as much as the human intuition that the earth is flat" (Harris, 1979, 60). But there is also truth in Geertz' point. Social scientists could certainly use more effective tools to understand the interpersonal "traffic in significant symbols".

"Evolutionary psychologists'" criticisms of the SSSM and their efforts to reinstate psychology converge with some lines of critique from within social theory. Moscovici (1993), for example, writes of sociology's inhibitions against "psychologism" as symptomatic:

"The segregation of the psychological from the social has become institutionalized in our culture. Though independent of any critical reason, this segregation resists every kind of criticism. Those who risk calling this into question come up against censorship and, to begin with, censorship of themselves" (Moscovici, 1993, p11) {Footnote 108}

The way forward, in Moscovici's opinion, lies in a double movement: to investigate the nature and sources of this disease-taboo, and to rescue from it, and hence develop, the flawed insights of social science. Like natural selection, he starts from where it's at, and tries out variants: on Durkheim's image of religion, Weber's views on Protestantism and charisma, and (his particular favourite) Simmel's account of money.{Footnote 109}

There is, I think, some parallel between the individual's Cheshire-cat like tendency to dissolve among practices and values in social science, and the difficulty in biology of pinning the organism down - of separating it out definitely enough from its environment to take it "for granted". Just as one cannot fully visualise a spider bereft of its web, one cannot visualise an individual human, island-like, in abstraction from the values and activities of the society s/he forms part of.

Social order and social surplus

Having hazarded such large claims for a meme's eye view I should also suggest ways in which they might - one day, perhaps - be realized. I end, therefore, by suggesting a few ways that memes might help with a central problem-area of social theory - understanding social order and social surplus.

This can be approached from various directions. The possibility of viewing the social surplus as a whole - and consequently as accessible to alternative uses, or redistribution - is a relatively modern one. It has come about with the monetization of society - that is, the predominance in social life of a single numeriare - money - which invites and demands humans to compare things in a purely quantitative sense: between things, between people, between societies, between periods in time.

Thus the problem of a social surplus - or of the net social product - crops up in a variety of ways in modern political economy.{Footnote 110} We can spy the problem in paradoxes of measurement and definition.{Footnote 111} The relative scale and growth of national economies are compared using measures of national income: gross national product (or income) per head, computed from information about aggregate money flows. But what counts as economic production and what counts (ie does not get counted) as nature's bounty is to a degree arbitrary. And the links between national income and human welfare are complex.

For example: Thais are poorer than Britons. By how much must Thai national income per head grow for them to "catch up" with Britain? National income statistics for Britain include a substantial element for domestic heating. This increases when the winter is cold or the price of oil rises. Heating expenditures for Thailand are much lower. How far should Thai national income statistics be adjusted upwards to allow for its more agreeable climate?

Or: take state expenditure on pensions in developed economies. Where, previously, old people would have lived their closing years as dependents in an extended family, the state now taxes workers and pays non workers, who in turn spend independently, consequently leaving their trace in national income statistics. The circuits of money are amplified, incorporating what was previously hidden in the family. How far is the redistribution brought about by pensions also an expansion of income?

If, in addition, old people live longer, the total national income must be distributed among more recipients, providing less per head. The notional equality of citizenship injects population increase with similar paradoxes: shall "we" be happier because there are nore of us, or because we are older and wiser, or the reverse? What if the price of more protracted isolation and poverty in retirement is more monotonous working lives?

Or take the fast food revolution. Instead of obtaining noodles, water, vegetables etc for a few pence, and cooking them at home, families now get takeaway meals (or have pizzas delivered) at much greater cost. Time thus saved is devoted (in part) to watching television; as a consequence family dining tables and family meals have disappeared in many homes. How do such changes show up in national income statistics?{Footnote 112}

In fact, like biologists, economists took some time to settle down with a model of the economy as a whole seen as the circulation and replication of one common substance: money. So-called neoclassical economic theory took shape in the late nineteenth century from an older tradition which sought to analyse economic life as interactions among qualitatively disparate production factors.{Footnote 113} In contrast, for neoclasssical economics, the same basic principle of adjustment governs the markets for all particular commodities (pins, cotton, labour, bank debts, reputations).{Footnote 114} Price varies negatively with supply (the commodity's price rises as supply falls), but positively with demand (the commodity's price falls as demand falls). The adjustment of prices, and consequently of the patterns of circulation of money, are the work of a "hidden hand" continually pursuing equilibrium.

Neoclassical economics applies the same picture to economies as a whole: aggregate values of "labour" and "capital" combine to produce "output". If the amount of capital per worker increases the rate of profit falls. Profitability serves as the "price" of capital, adjusting its quantity until the average entrepreneur feels no impulse either to invest or to dispose of capital. And - this is the beauty of the model - in doing so, and by the same token, the adjustment of the rate of profit determines distribution: how - in the simplest models - national income is distributed between profits and wages.{Footnote 115}

Think back to the baked bean cannery. The common numeraire, money (the economists' nucleic acid) is essential to this model - not only in theory, but in reality. It is the only thing that allows us - workers, businesspersons, consumers - to calculate aggregate amounts of wage, capital, profit etc. For in reality the capital of an economy - indeed, often that of a single plant - consists of a mixture of equipment doing different things, by differing technical means, worn out to varying degrees by use and by age, and maintained in varying states of repair and partial renewal. And all that equipment is the product of past activity, using both similar and different equipment, and so on ad infinitum. Some common numeraire is necessary to add the variety together across heterogeneity and time; without it they remain incommensurable.

Aggregate economic production

Describing the freezing-fossilizations effects of price in production economists are easily driven to metaphor. Trying to capture capital's combination of malleability and fixity they have spoken of "fossils" - and also of butter, toffee, putty, clay, meccano pieces, and so on. What the metaphors have in common is the attempt to simplify, and thus capture, relations across sectors, across space and - especially - across time, the sense in which exchangeable resources carry ("fossilised") within them the history of past reource use, and the part played by past technologies and prices in setting the price of new-made artefacts.{Footnote 116}

Relative rates of profit - that is, relative rates of replication of capital - act to extinguish technically superceded capital and replace it with - selected - capital that incorporates more efficient innovations. That is to say, the rate of profit plays, in economic life, something of the part of "fitness" in population biology.


There is a paradox that can be derived from the technical analyses. On the premise that capital is homogenous, the rate of profit may be a rising function of the aggregate value of capital.{Footnote 117} If an increased quantity of capital is associated with an increased rate of profit, what has become of the mechanism through which profit served as the "price" of capital, rationing its supply?{Footnote 118} The treatment of capital as homogenous is crucial to the paradox. It involves treating all particular capitals, different as they are in their technical natures, their ages, and the degree to which they are worn out, as though they were commensurable in a common numeraire. As time goes by, individual items of capital equipment (say, machine tools) change their relative values. They do so for mixtures of reasons. They wear out with use and with age. The prices of the things they are used to make (pistons), or could be used to make (artillery shells), changes (sometimes rapidly). Technical progress occurs, so that even unused machine tools which were made in the past are devalued relative to up-to-date ones. The average amount of capital used (or the total number of machine tools) per worker in the economy changes - in the course, for example, of industrialisation.

Distribution affects prices. The proportion of profits going into savings rather than consumption is, in general, higher than the proportion of wages. Thus an increase in real wages - for example, due to strikes, or elections - can change the overall distribution of income between consumption and savings and thence - through a variety of routes - the relative values of different stocks of capital.

The common numeraire serves, through adjustments of prices, to homogenise all these differences into an aggregate value of capital. The paradox of "double switching" (the fact that an increase in the aggregate value of capital may be consistent with an increase in its rate of profit) can arise because changes in one segment of the capital stock can affect values in other segments.

Organic life and memetic life

In organic life, however, segregation sets tighter limits. Finite organisms, reproduction, speciation, and the isolation of germ from soma constrain gene flow into distinct channels, which interact through relative rates of population growth. For much population biology measures of quantity (population) and increase of quantity over time (population growth) are (1) conveniently provided by the counting of organisms and (2) subdivided by speciation into distinct gene pools. Speciation largely spares population biology the paradoxes encountered in economics (which may, perhaps, be defined as that part of social science from which organisms have been most thoroughly removed). Reproductively separated populations of distinct organisms leave population numbers and growth rates - measurable essentially by counting - as the primary objects of analysis. For many purposes the analyis of marginal variations in rates of population change provides a framework which is free of paradox. {Footnote 119} {Footnote 120}

In certain senses organic life does produce an overall "surplus". What emerges over evolutionary time is an increasing number of organisms and species, of increasing complexity, and themselves organised in increasingly diverse and complex ecologies. It is hard to state this point so that nature's increasing rounaboutness could be compared in any rigorous (read, purely fornmal or quantitative) manner across time or lineage (though it is reflected in an interesting literary tradition on nature's unfunctional, irrational bounty, as well as in our scientific knowledge of the history of the biosphere to date). This difficult of stating the process is the obverse of the absence of any universal numeraire - like money or value in economic life - which would allow us to compute a net product or surplus across all the diversity.

The difficulties are not only literary. Biology is concerned with maximization of fitness. But what exactly gets maximised, by what, and over what time scale? Maximising population is not the same as maximising population increase. Both are different from maximising the improbability of extinction. For some life forms the definition of individual organisms, and the borderline separating growth from reproduction, is less distinct than for others. Living longer and getting more massive may be relatively more advantageous than producing more members of the next generation. Speciation emerges from reproductive separation.{Footnote 121} As Van Valen (1989, p3) points out, if there is a consensus definition of fitness in population genetics, it is something like the expected "relative number of individual offspring in the next generation of the population". But, as he goes on to show, all eight of the italicised terms are problematic.{Footnote 122}

If the reproduction of individuals is taken as central perhaps the closest analogues for organisms are found in self-reproducing cultures. But memes transfer far more freely than genes, and, consequently, if cultures resemble organisms, they are organisms among which species are extremely fuzzy, hybridisation is rampant, and one can make no clear separation between nutrition and sex.

Or, to put the matter in social terms, the very free interchange of memes between cultures means that the evolution of cultures is a process in which latecomers can frequently and easily reap the advantages of backwardness.

