Saturday, June 14, 2008

the evolution of ideas in our social soup

Never had I come closer to yelling Eureka than when my nose was vacationing in Richard Dawkins' The Selfish Gene a number of years ago.

Not only did he put knowledge in my head far too complex to get there without his translation, but he linked his ideas of biological evolution to the evolution of ideas - 'memes' - in a way I had never considered. (This - I think - was the original use of the word meme; a shorthand for a stable 'cultural unit')

I've since been fascinated by the concept that memes/ideas are the new replicators; propagating themselves via the minds of people. More and more, I see exciting similarities between Dawkins' description of the earliest molecular evolution (in a "thickening broth") to the way ideas spread and evolve through social media. And when Russell initiated a debate on originality the other day, it sparked the whole thing off again in my head.

Evolution shows us that the most 'stable units' are strengthened over time by accidental mutations.


I see social media not as 'more channels' but as a total meltdown of channels, derailing ideas from previously straightforward lifespans and instead boiling them down into a meme soup, not too dissimilar to the one described by Dawkins at the beginning of his book. Whereas the molecules in his primeval soup had external influences like gravity and ultra-violet light to affect them, memes in our social soup have us; the words and pictures we use and how we share them.

Russell devalued his articulation of a thought he now realised had already been in existence. But my view is that by filtering the concept through his own brain, down through his fingers and out into our meme broth, he helped it to replicate, evolve and by the very nature of the stickyness of his words; become more stable.


No one owns ideas. We might scrabble to express them in a way that feels different enough to create the illusion of absolute originality, but really the creation of stable ideas is by definition a communal job. This post is a good example. It's a little clumsy in places; it's not a new thought, but it's helped push a few meme fragments around in the hope that others can reshape it. It's in their minds, and subsequently their words and actions that potentially more stable ideas might be formed.

We are the soup. Who knows what will surface next.

--

The above was mostly referenced from chapter two in The Selfish Gene: The Replicators. If you're interested in ideas and how they spread, The Selfish Gene IMHO is necessary reading. Actually scrap that. Everyone should read it anyway.

You can read it online here.

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1 Comments:

Anonymous neilperkin said...

Great post, this. My favourite line:
"I see social media not as 'more channels' but as a total meltdown of channels, derailing ideas from previously straightforward lifespans and instead boiling them down into a meme soup"

Love that. :)

12:46 pm  

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