Experiment in Cyberspace: Mutating Genre Meme (or better: ‘the ecology of emerging memes’)

The concept of meme, coined by Richard Dawkins in 1976, describe a unit of human cultural evolution analogous to the gene, maintaining that replication also happens in culture, albeit in a different sense. In his book The Selfish Gene Dawkins speculated that the meme is a unit of information residing in the brain and is the mutating replicator in human cultural evolution, being a pattern that can influence its surroundings – that is, it has causal agency – and can propagate. Still, Dawkins apparently did not intend to present a comprehensive theory of memetics, but rather coined the term meme in a speculative spirit.

According to previous entries, by no means the Ecology of the Novel may support such approach to cultural evolution, likely arising and spreading on the basis of constant recoding of plastic patterns defining so called ‘memes’, that have to be eventually defined as emergent features instead of units of information residing in the brain. Textual plasticity found both in oral and in literary traditions, from papyri to manuscript, from print to digital media supporting shared meaning based on collaboration, corroborate the idea that narratives have to be addressed as emergent features, encoded by means of symbolic systems and referring to perceptual events, actions and emotional correlates. Hence, ramifications of descriptions based on multiple potential affordances of described features have to be credited as responsible of massive textual variation.

Indeed, acts as ‘reading a novel’ or ‘listening to a story’ lead to the embodiment of narrative events by means of mirror matching. Matter-of-factly, readers or listeners hardly feel urged to memorize phrases, sentences, words while reading a novel or listening to a story. They hardly succeed in the task of retelling a single sentence of given narratives they read or listen to, even though they can retell what the story is about in different words, sentences, phrases. Indeed, sensory experiences, actions and emotions emerging from novels, stories, narratives in general, are saved and stored as perceptual responses, motor schemes, feelings and behaviors into isolated or combined complex patterns, outlasting the textual features they are encoded into, that are soon gone and forgot.

Still, an interesting scientific experiment in cyberspace evolution based on blogging may provide some interesting hints about spreading of textual variation, even tho mutations are limited by rules that have been designed so to ease gradual evolution rather than stasis and punctuated equilibria. In my understanding, the submitted meme hardly mutates till the pattern “The best [subgenre] in [genre] is…” remains unchanged. Till then it’s all just about messing up and mixing the genetic pool of the very same species, basically enjoying stasis in Gould-Eldredge terms. Indeed, if mutation doesn’t actually happens after somebody getting wrong while applying the rules, so that the format changes into, say , “The best [genre] in [nation] is…”, I may eventually get back some code i would be able to cope (as in ‘couple’ in natural terms) with by processing it through the same rules I actually reproduce and (try to) apply (correctly?):

There are a set of questions below that are all of the form, “The best [subgenre] in [genre] is…”. Copy the questions, and before answering them, you may modify them in a limited way, carrying out no more than two of these operations:

* You can leave them exactly as is.

* You can delete any one question.

* You can mutate either the genre, medium, or subgenre of any one question. For instance, you could change “The best time travel novel in SF/Fantasy is…” to “The best time travel novel in Westerns is…”, or “The best time travel movie in SF/Fantasy is…”, or “The best romance novel in SF/Fantasy is…”.

* You can add a completely new question of your choice to the end of the list, as long as it is still in the form “The best [subgenre] in [genre] is…”.

* You must have at least one question in your set, or you’ve gone extinct, and you must be able to answer it yourself, or you’re not viable.

Then answer your possibly mutant set of questions. Please do include a link back to the blog you got them from, to simplify tracing the ancestry, and include these instructions.

Finally, pass it along to any number of your fellow bloggers. Remember, though, your success as a Darwinian replicator is going to be measured by the propagation of your variants, which is going to be a function of both the interest your well-honed questions generate and the number of successful attempts at reproducing them.

Genealogic tree:

My great-grandparent is Flying Trilobite.

My grandparent is A Blog Around the Clock.

My parent is Belgrad and Beyond.

Questions and Answers:

The best cyberpunk novel in SF/Fantasy is: Neuromancer by William Gibson.

The best neo-noir SF film in scientific and cyberpunk dystopias is: Bladerunner by Ridley Scott.

The best sexy song in trip-hop is: Undress me Now by Morcheeba

The best abstract painting in european art is: Super Chess by Paul Klee.