Wants and needs, variations and adaptations

A similar parallel and limitations emerge from the distinction between needs and wants, conditions and preferences. A neccessary - not sufficient - condition for us to perceive a social system as producing a net surplus is that it has production or activity over and above that involved in its own simple reproduction. The existence of a surplus is what brings the potential for dynamism into the system; without it it would continue as it is.{Footnote 123} But a fundamental problem in social science is that phenomena that emerge, as variants, in response to wants - forms of decoration, exchanges of gifts, conspicuous consumption, ritual performances, potlatches and puberty rites - then get selected as adaptations, embrained in the people and embodied in the culture. They get promoted from wants to needs, from preferences or tastes occasionally indulged, to parts of the social arrangements which must be systematically reproduced. And they then, in later evolution, come to form part of structures on which further adaptations become - so to speak, by further elongation of the embryo - embodied in their turn.{Footnote 124} If the rituals of social order, for example, are omitted or collapse in modern industrialised societies, the society passes into non-stable or non-reproducing conditions - revolution.

There are, I want to suggest, real advantages in seeing the embodying of preferences as the evolution of meme adaptations, compared with other frameworks, such as social functionalism. It help us see the limited but real sense in which the social can be treated as sui generis. Consider ways in which social institutions - marriage, or money, for example - elicit loyalty or compliance from individuals. Social institutions are memes, but it strains matters somewhat to think of them as being imitated or copied from individual mind (or brain) to individual mind - as Dawkins describes a snatch of tune, or a line of text, as being copied. The point is not whether we are or are not aware of social institutions, but of how we - we in general, that is - regard them, how we poise ourselves in relation to them.

Successful and enduring social institutions are often ones that appear to us to prexist ourselves as individuals, to exist as things rather than to consist merely in the behaviour of individuals - that is, the institutions succeed by becoming "reified". They may also become successful by exciting our emotions (of fear, shame, attachment etc). One of the ways they may do this is by resembling or mimicking other memes to which we have already developed such responses. Another, closely related, way is by exploiting the already-in-place attitude configurations of typical or common personalities - that is, personalities common within the culture.

As a summary of meme replication, copying or "imitation" is too narrow. It is not that the bachelor or the adulterer have not imitated the marriage meme in their minds, even less that the bank robber's (or the debtor's) brain lacks copies of money memes. Rather the memes in question have failed to elicit the usual compliance in these exceptional cases. And as the exceptions become more common, they exert increased pressure for variants of the social institution which achieve greater compliance to emerge and proliferate (serial monogamy, credit cards). Shifts in the relative extents to which social institutions command compliance are very often the outcomes of highly complex interactions and adjustments between social institutions: the coevoution of such memes in the course of social history. The relations between them range from direct competition to dependent symbiosis.

It is not only that the behaviour of individual people constitutes social institutions. People are also socialised so that (most of them) reinforce (most of their) enduring institutions. And people are historically specific. It is not that my image of my marriage or my credit card was or was not present in this or that hunter-gatherer; the possibility just doesn't arise; even to try and visualise it is a "category mistake"; it is incoherent with the rest of her or his personality. And, in turn, the historical (evolutionary) specificity of personality types is formed by the institutions through which they are socialised. Those institutions (family, school, peer group) select and combine personality traits (and some traits of physique) into individuals in restrictive sets of ways; some do end up outside the boundaries of what is "normal", but deviants are the exception, not the rule. And, crucially, socialisation uses the norms as templates of social and psychological reproduction. Deviants crop up in every generation, but by and large they are excluded from or neutralised by the social institutions most directly concerned with socal and psychological reproduction.

Institutions and personalities

Social institutions and personalities thus coevolve. This is, perhaps, what historians of the Annales school are referring to when they argue that history is not only the history of institutions but also that of "mentalities". It also has something in common with Thorsten Veblen's view of social institutions as formed by slowly evolving patterns of habit.{Footnote 125}

We may think, perhaps, of an analogy with the gene pools of two intimately dependent organisms - say, a flower polinated by a single insect, which pollinates only that flower. Over time the gene pools of the two populations interact, but not directly. The interface (that is, the configuration of the other gene pool) changes over time and, at any particular moment, shapes the selection pressures operative in its complementary gene pool.

In fact the matter is more complicated, and it is a metaphor to speak of a gene "pool". Genes are not freely-floating candidates for recombination. Rather possible variants on the genome notionally coexist in a pool of alternatve sequences. Certain common structures coded for within genomes and pools (organs and other adaptations, that is features universal to the species) form rules ("dams") restricting the channels in which conbinations can form and move.{Footnote 126}

As far as our parallel with social institutions and personalities are concerned, we may think of the interface between the pools as separating the objective social (institutional) world from the subjective (psychological) world of a social order. The precise lie of the membrane is affected by the adaptations on each side of it, and this shaping, in tern, influences reproductive success on each side. The current array of institutions corresponds to currently "normal" types and ranges of personality. Important comparisons of anthropology (and much of utopian thought) revolve around the fact that personality traits and combinations that may be socially integrated within one system of institutions can be ferociously deviant if transplanted into another. All cultures consist of mixtures of personalities, but the range and the mixture vary enormously from culture to culture.{Footnote 127}

Personality is itself a meme complex, of a particular type - relatively "primitive" in terms of the overall evolution of human-parasitising and human-domesticating memes. Although the specific personalities of long-dead individuals may leave only very scant traces, we are able to observe remnants of the importance of animist thinking and forms of comprehension in the earlier intellectual and technological history of humankind - that is, generally speaking, in societies where recent meme-evolution has been slower. Today's "scientific", self-conscious separations between the human, the living, and the non-living result from developments which started in animal consiousness. Language allowed generalisations about the world to be exchanged, elaborated, preserved and refined, but these long remained expressed in the vocabulary of human personality.

Development of personality

In fact an individual's personality is not one, but many. It develops over time, in conjunction with physical maturation: Piaget and Freud's work represented attempts to give systematic accounts of, respectively, cognitive and affective aspects of the process. Ontogenetic development combines with the acquisition of features from the social and material environment. Some of these are universal in the culture, or so nearly so that they are the culture-typical analogues of genetic adaptations: language, literacy, infant mutilation, beliefs in enduring personality, the viability of money, or the deity. Entering as they do into the formation of virtually all personalities such features seem to humans to be natural and inevitable features of their world; only from outside the culture can they be percieved as memes which have evolved.

But even at one moment in time individual personality is manifold. People navigate their lives with reference to - indeed by means of - at least three types of peronal image: how they see themselves, how others see them, and how they wish others to see them. These overlap but never entirely coincide. The development of social institutions goes hand in hand with that of a generalised Other, personifying the expectations and values embodied in institutions - an Other which elicits normality and gives definition to status. Insofar as status is the outcome of individual action rather than of ascription, the most important, and intimate, selective jostling is not that between corporeal individuals but that which takes place between the self's own self-memes or self-images.


Barkow ( ) describes the outcomes of such processes, from the outside, in terms of status or prestige:

"Our folk wisdom speaks of the young person "discovering" who he or she really is, much as the sculptor may "discover" the figure nascent in the stone. In terms of the present theoretical framework, however, the adolescent is actually seeking to determine which social and categorical, physically present and physically absent groups will accept him or her, and whether he or she wishes to be accepted by them...[T]here is a weighing of how high the group or category itself is, versus how high one is likely to rise within the group or category, a size-of-puddle vs size-of-frog calculation." (Barkow, Darwin, Sex Status, 198)

In heirarchical, narrative societies memory elongates status as reputation, from the infant gloater's "Naahnaahnahnahnaah!" to the peacock-parade of academic dress. The jostlings between selves, between frogs (or princes), and between meme-pools or -puddles exert various selective pressures: between genes (sociobiology and evolutionary psychology), between people/frogs, and between the categories (sizes and puddles) in terms of which people see themselves and relate themselves to others.

Status, surplus, variety

"What makes equality so difficult is that we only want it with our superiors" - Henri Becque

Contemporary status goes far beyond local jostling in pools. Baumann defines the scarce resource of postmodern society as public attention. Andy Warhol made much the same point: "In the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes." The point can be re-phrased in our terms, and generalised: for memes to secure attention, they must differentiate themselves from existing memes with which subjects are familiar, they must continually innovate - and they must innovate so as to make an impact relative to the patterns of variety and innovation with which subjects are familiar.{Footnote 128}

There is an obverse effect, arising from the limits of meme's human vehicles: for many things to achieve their quantum of public attention, the attention of most individuals must attend to an increasing variety of things and styles, switching with increasing rapdity among them: postmodernism's well-known fracturing of the psyche.

There are also, however, strong selective pressures on memes favouring rapid recognition. What the attention of the individual's psyche largely gets fractured among are stereotypes: signs, gestures, expressions, styles, motifs, brands, logos, themes, leaders, stars. The popularity of simplified stereotypes is detectable even in areas which make the most strenuous efforts to avoid oversimplification and multiply distinctions - such as academic specialisms. It is felt so widely because it is just one general facet of a pressure which affects all intellectual activity by finite or human beings: the pressure to economise on effort and time, working through differentiation between memes.

The competition among memes for public attention also works through to modify the processes from which they issue. It is a commonplace that life provides materials for art, but the reverse effect is also rather general. Litigation, for example, is a form of spectacle, and this has shaped its development. In Greek city-states amphitheatres were law courts, staged dramas, religious ceremonies and funerals, and served as places of public assembly and debate. The core of the curriculum in the education of a Roman gentleman was rhetoric, with its conventional forms of presentation and persuasion. In adversarial legal systems lawyers' success can be as stongly affected by their theatrical skills as by their legal competences - and these skills are learned from TV as well as fellow-professionals. The judge who condemns the felon to twenty years is in the same moment also pronouncing his "sound bite".

Simple replication of a complex systen necessarily involves the reproduction of a "surplus", and part of this surplus gets applied to innovation (if it didn't, the system could not have arrived at its complexity). In organic life the surplus provides the elbow room for "wasteful" innovation, change, and the evolution of functional development (including functions which amplfy variation, such as sexual recombination, or, like speciation, "focus" its effects). The same is true for memes, with the difference that variation is not entirely random, but partly intentional.

