Journal of Memetics -
Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
Welcome to the September 2002 issue of the Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission (JOM-EMIT).
Over four years ago, Bruce Edmonds wrote an editorial for JOM-EMIT in which he challenged the memetics community (Edmonds 1998). The Journal was less than a year old (only into its 3rd full issue) and optimism was high (as evidenced by the styles and ambitions of the earlier journal articles), however, Edmonds attempted a reality check at this point - voicing concerns about the future of our nascent discipline. He warned of the easy trap of becoming a mere "academic in-group" referencing and publishing based on informal tribal loyalties rather than quality, clarity and novelty. He expressed dissatisfaction with the plethora of definitional statements concerning memes and memetics. More importantly, Edmonds made it clear that the future of memetics was in our own hands - it really was up to us.
So, fast-forward to the present, the journal is now over five years old, what is the state and status of memetics now? What can we deduce from looking at recent articles in JOM-EMIT?
Those pesky "definitional debates" have subsided. In two major workshops (see Hales 1998, Auger 1999) the programmatic emphasis was not on the production of more definitions but on the production of better empirical studies. Certainly definitional issues will and do arise, but they have ceased to be the focus of articles. Also, contrary to Edmonds' concerns, Memeticists have not formed into a closed and sterile mutual vanity society either.
Recent issues contain articles from new authors and references are wide. For example, in this current issue both articles are from new authors who have not previously published in the journal. João Dinis de Sousa (2002) interprets a highly structured social behaviour (chess playing) within a memetic framework. This gives some interesting insights. Laureano Castro and Miguel Toro (2002) present a mathematical model showing how approval and disapproval of imitated behaviour can evolve - which would seem to be a crucial mechanism for high fidelity copying of behaviours.
Edmonds' early fears have not been realised. However, memetics has not fulfilled many of the optimistic visions of the earlier articles either. There is a feeling that some of the wind has been taken from the sails of the whole enterprise.
In this issue Edmonds (2002) crystallises this general malaise into "Three Challenges for the Survival of Memetics". He challenges the memetics community to do better: memetics must demonstrate its utility or perish as an irrelevant fad in late twentieth century thought. In a polemic letter, he reiterates the now familiar challenge;stop talking about memetics and start doing it. Specifically, he suggests that we need to take three basic actions if memetics is to survive: provide a conclusive case-study, make explicit a theory for when memetic models are appropriate, and offer a simulation of the emergence of a memetic process.
Whilst it may be difficult to reconcile Edmonds' warnings with the evidence of a healthy and active research community in the pages of this edition of the JOM-EMIT, the letter should be taken seriously. For it is true that unless memetics can show superior practical, explanatory or predictive value to existing social scientific theories it will become irrelevant.
Which is why Edmonds' challenge should be seen as a competitive challenge; we need to do memetics to demonstrate when, where and how memetics has a relative and relevant advantage over social science devoid of memetics. The future of memetics will not be decided by those talking about memetics, whether grand theorising or armchair philosophy about the evolution of culture, history, consciousness or how we think, but will be decided by those doing memetics and demonstrating its relevance.
But similarly, the direction of memetics will be determined not by programmatic declarations, but again by doing memetics and demonstrating its relevance. Whether Edmonds' vision of memetics will prove to be more useful than, say, a more modest memetics as the study of social contagion (the triggering influence of contact and example), will ultimately be decided by the quality of future published work.
Castro L. and Toro, M. A. (2002). Cultural Transmission and the Capacity to Approve or Disapprove of Offspring's Behaviour. Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission, 6(2), http://cfpm.org/jom-emit/2002/vol6/castro_l&toro_ma.html
de Sousa, J. D. (2002). Chess moves and their memomics: a framework for the evolutionary processes of chess openings. Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission, 6(2), http://cfpm.org/jom-emit/2002/vol6/de_sousa_jd.html
Edmonds, B. (1998). Editorial. Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission 2(1), http://cfpm.org/jom-emit/1998/vol2/editorial_1.html
Edmonds, B. (2002). Three Challenges for the Survival of Memetics. Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission 6(2), http://cfpm.org/jom-emit/2002/vol6/edmonds_b_letter.html
Hales, D. (1998). Report on the Panel Discussion that occurred at the Symposium on Memetics. Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission 2(2), http://cfpm.org/jom-emit/1998/vol2/panel_discussion.html
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