Some reflections on creation versus evolution of memes

by Dave Gross

There's a "creation vs. evolution" debate due to hit the world of memetics any time now. I can't seem to shake the impression that true individual creativity, and not just selection operating on recombinations and mutations in the social arena, is responsible for the great variety and complexity of memes that surround us.

I suspect that the counterintuitive alternative -- that the world's memes are the product of natural selection and not the accumulated treasure of creative consciousnesses -- may be an unwelcome truth in the same way that Darwin's assassination of God was unwelcome.

One potential solution I came up with to explain individual creativity from a selection-oriented view is this:

People engage in an inner dialog -- a thinking process that involves the conceit of an exchange of words between actors on the subjective stage. In my case (one I don't suspect to be atypical), this dialog takes the form of different genres of drama -- sometimes arguments between advocates of opposite arguments on a position on which I am, as a whole, ambivalent; sometimes predictive role-playing in which I set up a series of actors to simulate real people from my environment confronted with different situations; etc.

My theory is that in the course of these inner dialogs, the same sort of mutations and recombinations take place as do in multi-person conversation. Each person becomes a unique evolutionary arena for memes, as some versions survive and thrive in this inner dialog and some die away.

So a person doesn't just reflect memes that they've acquired, but each person subjects each meme to a fertile inner memetic "ecosystem" before releasing it again into the social environment. This is the process by which new, novel and complex memes seem to be suddenly "created."

Unsolved is the mystery of why people think in a dialog form. It requires brains to take a thought that presumably is already in a form suitable for brain processing, compress it into a form which adds inaccuracy and ambiguity to the thought, subjectively simulate the process of hearing this compressed version out loud, translate this compressed version back into a thought, and then analyze the thought from a second point-of-view.

Perhaps this process is a form of memory, holding a thought in the delay of linguistic processing while a second personality (with a potentially valuable second opinion) is swapped in. Perhaps this is just a way of alpha-testing a linguistic formulation of a thought prior to release to see if it is as convincing as a collection of words as it is as a pre-coded thought. Or perhaps this process is a pathological form of behavior that is reinforced by parasitic memes (to whom it could potentially be very helpful).