Chainings of intentions: memes in many heads

Happy the hare at morning, for she cannot read The Hunter's waking thoughts. - WH Auden and Christopher Isherwood, The Dog Beneath the Skin

The impressive achievements of memes arise from chaining us and our intentions together in complex and extremely flexible ways. It is not only humans that use other humans as walking, talking feeling tools - so do memes. This raises the interesting question where "human" intentions actually reside - in individuals, institutions, processes - or (for example) memories or moods.

It also returns us to the question of memes which are too large and/or complex to fit in one mind. This is the obverse of the specialisation and academic division of knowledge, and of functional but incomprehensible artefacts, discussed above. Nowadays this applies to many physical artefacts. A modern airliner is produced in several hundred near-identical versions, with an airframe built on a common template. The "idea" of the airliner - as the basis for a machine which can actually fly - cannot be fitted into less than thousands of minds with specialist skills. It does so by having each of them address a limited, local design problem safe in the knowledge that others, with other skills, will resolve the knock-on problems to which their decisions give rise. This finely-structured bonding of many minds and intentions doesn't occur spontaneously: on the contrary a rising proportion of human labour time is concerned with coordinating others' intentions, coordinating the coordinators, and so on. Much the same is true of a modern motion picture, or of the sophisticated knowledge about the human body distributed through a hospital.

It is oversimple to think of complex memes as "leaping" from mind to mind. Bits of them may do so, as one specialist replaces another, but it may often be better to think of large memes slowly migrating or "staining" their way across people, across materials and across institutions. But this image does violence to memes' coherence. We need to allow both for the extended, cellular, character of complex memes, the fact that they replicate themselves bit by bit, and their unities of function or intention. Like the seventeenth century axe, whose blade was replaced in the eighteenth century and whose haft was replaced in the nineteenth, memes can remain one implement though all their parts may be substituted. This is also part of the appeal of organic metaphors.

Conversely, when individual humans relocate, only some of the memes that inhere in them are "portable". The knowledge of a complex organisation's methods, procedures and habits which is "en-orged" in its management and other staff. It is not simply that much of it is specific to the organisation in which it has grown, in the way that an individual organism's biographical history is specific. It is also that much of it - like the airliner - cannnot be competently articulated by one individual, but exists in the organization's traditions and culture. Collective "management buy-outs" express (among other things) the extent to which such context-bound knowledge is significant.

"Portability" is of the essence in education. Separating the processes of replicating and assmbling skills from their application "for real" brings many advantages, especially in permitting the development of new, more elaborate and more powerful skills - analogous to the new horizons for technology opened up by industrialisation.

One result is that the development of education itself involves self-referring and thus potentially "runaway" elements. All internally differentiated systems of education build on skills previously acquired. Example of language (learnt as dependent child - ambiguity of "childhood dependency"). Part of education is quality control within production - testing out skills acquired already. Ergo selective pressures exist for the development of intermediate skills per se - and all skills are potentially intermediate. The peacock's train is an adaptation for inseminating peahens with preferences for longer trains. Similarly, education systems develop adaptations promoting the transfer and proliferation of memes. And education systems are not only producers of skills, but major users of them. They thus harbour strong "chreodic" tendencies (Waddington 1972) - to get locked into paths of development once established. These cause continual frictions with the demands upon education to serve life. work, the economy etc.

[One habit education develops is measuring achievement against purposes: Education for what? Vain effort to subordinate ed to life - better to see ed as part of life's self-elaboration. Education of tastes, self-knowledge, how to play in the orchestra of our selves more beautifully, more economically, etc]

[Life as pressure to convert ends into means (ie to further elaborate ends). Explanation in terms of function. Problem: potatial means include people. Problems of power, control, bureaucracy, progress etc in the runaway evolution of memes. Market as a pseudo-solution of the "coordination" problem.]

Define your memes?

One of the questions I started with was: Why do people write books? One short answer is: They don't, any more than marriages make babies. A book (or a text, a reading, or a comma) is the expression of a complex meme, produced by humans by means of other humans.

I should have liked to make more generous use in this volume of that ancient (and unfortunately extinct) punctuational meme the cryphia, a mark inserted at points in the text where "a hard and obscure question cannot be opened up or solved". {Footnote 129}

Maynard Smith has this to say about evolutionary models of culture:

"The explanatory powers of evolutionary theory rests largely on three assumptions: that mutation is non-adaptive, that acquired characters are not inherited, and that inheritance is Mendelian - that is, it is atomic, and we inherit the atoms, or genes, equally from our two parents, and from no one else. In the cultural analogy, none of these things is true. This must severely limit the abilty of a theory of cultural inheritance to say what can happen and, more importantly, what cannot happen" (1988, 119)

My account of memes has provided no proper definition, nor is it exactly placed within falsifiable propositions. I have tried to explain the idea of memes through numerous examples and analogies: genes, images, games, organs, organisms, organizations, letters, words, texts, performances, melodies, jokes, morals, nations, artefacts, machines, money ... and the list could be far extended. Doesn't the hope of a rigorous definition dissolve in the confusion?

Perhaps it does. But does it matter? Think back to Dawkins' meme meme. If it were a phrase we should describe it as self-referent, and philosophers have long puzzled over the logic of self-refering expressions. But it isn't just words, it's a meme. And, like memes in general, the meme meme hasn't got to be where it is, and as it is, by having a rigorously definable meaning (indeed, it's very hard to say, even approximately, what many types of meme do mean). Memes get to be as they are by succeeding relative to other memes. In the process they try out numerous competing - and contradictory - variants. As with advertisements, the memes that succeed aren't necessarily rational, dignified or virtuous. At different phases they domesticate our tastes for different tasks. One week science is all the rage. Next week it will be love or war. To every meme there is a season. Among bees the dancing is all about the best way to flowers with nectar; they have no time for logic, justice or science. {Footnote 130}

Perhaps, then, we should be asking different sorts of questions about the meme meme? Not (by analogy with words) "How may we define it, what does it mean?"; but rather in evolutionary or historical terms "Is it succeeding? Which combination of its variants will do best?" To think in evolutionary terms means not measuring phenomena against definitions, concepts against prior purposes or meanings, but concentrating on the becoming of functions, recognising that the difference between logic and advertisement is only relative. Memes share the farmyard with us, and it is up to us which of them we let push us around.{Footnote 131}

Meme diversity and biodiversity

This also applies to genes. Is culture the enemy of nature? As the human population and its memes proliferate they exert a downward pressure on the number of species, without - until very recently - compensating by generating new species. This occurs because successful memes do best and thus find it convenient - that is, relatively most efficient - to domesticate or cultivate human beings, together with a limited number of auxiliary species. Successful memes are those able to invade or expand and occupy the human habitat - the raw material of which is one large-brained primate species.

Meme types' "niches" are intricately differentiated, but the soil in which their nutrition chains are all rooted is the amorphous, all-purpose, new-born human creature outlined (and to that extent caricatured) in the Standard Social Science Model. God may have (in JBS Haldane's phrase) an inordinate fondness for beetles, but memes (of which gods are just one sort) all have an inordinate dependence on humans, and some prosper by indirect parasitism - persuading the human hosts they parasitise to invade and lay waste other species and their habitats.

It seems to me that the question "Is culture nature's enemy?" cannot be answered theoretically or generally. It depends upon selective pressures among memes, among meta-memes (such as values) and among other types of meme-complexes (such as cultures and lifestyles). One of the ways that some memes may maintain biological diversity is by a sort of weak domestication of species whose population is threatened: wildlife management of various forms. Species are conserved, as breeds are domesticated, by making them into appealing and therefore successful memes.{Footnote 132}

This is an instance of a more general problem. Because memes function largely by motivating humans there are strong pressures tending to make us interpret the world in terms of our own wishes and needs, and to anthropomorphise many types of meme. Just as it needed lengthy genetic and memetic evolution before we could see our world as atoms, or cells, or history, we are only beginning to bring our memetic co-inhabitants of the planet into focus.

As we do so ancient questions arise in new forms. How shall we choose among the memes (and among the other biological species) with whom we share our world? Who will they choose? Is the disappearance of the giant panda a more serious matter than the extinction of a non-literate pantheon, or of slave-powered triremes? What influences should we try to bring upon meme-selection? Should we try to cultivate "friendly" memes, and if so how? All cultures consist of more or less cohesive complexes of memes. What is relatively newer is deliberate efforts from within cultures to reshape themselves, as in socialist or utopian movements, or more modestly in the design and subsidy of recyclable artefacts. Some of the most difficult problems will arise from memetic developments in our technologies for breeding humans. Is it wise, for example, to persist with our approximately 50:50 distribution between female and male, when the sexes differ so markedly in their creativity and belligerence? There will be differences over such questions, and selection among the answers.

Progress and progression

I end with one more speculation. Nowadays the prevalent rates of human memetic evolution have "accelerated" ahead of genetic evolution for large organisms. History may roughly be defined as that phase in the development of the biosphere in which memetic evolution has overtaken genetic evolution. {Footnote 133} Moreover, the velocity of memetic evolution (which we can measure against the more constant-speed "clock" of genetic change) continues to accelerate: where cultures once remained almost unchanged over hundreds of years, they now alter spectacularly between parent and child.

What gave rise to, and sustains, this memetic acceleration? My speculation is that here, too, the cultural proto-sciences may have things to learn from the life sciences. Biologists have paid much, and ingenious, attention to defining, measuring and understanding rates of evolution. I have already tried to appropriate something of their understanding of speciation and sex to appreciate analogous forms of "clustering" among human memes (such as the skill division of labour, or the academic division of knowledge) [cross-ref to passage above].

Another thing that seems to have changed is this: where memetic innovation was once individualised, idiosyncratic and accidental, (some) types of meme have "discovered" the advantages of routinising innovation. Whereas for a long time most meme lineages were dependent on individuals' effortful but apparently accidental insights - Archimedes' Eureka! or Newton's apple - some more modern memes have developed specialised organs for innovation: R&D departments, creative teaming, sabbaticals, psycho-substance use, postmodern theology, etc. And - partly because the distinction between organisms and adaptations is harder to draw among memes - such organs easily take on momenta of their own. Just as human sexuality, de-coupled by contraception from reproduction and morality, proliferates recreational variants, so meme innovation has a tendency to develop as organised addictions among humans. Fortunately for us, in urban society at least, many of them are short lived, and the succession of fashions liberates humans from the absolutism of particular memes. But the "open society" that thus evolves is at least as much a society of memes as it is of humans.

