Sunday, 3 August 2008

Memetics & Self Organisation

When Anoush alerted us to Susan Blackmore’s talk on memetics it sparked a flurry of debate. Like the rest of the CA I have a number of issues with Blackmore’s argument. However, what I was struck by was the relation between Universal Darwinism, and the idea of self organisation discussed in my last post.

In my snowflake example of self organisation, we have, essentially, two factors at work: the interactions between the water molecules, and the interactions between the water molecules and the environment (largely defined by temperature and pressure)

It seems to me that Universal Darwinism provides three factors as a basis for self organisation:
Mimicry/replication/heredity – ie, the interactions between entities
Selection – ie. the interaction between an entity and its environment
Variation – ie. an autonomous characteristic of the entities

If the entities are genes, we get the whole panoply of living species that we know, as emergent states – from amoeba to armadillos.

If the entities are practices, we get memes.

And, according to Blackmore, if the entities are information, we get temes.

If one takes this self organisation view, it becomes clear how, as Blackmore claims, living species, memes and temes can emerge bottom up and without any top down purpose or direction.

It also seems that the Universal Darwinism example captures the three fundamental types of factor we have to take into account when thinking about any self organising system: the characteristics of the entities; interactions between the entities; and interactions of the entities with the environment

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