I am tagging the following people, some blogger friends, to do the same, so this lineage will not go extinct!

Kai Pata

Alessandro Lanni

Lorenzo Declich


6 responses to “Experiment in Cyberspace: Mutating Genre Meme (or better: ‘the ecology of emerging memes’)

  1. Hiya,

    the rules are strict :), i will try.

    You write: ‘They hardly succeed in the task of retelling a single sentence of given narratives they read or listen to, even though they can retell what the story is about in different words, sentences, phrases.’
    By the way, a friend of mine wrote a master study where 2 (she thought similar) stories listened as narratives were to be retold as exactly as possible.
    The linear text was easily retold quite in right order, the text that turned back many times could not.
    But, she analysied it with the Kintsch macrostructure things, so maybe they changed the words, while meaning was kept.

  2. >The linear text was easily retold quite in right order, the text that turned back many times could not.

    Yes that’s the typical problem with linearization as Levelt described it, especially for 3d spaces (say a subway map). Moreover, in ecological terms linearization is sort of a filtering process leading to linear rendering of complex, non linear environments, action patterns, whatever…

    >But, she analysed it with the Kintsch macrostructure things, so maybe they changed the words, while meaning was kept.

    Being a philologist I deal with that all the time and yes, typical approaches basically focus on the fact that ‘meaning’ doesn’t change even tho words do. Besides, being neural area devoted to language processing connected with cortical ones processing sensory perception, as Pulvermuller and colleagues demonstrated, different words may connect to different ‘meaning’ (an emergent feature, according to ecological approaches) in different brains. Hence plasticity. But quick experiments can be made that easily support my vision: what’s your fav novel? You barly remember a single word. Still, you embodied it by mirror matching and the damn intoxicating stuff it’s yet with you everywhere you go. That’s basically one of the crucial points I am speculating about, but plenty of very compelling evidence support my view, at least till this very point. Problems arise when it comes to mirror matching of actions while silent reading, that has not yet being demonstrated…

  3. Some references


    Levelt, W.J.M. (1982). Linearization in describing spatial networks. In S. Peters & E. Saarinen (Eds.), Processes, Beliefs, and Questions. Essays on Formal Semantics of Natural Language and Natural Language Processing. (pp. 199-220). Dordrecht: Reidel.

    language in the brain:

    Hauk, O. – Pulvermüller, F.2004
    Neurophysiological distinction of action words in the fronto-central cortex, in «Human Brain Mapping» 21: 191–201.

    Hauk, O. – Johnsrude, I. -Pulvermüller, F.2004
    Somatotopic representation of action words in the motor and premotor cortex, in «Neuron» 41: 301–307.

    Pulvermüller, F. 1999
    Words in the Brain Language, in «Behavioral and Brain Sciences» 22 (1999): 253-336.

    Pulvermüller, F. – Lutzenberger, W. – & Preissl, H. 1999
    Nouns and verbs in the intact brain: Evidence from event-related potentials and high-frequency cortical responses, in «Cerebral Cortex» 9 (Jul/Aug 1999): 497–506.

    Pulvermüller, F. – Härle, F. – Hummel, F. 2000
    Neurophysiological distinction of verb categories, in «Neuroreport» 11: 12 (2000): 2789-2793.

    Pulvermüller, F. 2002
    The Neuroscience of Language. On Brain Circuits of Words and Serial order, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2002.

    Pulvermüller, F – Hauk, O. – Nikulin, V. V. – Ilmoniemi, R. J. 2005
    Functional links between motor and language systems, in «European Journal of Neuroscience» 21,(2005): 793–797.

    Shtyrov, Y. – Hauk, O. – Pulvermüller, F. 2004
    Distributed neuronal networks for encoding category-specific semantic information: the mismatch negativity to action words, in «European Journal of Neuroscience» 19 (2004): 1083-1092.

  4. Pingback: spreading of textual variation (experiment) « Taming the spaces

  5. Hello Anatole,

    I wanted to let you know that your link to Paul Klee’s Super Chess painting is broken. If you want to link to the post, the URL is http://greenpointchess.org/2007/05/21/63/. If you want to link directly to the image, the URL is http://greenpointchess.org/wp-content/uploads/2007/05/superchess_paulklee_dbd.jpg.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s