The memetic "take off" can also be seen as exaptations of morality. The initial selective advantages of human morality for memes were mainly stabilising and conservative: the Ten Commandments, patriotism, diligence, honesty, and so on. But moral memes have increasingly been incorporated in meme exaptations whose advantages lie in their links with innovation - imagination, science, tax avoidance, etc. The clades which vary most eclectically and ingeniously generate many of the the memetic winners.

Fashions (which may very loosely be thought of as analogous to cell division and multiplication in the life cycles of multicellular organisms) remind us how very approximately notions - such as those of replicators and interactors - must be transposed from biology to memology. In neither field is it possible to draw one clear division - like means and ends, they interchange. Post-Darwinian biologists have met with large difficulties in their central concepts - yet great progress has been made despite the abstract confusion. Much modern biology developed with assumptions about the relevant "units" of natural selection (the organism, or the group) that may seem unreflective. And defining and distinguishing the lineages on which biological selection acts is still a very live issue.{Footnote 134}

Among memes there is no unit of selection which even appears so clear cut as does the individual organism in biology. That is why, to begin with, I blithely skated over distinctions between more and less complex complexes of memes. Fashions are a very rough analogue of organisms - or at least a relevant and informative level of selection. So, as I suggested above, are (human individuals') personalities. And so, too, are the stuff-in-trade of social scientists: institutions and cultural practices. Durkheim's "autonomy of the social" is relative but very real - Institutions renew theselves through the reassembly of finite personalities - and personalities become material for inclusion in institutions by their formation in (often other) institutions. If we remember this we may be less prone to amplify the dialogue-of-the-deaf between social and natural science, as with the "Standard Social Science Model" and its critics, discussed above [cross ref].

Most of my suggestions have been directed towards the social sciences. But - as the natural sciences, heavily addicted to the separation of fact and value, are becoming more aware - specialisation and differentiation also involves getting memes crossed - and high levels of juvenile mortality among hybrids.

References etc


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Blau, Herbert (1993) The Audience, Johns Hopkin UP. Audience as common culture, now as fragmented media.

Bloom, Clive (ed) (1990) Spy Thrillers: from Buchan to Le Carre, Macmillan, London. 202 pp.

Boden, Deirdre (1990) The Business of Talk, Polity Press, Cambridge. L25 hdbk

Bohman, James (1991) New Philosopy of Social Science: problems of indeterminacy, Polity, Cambridge, 273pp.

Bok, Sissela (1978) Lying: moral choice in public and private life, Harvester Press.

Bok, Sissela (1982) Secrets: on the ethics of concealment nd revelation, Pantheon.

Bonner, John Tylor (1993?) Life cycles: reflections of an evolutionary biologist, Princeton UP.

Bonner, JT (1980) The evolution of culture in animals, Princeton UP, Princeton.

Bonner, S F (1989?) Education in Ancient Rome, Bristol UP, Bristol. 3 century BC to Trajan.

Boulding KE (1981) Evolutionary Economics, Sage, Beverley Hills CA.

Boyd R and Richerson PJ (1985) Culture and the evolutionary process, Chicago UP, Chicago.

Boyd R and Richerson PJ (1992) "Punishment allows the evolution of cooperation (or anything else) in sizeable groups", Ethology and Sociobiology, 13, 3.

Bradie M (1986) "Assessing evolutionary epistemology", Biology and Philosophy, 1, 401-60.

Brandon R and Burian R (eds) (1984) Genes, organisms, populations: controversies over the units of selection. NB selection NOT transmission.

Brooks, Peter (1993) Body work: objects of desire in modern narrative, Harvard UP.

Brunvand, Jan Harold (1993) The Baby Train and other lusty urban legends, WW Norton, New York and London.

Brunvand, Jan Harold (1993) The Baby Train and other lusty urban legends, Norton, 14.95. "The kidney heist", the vanishing hitchhiker, the Mexican pet, and Curses, Broiled again. Urban myths surviving through mutations. Review by Christopher Bray in Sunday Times Book Section 5 December 1993. Levi-Strauss: sketches of the mind, horror of urban myths is expression of our need to believe in an even worse world.

Burkert, Walter (1987) Ancient Mystery Cults, Harvard UP, Cambridge MA. 176pp.

Cameron, Averil (ed) (1988ish?) History as Text. LRB review of Canfora (1989) on rethinking of (ancient?) history as transmitted texts - cf Goody etc?

Campbell D "The two distinct routes beyond kin selection to ultrasociality: implications for the humanities and social sciencs", in D Bridgeman (ed) (1983) The nature of prosocial development: theories and strategies. On universalistic, "kantian" etc altruism.

Campbell D (1974) "Evolutionary epistemology" in Schlipp PA (ed) The Philosophy of Karl Popper, Lasalle IL.

Candland, Douglas Keith (1993) Feral Children and Clever Animals: reflection on human nature, OUP.

Canfora, Luciano (1989) The Vanished Library: a wonder of the ancient world, Radius. 205p L14.95 0 09 174049 5. Reviewed LRB - on the library at Alexandria and other ancient depositaries as vulnerable concentration/target in literate culture (cf GC Williams on mass extinctions; Dennett on scholars/libraries). Bias of literary fossil record via copying and "imprvement" - fossil record consists of "Piltdown"s.

Caplan AL (1982) "Stalking the wild culturegen", Behavioural and Brain Sciences, 5, 1, 8-9.

Carnoy M, Castelis M, Cohen SS, Cardozo FH (1993) The new global economy in the information age, Penn State UP.

Carrithers, M, Collins S and Lukes SL (eds) (1985) The category of the person: anthropology, philosophy, history, Cambridge UP, Cambridge.

Cashdan E (1989) "Hunters and gatherers: economic behaviour in bands", in S Plattner (ed) Economic Anthropology, Stanford U Press. See on Ache food sharing (meat - group / plants - family)

Catchpole CK (1986) "The biology and evolution of bird songs", Perspectives in Biology and Medecine, 30, 47-62.

Cavalli-Sforza LL, Feldman MW, Chen KH, and Dornbusch SM (1982) "Theory and observation in cultural transmission", Science, 218, 19-27.

Cavalli-Sforza LL and Feldman MW (1981) Cultural transmission and evolution, a quantitative approach, Princeton UP, Princeton.

Chagnon, Napoleon A (1992) Yanomamo: a vanished Eden,

Chagnon, Napoleon A (1993) "Killed by kindness? The dubious influence of the Salesian missions in Amazonas", TLS 24 December 1993. Miners massacres of Yanamamo. Salesian competition with protestant missions; medical care; shotguns; attract and reduce; adult mortality. Charities "own" survival groups.

Chargaff, Erwin (1986) Serious Questions: an ABC of Skeptical Reflections, Birkhauser, Boston MA.

Chargaff, Erwin ( ) Heraclitean Fire

Chartier, Roger (ed) (1989) Power and the uses of print in early modern Europe, 15-19th centuries, Polity Press, Cambridge.

Chester, Andrew (1990) The Social Context of Early Christianity, Polity Press, Cambridge. pbk cL7.95.

Cheyney, Dorothy and Seyfarth, Robert (1990) How Monkeys see the world. Rev TLS 30 Nov 1990. On vervet monkeys communication.

Clark, Grahame (1992) Space, Time and History: a prehistorian's view, CUP.

Clutton-Brock, Juliet (1993) Cats ancient and modern, Harvard UP/BM. History from 7000 years ago.

Clutton-Brock, Juliet (ed) (1989) The walking larder: patterns of domestication, pastoralism, and predation, London: Unwin Hyman, xxii,367p.

Coulter, Jeff (1989) Mind in Action, Polity Press, Cambridge. pbk L8.50.

Crawford CB, Salter BE and Jang KL (1989) "Human grief: is its intensity related to the reproductive value of the deceased?", Ethology and Sociobiology, 10, 4.

Crawley, Micheal J (ed) (1992) Natural enemies: the population biology of predators, parasites and diseases, Blackwell Scientific. Taxonomic body-text, plus theory reviews on coevolution theory, population dynamics, optimal foraging theory. Rev by Simms (1993) TREE, 8,2, "Eaten and being eaten": should have tried to explore 3+ species models, eg impact to predation pressure on foraging behaviour. [Compare with predation pressure on copulation ("foraging" of 2-sexes).]

Creel S (1993) "Why cooperate? Game theory and kin selection.", TREE (Trends in Evolutionary Ecology), 8, 3. Mutualism, kin selection, r-values. Circumstances for unrelated cooperation (rule of thumb - beat with stick no thicker than thumb).

Cronk, Lee (1991) "Human behavioural ecology", Annual Review of Anthropology, 20: 25-53. Good overview, especially enculturation, adoption, parenting etc.

Crook JH (198 ) The Evolution of Human Consciousness, OUP.

Daly M and Wilson M (1989) "Homicide and cultural evolution" Ethology and Sociobiology, 10, 1-3.

Dandeker, Christopher (1989) Surveillance, Power and Modernity: bureaucracy and discipline from 1700 to the present day, Polity Press, Cambridge. c250pp cL25

David PA (1986) "Understanding the economics of QWERTY: the necessity of history", in Parker WN (ed) (1986) Economic History and the Modern Economists, Blackwell, Oxford.

David PA (1987) "Some new standards for the economics of standardization in the information age", in Dasgupta P and Stoneman PL (eds) Economic policy and technological performance, Cambridge UP, Cambridge.

Dawkins R (1983) "Universal Darwininsm", in DS Bendall (ed) Evolution from molecules to men, Cambridge UP.

Dawkins, Richard (1993) "Viruses of the mind", in B Dahlbom (ed) Dennet and His Critics, Blackwell, Oxford. An abbreviated version of Dawkins essay appeared in New Statesman, 1933, and a BBC2 TV late show item on 30 Nov 1933.

Dawkins, Richard (1994) "God's Utility Function", Sunday Times Culture Section, 9 January 1994, pp 14-15. [Extract from 15 March 1994 ST lunchtime lecture] [tel 071-792 9512 for details, access] "The universe that we observe has preciely the properties we sould expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference." END

de Sainte Croix, G E M (1990) The Class Struggle in the Ancient Greek World: from the archaic age to the Arab conquests, Cornell UP, Ithaca NY. Pbk $19.95

Dawkins R (1993) "Is religion just a disease?", The Daily Telegraph, 15 December 1993.

Dawkins, Richard (1982) The extended phenotype: the gene as the unit of selection, Oxford: W.H. Freeman.

Dawkins, Richard (1976) The Selfish Gene, OUP.

Dawkins, Richard (19 ) The Blind Watchmaker

De Landa, Manuel (1992) War in the age of intelligent machines, MIT Press, Cambridge MA.

Delius, Juan D (1990) "Of mind, memes and brain bugs: a natural history of culture", in W A Koch (ed) (1990) The nature of culture, Bochum.

Delius, Juan D (1991) "The nature of culture", in Dawkins MS, Dawkins R and Halliday TR (eds) (1991) The Tinbergen Legacy, Chapman and Hall, London, 75-99.

Dennett, Daniel C (1991?) Consciousness Explained, Penguin.

Dennett, Daniel C (1987?) The Intentional Stance, MIT Press, Cambridge MA.

Dennett DC (1991) "Two contrasts: folk craft versus folk science and belief versus opinion", in J Greenwood (ed) The Future of Folk Psychology: Intentionality and Cognitive Science, Cambridge, CUP.

Dennett, DC (1989) "Cognitive ethology: hunting for bargains or a wild goose chase?", in A Montefiore and D Noble (eds) (1989) Goals, Own Goals and No Goals: a debate on goal-directed and intentional behaviour, Unwin Hyman.

Dennett DC (1990) "Memes and the exploitation of imagination", Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 48, 127-35. Fuller than Consciousness Explained.

Derber, Charles, Schwartz, William A, Magrass Yale (1990) Power in the highest degree: Professionals and the rise of a new mandarin order, OUP, NY.

Derrida, Counterfeit Money

Diamond, Jared (1990?) The rise and fall of the third chimpanzee,

Directory of Intentional Communities (1991?) edited by the Fellowship for Intentional Community (Box T, Deadwood, OR 97430), 328p, $18.00 ppd, ISBN 0-9602714-1-4.

Donald, Merlin (1991) Origins of the modern mind: three stages in the evolution of culture and cognition, Harvard UP, 413pp, 22.25. TLS: two transitions: episodic to mimetic culture, including language; thence to theoretic culture with External Symbolic Storage; hints at further transition. Also on 1980s+ neuroscience. Ref in Sacks on Edelman (NYRB 8 April 1993)

Douglas, Mary and Hull, David (ed) (1992) How classification works: Nelson Goodman among the social sciences, Edinburgh University Press. Articles by Ian Hacking on evolution of child abuse and classificatory imperialis. David Hull on biological species.

Dummett, Michael (1989?) Voting Procedures, OUP, Oxford.

Dupuy, Trevor (1984) The evolution of weapons and warfare, Fairfax VA.

Durham, W (1990) "Evolutionary culture theory", Annual Review of Anthropology. Full references to 1990. Defines ECT by common continuous descent of cultures. Overview of five models (full refs). Then concentrates on primary means of effective cultural transmission (secondary values).

Eco, Umberto and Zorzoli, GB (1963) The picture history of inventions from plough to Polaris, Macmillan, NY.

Edelman, Gerald M (1993) Bright Air, Brilliant Fire,

Edelman, Gerald M (1990) The Remembered Present: a biological theory of consciousness, Basic Books, New York NY. Draws on recent neuroscience.

Edie, James M, Scanlan, James P, and Zeldin, Mary-Barbara (eds) (1965) Russian Philosophy, 3 vols, Chicago.

Ehrenreich, Barbara (1989?) Fear of Falling: the inner life of the middle class, Pantheon. 292p $18.95. US new class fear of falling, education as antidote.

Eldredge, Nils (1992) The Miner's Canary, Prentice-Hall.

Elster, Jon (1989) Solomonic judgements: studies in the limitations of rationality, CUP, Cambridge. OUL L 302.13 ELS.

Elster, Jon (1983) Explaining technical change, Cambridge UP, Cambridge. FP - On the appropriate forms of explanation in biology and social science. OUL L 306.46.

Elster, Jon (1993) Local justice: how institutions allocate scarce goods and neccessary burdens, Russell Sage Foundation.

Enquist, Magnus and Arak, Anthony (1993) "Selection of exaggerated male traits by female aesthetic senses", Nature, 361, pp 446-8. Neural networks; artificial recognition systems; hidden female preferences; general biases of nervous recognition systems; signalling in general; ritualization. USE in social surplus section. See comment and interpretation in Howlett (1993).

Enteman, Willard F (1993) Managerialism: the formation of a new ideology, U Wisconsin Press. Irrelevance of voting.

Ethology and Sociobiology, 11, 4/5. Special discussion issue on "Darwinian psychology"; articles by Alexander RD, Turke PW, Barkow JH, Blurton Jones NG, Irons W, Tooby J and Cosmides L, Silk JB, Symons D.

Etzioni-Halevy, Eva (1992) The Elite Connection: problems and potential of western democracy, [textbook, on plural elites].

Ewer, RF (1969) "The "instinct to teach"", Nature, 222, 698.

Fagan, Brian M (1990?) The Journey from Eden: the peopling of our world, Thames and Hudson, London. 256pp. 12.95.

Farrell, Christopher J, a theory of technical progress, unpub but inc in Petoski.

Ferguson, Eugene S (1992) Engineering and the mind's eye, MIT Press, Cambridge MA.

Finke, Roger and Stark, Rodney (1993) The Churching of America, 1776-1990: winners and losers in our religious economy, Rutgers University Press, pb.

Finley, Moses I (1965) "Technical innovation and economic progress in the Ancient World", Economic History Review, 18, pp 29-45.

Fischer, Ernst ( ) The Necessity of Art

Fisher, Helen (1992) The anatomy of love, Simon and Schuster.

Fiske AP (1991) Structures of social life: the four elementary forms of human relations, Free Press, New York. Quoted in The Adapted Mind: 4 models of sharing, including: communal sharing (Ache), coningent exchange (barter) (is kin sharing a third).

Forty, Adrian (1986) Objects of desire, Pantheon, NY.

Fowden, Garth (1993) The Egyptian Hermes: a historical approach to the late pagan mind, Princeton UP, new pbk ed. "Sage, scientist and sorcerer, Hermes Trismegistus was the culture-hero of Hellenistic and Roman Egypt."

Fowden, Garth (1993) Empire to Commonwealth: consequences of monotheism in late antiquity, Princeton UP.

Galbraith, JK (1992) The Culture of Contentment, Penguin. Functional underclass, immigrant labour, black economy.

Galef BG and Zentall T (eds) (1988) Social learning, Earlbaum, Hillsdown NJ. Includes article by Galef on "Imitation in animals"

Gardiner, A.H. (1935) Hieratic Papyri in the British Museum, Third Series, British Museum, London. (cited in James, Ancient Egypt, 96, on vocation of scribe).

Gay, Peter (1993) The Cultivation of Hatred, Norton. C19 literary and social aggression, status-seeking.

Gazzaniga, Michael S (1993) Nature's Mind: the biological roots of thinking, emotions, sexuality, language, and intelligence, Basic Books, New York.

Geertz, Clifford (1973) The interpretation of culture. "Thinking .. goes on ... not in the head but the market place, yard, in traffic etc ..." (quoted in The Adapted Mind (or Moscovici?))

Geertz, Clifford (1990?) Works and Lives: the anthropologist as author, Stanford UP. $7.95 pbk. Ruth Benedict, Evans-Pritchard, Malinowski, Levi-Strauss.

Gelb, I.J. (1963) A Study of Writing, second edition, Chicago.

Giblin, James Cross (1987) From hand to mouth: or, How we invented Knives, Forks, Spoons, and Chopsticks & the table manners to go with them, Crowell, NY.

Giddens, A (1984) The constitution of society: outline of the theory of structuration, Polity Press, Cambridge. See Ch 5 (pp 227-280) on "Change, evolution and power", with refs pp 274-80 on social/cultural evolution, especially critique of Parsons.

Gifford, Don (1993) The Farther Shore: a natural history of perception 1798-1984, Atlantic Monthy Press.

Gilfillan, SC (1935, repr 1970) The Sociology of Invention, MIT Press (plus illustrated companion volume: Inventing the Ship) (FP)

Gilfillan, SC (1964) Invention and the Patent System, US Government Printing Office.(FP)

Glantz K and Pearce J (1989) Exiles from Eden: psychotherapy from an evolutionary perspective, WW Norton, New York.

Godfrey-Smith, P and Lewontin, R C (1992) "The dimensions of selection", Philosophy of Science.

Golden, Mark (1993) Children and childhood in classical Athens, Johns Hopkins UP.

Goodway, David (1990?) For Anarchism: History, Theory, Practice, Routledge History Workshop Series, 12.99. Rev Solidarity 25/26 by Quail (Slow burning fuse). Levy on Italian anarchism to 1926, plus Alan Carter "Outline of an anarchist theory of history": "history driven by the need of the state to develop the "forces of coercion", in turn conditioning the development of the forces and relations of production".

Goodwin, Malcolm (1993) Angels: an endangered species, Boxtree, 16.99. Review Frances Spalding, ST Book Section 5 December 1993. Obscure sources, gen view of angels as our self-knowledge.

Goody, J. (1986) The Logic of Writing and the Organization of Society, Cambridge. {Use 1-2 pp "Specialization: priests and intellectuals", pp16-17]

Goody, J., ed (1968) Literacy in Traditional Societies, Cambridge, CUP.

Goody, J. (1977) The Domestication of the Savage Mind, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Grafton, Anthony (1993) Forgers and Critics: creativity and duplicity in Western scholarship, Princeton UP.

Bell, Daniel (1993?) Communitarianism and its critics, OUP.

Grassivaro Gallo P and Viviani F (1992) "The origin of infibulation in Somalia: an ethological hypothesis", Ethology and Sociobiology, 13, 4, 253-66.

Green, M. (1981) "The construction and implementation of the cuneiform writing system", Visible Language, Vol 15, 345-72.

Griffin, Donald R (1992) Animal Minds, U Chicago Press.

Guthke, Karl S (1993) The Last Frontier: imagining other worlds, from the Copernican revolution to modern science fiction, Cornell UP.

Haig, D Maternal-fetal conflict in human pregnancy and pregnancy complications

Halliday MAK and Martin (1993) Writing Science: literacy and discursive power, University of Pittsburgh Press. Evolution of scientific discourse.

Hallpike CR (1982) "The culturegen - science or science fiction?", Behavioural and Brain Sciences, 5, 1, 12-3.

Halperin, David A. (1983) Psychodynamic Perspectives on Religion, Sect and Cult, John Wright-PSG Inc, London.

Hammond, John A (1975) Adaption in natural and artificial systems. [PCW ref]

Hampson, Norman (1991) Saint-Just, Basil Blackwell, Oxford. 245 pp. Rev E Weber TLS 15 Feb 91. SJ as theorist of paper, bureaucracy (article by Guy Thuillier: Le ministere et un monde en papier. Egypt and Rome thought much, wrote little, See other sources on papyrus and empire. SJ: "A people has only one dangerous enemy: its government."

Haraszti, M (1977) A Worker in a Workers' State: piece rates in Hungary, Penguin, 1977.

Harcourt, GC (1972) Some Cambridge controversies in the theory of capital, Cambridge UP. See refs on reswitching etc.

Hardison OB (1993) Disappearing through the skylight: culture and technology in the twentieth century, Viking. Snidely rev in NYRB 26.4.93: eternal, gravity-free, telepathic, androids vs carbon man.

Harpending H and Rogers R (1990) "Fitness in stratified societies", Ethology and Sociobiology, 11, 6.

Harris, Marvin (1979) Cultural Materialism: the struggle for a science of culture, New York, Random House.

Harris, William V (1989) Ancient Literacy, Harvard UP, Cambridge MA. 408pp.

Harth, Erich (1989) Dawn of a Millenium: beyond evolution and culture, Little, Brown and Co, New York NY.

Harvey PH, Pagel MD (1991) The comparative method in evolutionary biology, OUP.

Havelock, E.A. (1982) The Literate Revolution in Greece and its Cultural Consequences, Princeton UP, Princeton NJ.

Hawthorn, Geoffrey (1991) Plausible Worlds: possibility and understanding in history and the social sciences, CUP, Cambridge, 192pp.

Healey, Phil and Glanvill, Rick (eds) (1992) Urban Myths, Virgin, London.

Healey, Phil and Glanvill, Rick (eds) (1993) The Return of Urban Myths, Virgin, London.

Hearn, Jeff, Sheppard, Deborah L, Tancred-Sherriff, Peta and Burrell, Gibson (eds) (1989) The Sexuality of Organization, Sage, Newbury Park, CA. Reviewed by Sorca O'Connor, Educational Administration Quarterly, 28, 1, 125-136 (Feb 1992): all-pervasiveness of sexuality in gendered organizations; make them gynocentric.

Hewson, Barbara (1993) "Doing justice to women's rights", Law Society Gazette, 90/35 (20 September 1993), pp 19-21)

Heyes CM and Plotkin HC (1989) "Replicators and interators in cultural evolution", in Ruse M (ed), What the Philosophy of Biology is: essays dedicated to David Hull, Kluwer, Dordrecht.

Hill EM and Low BS (1992) "Contemporary abortion patterns: a life history approach", Ethology and Sociobiology, 13, 1, 35-47.

Hirst PQ (1976) Social evolution and sociological categories, Allen and Unwin, London.

Hirst PQ and Wooley P (1982) Social relations and human attributes, Tavistock, London.

Hockney, David (1993) The Way I See It, Thames and Hudson, London.

Hodamard, Psychology of invention in the Mathematical Field (FP)

Hodgson, GM (1993) Economics and evolution: bringing life back into economics, Polity, Cambridge.

Holldobler Bert and Wilson EO (1993) The Ants: 100,000,000 years in the making, Harvard UP.

Hood, Roger (1989) The Death Penalty: a worldwide perspective.

Horton, Robin (1993) Patterns of thought in Africa and the West: essays on magic, religion and science, CUP. Rev Appiah TLS 2.7.93. W African religion addresses same questions as western science; "devout opposition" imposing Christian monotheism.

Howlett, Rory (1993) "Beauty on the brain", Nature, v 361, pp398-9 (4 Feb 1993). "Darwin argued that either such [extravagant male] traits had evolved becaue of the mating preferences of females (ientersexual selection - eg peacocks' trains), or because they had a direct role in the competition between males for access to females (intrasexual selection - eg antlers)." Commenting on Enquist and Arak (same issue): the "ability of simple [neural network] recognition mechanisms to generalise from familiar stimuli to similar but otherwise novel stimuli could exert considerable selective presure on signal form"

Hoyrup, J. (1985) "Varieties of Mathematical Discourse in Pre- Modern Socio-Cultural Contexts: Mesopotamia, Greece and the Latin Middle Ages", Science & Society, vol LXIX, no 1, Spring, pp 4-41.

Hughes, H Stuart (1988) Sophisticated Rebels: the political culture of European dissent, 1968-1987, Harvard UP, Cambridge MA. 192 pp.

Hughes, Robert (1993) The culture of complaint: the fraying of America, OUP.

Hugman, Richard (1991) Power in Caring Professions, Macmillan, 260p, 9.99.

Hull, David L. (1988) Science as a process: an evolutionary account of the social and conceptual development of science, University of Chicago Press, Chicago IL. xiv, 586 pp illus, $39.95.

Hull, David L (1988) "Interactors versus vehicles", in Plotkin HC (ed) The role of behaviour in evolution, MIT Press.

Hull, David L (1982) "The Naked Meme", in Plotkin HC (ed) Learning, development and culture: essays in evolutionary epistemology, Wiley, Chichester.

Hull, David L (1978) "Altruism in science: a sociobiological model of cooperative behaviour among scientists", Animal Behaviour, 26, 658-97.

Humphrey, Nicholas (1993?) A history of the mind: evolution and the birth of consciousness, Harper Collins.

Illich, Ivan (1993) In the Vineyard of the Text: a commentary to Hugh's Didascalicon, U Chicago Press. C12 transition from monastic to scholarly writing (punctuation; indentation; chapters; indices); more important than printing revolution.

Ingold, Tim, Riches, David and Woodburn, James (eds) (1988) Hunters and gatherers; 1: History, evolution and social change, Oxford: Berg, viii,331p, 2 vols in all.

Ingold, Tim (1986) Evolution and social life, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, xv,431. Subjects: Social evolution/Human evolution/Culture.

Ingold, Tim (c 1990) "An anthropologist looks at biology", Man NS 25, 208-229. Recommended by Brian Goodwin, tel 12 May 1994, as interested in formation of person: thus considers memes etc (Goodwin regards it as a vague concept)

Jackson JBC, Buss LW and Cook RE (eds) (1986) Population biology and evolution of clonal organisms, Yale UP, New Haven CT.

Jewkes, J, Sawers D, Stillerman R (1958) The sources of invention, Macmillan. Many case studies. FP

Johnson, Mark (1987) The Body in the Mind, U of Chicago Press.

Johnson JL, McAndrew FT and Harris PB (1991) "Sociobiology and the naming of adopted and natural children", Ethology and Sociobiology, 12, 5.

Kaprow, Allan (1993) Essays on the blurring of art and life, U California P. Performance art.

Kawai M (1965) "Newly acquired pre-cultural behaviour of the natural troop of Japanese monkeys on Koshima Islet", Primate, 6, 1-30.

Keegan, John (1993) A history of warfare, Knopf.

Kennedy, Duncan (1993) Sexy dressing etc, Harvard UP. Exponent of Critical Legal Studies.

Kirk, Raven and Schofield pp 72ff on wholesale meme mutations in Greecc between C9th and C6th BC. FP

Kline, Stephen (1993) Out of the Garden: toys, TV and children's culture in the age of marketing, Verso, London. On marketing innovation from late C19, Disney and "merchandising". Read esp for childhood as sensitive period (Dawkins). Ch 1 good on consumerism and its meanings. Talked to children - v good.

Knight, Chris (1991) Blood Relations: menstruation and the origins of culture, Yale UP, 581pp, 40.

Koss, Mary (1993) The Scope of Rape, Psychologist at Arizona. 70 pc US undergraduates victims of rape or attempted rape (includes sex while intoxicated). "The law punishes the drunk driver who kills a pedestrian. And, likewise, the law needs to be there to protect the drunk woman from the driver of the penis."

Kosslyn, Stephen (1992?) Wet Mind Ref in Sacks on Edelman (NYRB 8 April 1993)

Kroeber AL (1948, repr 1963) Anthropology: culture patterns and processes, New York, Harcourt Brace. Includes 1917 American Anthropologist article "The superorganic". Kroeber AL (1917, 1948, rep 1963) summarised in Barkow (1989), p232.

Kroeber AL and Kluckhohn C (1952) Culture: a critical review of concepts and definitions, New York, Vintage/Random House.

Kropotkin, Paul (1972) Mutual Aid: a factor of evolution, Alan Lane/Penguin, London, ed and intro by Paul Avrich. 1st ed 1902.

Kumar, K (1989?) Utopia and Anti-Utopia in modern times, Blackwell, Oxford.

Lakoff, G (1987) Women, Fire and Dangerous Things, U of Chicago Press. On categories, Byte AI issue.

Laland KN (1992) "A theoretical investigation of the role of social transmission in evolution", Ethology and Sociobiology, 13: 87-113.

Lennard, John (1991) But I Digress, OUP. History of the parenthesis (mentioned in Baker (1993)).

Levi-Strauss, Claude, Structural Anthropology, Ch 1: quotation from Tylor and comments following it (Penguin ed p 4) (FP)

Levin DA (1993) "Local speciation in plants - the rule not the exception", Systematic Botany, 18, 2, 197-208.

Lloyd, G E R (1989?) Polarity and analogy: two types of argumentation in early Greek thought, Bristol UP, Bristol?.

Lloyd E (1988) The structure and confirmation of evolutionary theory, Greenwood Press.

Lloyd, James E (1986) "Firefly communication and deception: "Oh, what a tangled web"", in Mitchell and Thompson (eds) (1986), pp 12945.

Lloyd, Tom (1993) The Charity Business, John Murray, London. D Telegraph journalist on convergence of charities and corporations. Monetisation of charity.

Loftus EF (1979) Eyewitness testimony, Harvard UP, Cambridge MA.

Lovenduski, Joni and Randall, Vicki (1993) Contemporary feminist politics, CUP.

Low BS (1989) "Cross-cultural patterns in the training of children: an evolutionary perspective", Journal of Comparative Psychology, 103: 311-19.

Lumsden CJ (1989) "Does culture need genes?" Ethology and Sociobiology, 10, 1-3.

Lumsden CJ and Wilson EO (1981) Genes, mind and culture, Harvard UP, Cambridge MA.

Lynch A and Baker AJ (1993) "A population memetics approach to cultural evolution in chaffinch song - meme diversity within populations", American Naturalist, 141, 4, 597-620. [Question: does increased chaffinch density lead to increased meme flow, less meme diversity?]

MacDonald K (1989) "The plasticity of human social organization and behaviour: contextual variables and proximal mechanisms", Ethology and Sociobiology, 10, 1-3.

Mackenzie, Donald (1990) Inventing accuracy, MIT. FP, on pointless accuracy in missile guidance systems.

MacShane, Denis (1979) Using the media: how to deal with the press, television and radio, Pluto Press, London. On natural selection of memes in news, media organizations. Press officers, press releases etc as analogues of sperm competition. Interactive (sexual-selection-type) evolution of exaggeration: star system etc.

Mamet, David (1992) Oleanna, Methuen. Epigraph? "What did it mean? Nothing. It was some jerk thing, some schoolkid told me, that took up room inside my head." (p 32)

Mansfield E (1968) Industrial research and technological innovation, Norton. FP

Margulis L (1981) Symbiosis in cell evolution, Freeman, San Francisco.

Marx Gary T (1990) Undercover: police surveillance in America, University of California Press, Berkeley CA. pbk $10.95

Maturana, Humberto R and Varela FJ (1988) The tree of knowledge: the biological roots of human understanding, Shambhala (New Science Library), Boston and London.

Rosenberg A (1982) "Are there culturegens?", Behavioural and Brain Sciences, 5, 1, 22-4.

May, RM (1988) "How many species are there on earth?", Science, 231, p 144. (FP)

Mayr, Ernst (1991) Towards a new philosophy of biology: observations of an evolutionist, Harvard UP, 564pp, $14.95 pbk.

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&&bib end


Draft re Wilson and Sobers, Behavioural and Brain Sciences (in press Dec 93). See also comments in the same journal?

Wilson and Sober's article aims to "re-introduce group selection to the human behavioural sciences". They also add a passage to the tradition which sees human groups as organisms. To do this they present group selection reconstructed by treating groups as vehicles or organisms rather than as replicators or genes. They develop this view in relation to a particular example of human grup seletion: group selection for altruism in Hutterite communities, and also mention a range of othe human groups as candidates for explanation in such terms (military elites). [One for all and all for one.] But in resolving some questions W&S raise others; I state and discuss some of them below.

WS propose a "unified theory" embracing "a nested hierarchy of units of selection". But at the same time, in discussing their principal example of human group selection (the groupishness of Hutterite communities) they are careful to distinguish explanations in terms of gruop selection from alternative explanations in terms of cultural forces, or manipulation by leaders. [CTs monism, Dawkins universal Darwinism

Can cultural entities be seen as part of WS "nested hierarchy of units of selection" (and, if so, what are the relevant units of selection)? [memes]

Are groups vehicles in the same sense as organisms are?

The origins of the vehicle/replicator distinction lie in Dawkins and others efforts to describe organisms in gene-centred terms. What places genes within one vehicle is the sharing of a "common fate" - like the members of a rowing crew they win or lose together [cf also lily pad analogy]

With many life-forms the idea of a "common fate" can often be given operational sense - [inclusive] fitness. But doing so turns on a paradigmatic picture of populations of discrete organisms which can be compared by counting. When parts of this picture do not hold, conventional population genetics tends to come adrift (van Valen). From another angle, relations bbetween genes and organisms can be seen as a special case. As Williams has it:

"Population genetics...may be defined as that branch of edpidemiology that deals with infectious elements transmitted exclusively from parent to offspring" (1992, p15)

Vehicles=common fate (rowing crew, lily pad, "benefits" to group vague in absense of measures of fitness. Demographic performance of group no substitute.

How do adaptations get transmitted from group to group (the problem of group inheritance)? Growth, fissoning, infection by individuals, learning, legislation (joint stock co, cooperative, electorate, capital?) Group defined by legislation (rules of boat race cease to be analogy) Multi-species groups, extended phenotypes.

In sketching a group selection explanation for Hutterites WS distinguish three explanations for the selflessness of individual Hutterites within the Hutterite group:

  1. ultural influences lead to behaviours that are biologically maladaptive
  2. an elite/individuals manipulate the group in its own interest
  3. group selection (pop of groups)

"Taking vehicles seriously...demands a restructuring of the entire edifice", "one theory of natural selection operating on a nested hierarchy of units, in which inclusive fitness and game theory are special cases" Is one theory consistent with the three explanations? Cf Alexander on equalising genes channces, reproductive levelling, death as screening for cheaters.

How is the fitness/membership of groups defined (confute WS island, Huttite examples)?

Can a group of biological individuals be taken as a vehicle of natural selection in the same sense that the individual can be taken as the vehicle of its genes? W&S points about the homology between mechanisms that tend to equalise the chances of replication between individuals within groups, and between genes within genomes, suggest this. So does their discussion of group benefit or success as being equivalent to (within group) repruction rates. But the parallel breaks down at an important point: an gene/allele does not succeed by increasing the membership of its group.

We can invert the problem. Group membership is a property of denumerable entities. While human beings are countable (with very marginal exceptions, such as siamese twins) genes are not. Dawkins (1976) rightly sidesteps the problem, observing that his standard of what constitutes a single gene is the [arbitrary] of the smallest unit of selection.

Human individuals can and do enter into many groups. Many of W&S examples suggest contiguity as a principle/condition of group membership (island, organism, village). But many human groups are not so defined, but by (eg) values. Professions, elites note expand by growth (only).

Multi-species grouping community, culture as symbiont - extended phenotype. Is a sex a grouping? Reproduction other than by imitation/replication: cf Dawkins early meme.

Organism as adaptation - Williams amorphic biota

Wrong to counterpose culture to human group selection (how do adaptations,, organs, pass between groups)

What is unit/entity being selected (gene, organism, group, .. on to memes?)

Group selection general in life - mechanisms peculiar to human groups?


Bring together: group real insofer as functionally differentiated (WS) with genetics as vertical infection (Williams). WHEN DOES INFECTION LEAD TO COMMON FATE? (insofar as grops are moral??) Various features of groups in play:


trait group (Williams)

species as groups, dendrograms


functional adaptation

common fate

serve as vehicle, unit of selection

Coda: SSSM vs Campbell: explaining poemic, ebattled minority over methodological individualism, exclusion of psychological etc

A codical point. WS regard methodological individualism as the norm in the human sciences. Cosmides and Tooby take an opposite view

&&sober end


An issue such as the last one raises the question: How can we best understand the circulation of theoretical ideas about school management? There are noticeable differences between the ways in which theoretical ideas succeed one another in educational management, and the ways that they do in (say) natural science. In science, existing theories are replaced by and subsumed within newer ones, usually more accurate and/or more general. With theories of educational management progression is less evident. There is more fashion and more repetition and more change for change's sake. This note suggests that there may be something to learn from biological and specifically from epidemiological models.

Much discussion of theories of educational management is pragmatic, in the sense that it is concerned with how theories affect the performance of institutions or individuals. At the same time, the linkage between theory and operation tends to be loose. Particular schools can continue to operate much the same way while different management theories succeed one another. And they may change fundamntally while the same body of theory holds sway. Indeed, many management theories are designed to procure change.

But suppose we step back from the relations between theories and practice, and ask instead: What characteristics of a theory make it successful? What features of a theory will help it proiferate in the population of schools? infective agent in the school population? Our question then resembles one which biologists often pose: how does this or that adaptation of an organism help it exploit its environment hosts?

The question sounds prejudiced against theories, but isn't necessarily so. Like some theories of how to run schools, some parasites are neutral or even benign. Some of the bacteria in animals' digestive tracts are essential in digesting cellulose, or producing vitamins. Just as a healthy human being may contain around a billion parasitic organisms, the running of an ordinary school may involve - even if inexplicitly - many of the theories crystallised in the management literature.

Many parasites have evolved powerful and ingenious means of getting access to hosts. It may be that there are features of successful educational management that serve similar functions. They may get themselves passed from host to host by through the habitual behaviour of hosts. This is so, for example, with sexually transmitted diseases. INSET courses and workshops, bringing teachers from different schools into temporary intimacy, serve something of the same function with management theories.

Some parasites disseminate themselves by modifing the behaviour of infected hosts so as to infect others. Inducing sneezing, for example, is a means whereby certain viruses contrive to get into the respiratory systems of new, uninfected hosts. A number of management theories, similarly, have evolved an evangelical or "road to Damascus" character which modifies carriers' behaviour to similar effect. A related feature of some management theories is their ability to affect the careers of individual humans who act as their carriers, for example by increasing the likelihood of their changing jobs and schools, or by encouraging the carrier to pursue posts where their ideas can have greater effects across the school as a whole.

[They may infiltrate themselves into the supply of food or other resources (eg) or from a different species of host (tapeworm, industry). They may arrive through another parasite (malaria). or by modifying the behaviour of an infected host (for example, by causing it to sneeze and disseminate the infection to others. (Analogies in theories on Ed Man) Fruit, flower, symbiosis, ep. May it be that some adaptations of theories of educational management have similar functions. Practice/anecdote-flavoured workshops are effective at transitting a new theory to previously uninfected schools. Some theories have Faith, Dawkins, evidence, sneeze. Transmission mechanisms. In food, resource supply, and via excretion. Organism is school, not individual.]

Limit harm to host by infecting certain organs only - typically, staffroom but not students (I'm not saying has no effect, just not explicitly entertained).

Use replication mechanisms of schools - but not overload. What gets into management theory like what gets into curriculum (or patriotism,national anthem) Like officer corps. Has there been a shift following ethos of teaching - towards less hard-and-fast etc.

All parasites draw some resources from their hosts. But this must stay within bounds. They may debilitate the host organism or make it sick, but if the host dies out, so does the parasite that depends on it. Parasites can reach an equilibrium with their host populations. In such situations the parasite may itself act as a selective pressure on its hosts, removing weaker organisms or those whose defensive organs are less well developed. The parasite which does least damage to the life expectancy of the host, or even prolongs it, has the competitive advantage.

via a life cycle shared with may use the

One powerful, general defence mechanism - immune system, experience.

soptimum is often foration

Immune effects, defence mechanisms, coevolution, names, experience.

No clear progress in school management theories, but succession of infections.

Evolution of organs/structures in the host beneficial to the parasite. Thence symbiosis, domestication of institutions (approximately = to learning institutions)

&&bemas end


who used it to denote the objects of cultural selection. He Dawkins (1976, Ch 11) gave three stylistic and conceptual reasons for selecting "meme": its analogy (and euphony) with "gene", the unit of natural inheritance and selection, its connection with memory, and its affinity to the French meme (same), and The term "meme" conveys culture's passage from generation to generation, together with the ways in which cultural objects stay (more or less) the same as they "leap" from person to person, and their ability to lie "dormant" for long periods in humans' minds, then resume "infecting" other minds.

These features - pehaps we should call them adaptations? - and others besides make the term apt, and I have therefore selected it. In this book I suggest some of the directions which it might be taken. To do so I sketch something of the "natural history" of memes and their evolution.


Drawing, Paul Klee said, is taking a line for a walk. This sketch perambulates a small family of ideas. They are not mine. I am just the babysitter (or, possibly, the kidnapper) taking them to the playground. As with much childcare, the excursion involves propaganda as well as reasoned argument.


What, then, is this book about? A reasonable question, but hard to answer, except by suggestion. It's about how culture moves people around. What causes laws, styles, tunes to be as they are? How do people and clocks tick? Why is so much cultural evolution nasty to humans? Is culture inimical to nature? How may we choose preferable culture?

&&gobbetts end


{The following were "comments" inserted into the text }

Comments/circulation - shorter select list

Dawkins Hamilton Wolpert D Haig Maynard Smith S Rose

David Held Stuart Hall Sperber Giddens Baumann Other postmodern Moscovici Ball Dennett Elster Roemer Lukes Barry Barkow Cosmides and Tooby RD RD Alexander Betzig Fisher Ignatieff (nationalism) Soderqvist

Ben Cosin Bob Sutcliffe Tony W Stuart H David H Nick L Alan Clinton Tim W Ball D Bruce Spencers Blicks Baumann Ian McAlman Vic F Steve Drury Neville Crawford Anthony D'Agostino Intellectuals group Levy Simon Frith, Twitchell (Carnival), Barry Barnes (Power)

Sent to: Mark, Julian, Felix, Cyril Smith, Dawkins, Ron Glatter, Ben Cosin, Spencers.

Ought/meaning : intention/atoms/chains : group selection conditions and significance: chreody and path dependency / embryology / chaos / bushes ; free rider problems; organizational/collective knowledge ; chainings of intentions/habits/institutions (Barry); social objects; methodologigical individualism : status and spite and progress ; libraries/fossil/piltPoints: libraries/fossil/piltdown copying bias, small pop lareg organism/extintion/dispersal galapagos/localism/global culture

Barry: power, routine, social onjects (hollow ring, ICI shares)

Gibbon: animal societies, bare branches. Arius handsome and upright man.

Twichell (qu): films from books from plays; food chain / Sonic hedgehog (cursor to text)

What are machines for?

To make other machines.

And what are they for?

To make you happy.

And what is happiness for?

To put you in a better mood.

There are walking machines, talking machines and mood machines. Personalities are mood machines. Elation and depression - piston effect, Newton's 3rd law (bipolar ad just explicit, post coitum omne amimal tristum est etc - everyone gets bored - grass greener).

Authoritty/Cretan saying. Dep/elate. Nat resonance/seasons. Elastic chains/links. Short cycle of intention - life-plans (biology of intention): discuss.

Pete Townshend (Iron Man): We make a machine to make a machine....


Bibliography of Work by Adam Westoby

·  1974. (with Keith Emmans and EricHawkins) The use of foreign languages in the private sector of industry and commerce, Language Teaching Centre, University of York.

·  1976.(with David Webster and Gareth Williams) Social Scientists at Work. Research into Higher Education Monographs 25. Guildford, Society for Research into Higher Education.

·  1977. Economics and Education Policy: a Reader. Open University Set Book: Longman, for Open University Press

·  1978. "Hegel's History of Philosophy" in Jonathan Ree, Michaels Ayers and Adam Westoby, Philosophy and its Past. (Philosophy Now: Harvester Press)

·  1978. "On Wohlforth's 'Theory of Structural Assimilation,'" in Wohlforth and Westoby, "Communists" against revolution: two essays on post-war stalinism. Folrose Books, London.

·  1981 "Education, inequality and the question of a communist 'new class,'" in Roger Dale, Geof Esland, Ross Fergusson and Medeleine Macdonal (eds) Education and the State, vol 1, Schooling and the National Interest, pp. 351-72.

·  1981. Communism Since World War II. Brighton: Harvester Press.

·  c 1982. (With Robin Blick) "Early Soviet designs on Poland," Survey.

·  1983. "Conceptions of communist states," in David Held et al (eds) States and Societies, Martin Robertson, Oxford, pp. 219-41.

·  1984. "The anatomy of communist states," in Gregor McLennana, David Held and Stuart Hall (eds) The Idea of the Modern State, pp. 131-53.

·  1985. Biographical introduction to Bruno Rizzi's The Bureaucratization of the World. Free Press: New York.

·  c 1985. "The strange case of Bruno R." Survey.

·  1986. "Origins of the Bolshevik Party and Communist statecraft," in James Anderson (ed) The Rise of the Modern State, Wheatsheaf Books, Brighton, pp. 143-69.

·  1987. "Metnal work, education, and the division of labour," in Ron Eyerman, Lennart Svensson and Thomas Soderquist (eds) Intellectuals, Uniiersities and the State in Modern Western Societies, UC Press, Berkeley, pp. 127-53.

·  1988. (Ed and Introduction) Culture and Power in Educational Organizations: A Reader. Open University Press.

·  1989. The Evolution of Communism. Polity Press, Cambridge.

·  c 1989. "Parental choice and voice under the 1988 Education Reform Act," in Ron Glatter (ed), E818 Reader, pp. 65-81.

·  1992. with Ronald Hill, "Communishm and political evolution," in Journal of Communist Studies, 8, 1, pp. 160-74.


ADAM Westoby, Senior Lecturer in Education, died of cancer on 27 November 1994 at the age of 50. He was appointed in 1972 as a member of the team which the late Professor Gerry Fowler established in the administration and management of education. In the 1970s, Adam made key contributions o two courses on the British education systems and was a central figure in a pioneering course on economics and education policy.

More recently, he co-authored (with Professor Jenny Ozga, now at Keele) a very influential and popular module for the MA in Education programme, Educational Organizations and Professionals. His reader for this module, Culture and Power in Educational Organizations, is a superbly crafted collection of some of the most seminal writings in this important field.

In research, before his activities became severely restricted by his latest illness, he made a major analytical contribution to the plan for the current large-scale PASCI (Parental and School Choice Interaction) study funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. He was extraordinarily knowledgeable over a wide range of subjects. He published substantial studies of the regimes of the old Soviet bloc. He also had a deep interest in biological processes, and was developing a study in this area when he died.

He experienced disability for many years. When aged about 30 he was diagnosed with syringomyelia, which has a progressively more serious effect over the next 20 years. In 1989 he learned that he also had myeloma. He often had to go into London's Royal Marsden hospital in the subsequent five years for lengthy and difficult stays.

He retained his unquenchable curiosity - not least about the nature of his own illnesses and the medical evidence concerning them. Despite being a wheelchair user he visited Kenya, Turkey, France and Italy and many areas of the UK with his family. He became very active in campaigning for the disabled and with his wife Sabi led an apparently successful campaign for wheelchair access at the Royal Opera House.

He bore his suffering with great courage, and was fortunate to have Sabi's love and support and the joy of his young sons Ben and Sam. He will be remembered for his remarkable qualities, personal as well as intellectual

Ron Glatter (published in Open House, no. 326, Feb 1995)

ADAM Westoby, who dies of cancer aged 50, was an authoritative writer on communism and on the theory of education. Like many of his contemporaries, Adam became involved in left-wing politics as a student at Balliol, but unlike so many others he applied his mind to the problems it threw up even when syringomyelia and cancer had confined him to a wheelchair. This trait did not endear him to the various left-sectarian groups through which he passed.

Adam contributed to the Workers Press after it was launched in 1969. Teenage years spent in Rome led to an interest in the politics of the Italian labour movement. Adam did not fit comfortably into the Socialist Labour League, and he could not tolerate the hectoring of its leader Gerry Healey. By 1974 he had become a convinced opponent, and played a major part in the formation of the Workers Socialist League led by Oxford car convenor Alan Thornett. In 1980 he helped to found the Polish Solidarity Campaign to support the strike movement in Poland.

His academic career produced a fine survey of the communist world in Communism Since World War II and then, in 1989, The Evolution of Communism which brilliantly foreshadows the disintegration of communist rule.

Adam was a doughty campaigner for the disabled. He loved opera and together with his wife, Sabi, campaigned for wheelchair access at the Royal Opera House. Adam, who enjoyed good food, wine and conversation, was a magnificent host (and charming guest) although constantly in discomfort and often in pain. He was a keen gardener and spent many hours working in his Willesden garden, which was specially designed to be tended from a wheelchair.

Adam Westoby, born October 19, 1944, died November 29, 1994.

John Spencer (published in Manchester Guardian, Dec. 14, 1994)