Memetic Arts

Introduction and Overview #

“The Art of Memetics” by Edward Wilson and Wes Unruh offers an extensive exploration of how cultural ideas, or memes, propagate and influence various aspects of human life, from marketing to psychology. The authors draw on a wide range of intellectual traditions, integrating concepts from magic, psychology, sociology, and cybernetics to provide a comprehensive framework for understanding memetics. The book is deeply rooted in the works of influential thinkers, including Richard Dawkins, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, and Howard Bloom, among others. This synthesis expands on the core concepts, incorporating quotes and references to provide a richer understanding of the text.

Core Concepts and Definitions #

Magic #

  • Definition: Magic is defined as making the improbable possible. It involves understanding how small changes can significantly impact both internal psychology and external reality.
  • Role: The book portrays magic not as mystical rituals but as practical applications that leverage cultural forces to shape reality. This view aligns with Timothy Leary’s idea of “reality tunnels,” where perception shapes one’s experience of reality (Wilson and Unruh 23, 36).
  • Reference: Taylor Ellwood, in his book “Multi-Media Magic,” defines magic as learning how slight changes can radically affect both internal and external systems (Ellwood 90).

Memes #

  • Definition: Memes are units of cultural inheritance, similar to genes in biological evolution. They are ideas, behaviors, or styles that spread within a culture.
  • Application: Memes are crucial for understanding word-of-mouth effects, viral marketing, and cultural phenomena. Richard Dawkins introduced memes as cultural transmission units in “The Selfish Gene” (Dawkins 1976).
  • Influence: Memes affect various domains, from marketing to geopolitical strategies, demonstrating their versatile impact on human behavior and culture (Wilson and Unruh 23).

Mastermind Groups #

  • Definition: Mastermind groups are collaborative alliances where individuals support each other’s goals, creating a collective intelligence known as an egregore. This concept is derived from Napoleon Hill’s “Think and Grow Rich” (Hill 1937).
  • Significance: These groups harness collective intelligence to transmit memes effectively, functioning as dynamic networks of support and innovation. Mastermind groups are seen as leveraging a form of entity that emerges from complex webs of consciousness (Wilson and Unruh 36, 42).

Egregores #

  • Definition: An egregore is a collective consciousness formed by a group. It acts like a hive mind with its own identity and goals, influencing and being influenced by its members (Wilson and Unruh 51, 63).
  • Function: Understanding egregores helps analyze how group dynamics influence the spread and evolution of memes, highlighting the importance of collective identity in memetic transmission (Wilson and Unruh 51).

Cybernetics #

  • Definition: Cybernetics studies systems, goals, and the transmission of memes across networks, encompassing psychological, media, and social systems (Wilson and Unruh 74, 88).
  • Role: It emphasizes feedback loops, essential for understanding and influencing behavior through memetic transmission. Cybernetics provides a framework for analyzing how memes propagate within and across systems (Wilson and Unruh 74).
  • Reference: The concept of cybernetic systems relates closely to Norbert Wiener’s work, where he explored feedback mechanisms in communication and control systems (Wiener 1948).

Memetic Space #

  • Concept: Memetic space includes cyberspace and the long tail (populations of meme carriers). It is where memes exist and propagate (Wilson and Unruh 88, 94).
  • Implications: Mapping memetic space helps understand how memes spread within cultural ecosystems, enabling targeted interventions to influence cultural evolution. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s concept of the Noosphere (1959) is foundational to understanding memetic space (Wilson and Unruh 94).

Meta-Biological Organisms #

  • Definition: These are complex networks of memes that act like living organisms, influencing human behavior and social structures (Wilson and Unruh 101, 108).
  • Example: Political movements or social trends can be seen as meta-biological organisms driven by underlying memetic forces, akin to Howard Bloom’s discussion of social groups as superorganisms in “The Lucifer Principle” (Bloom 1995) (Wilson and Unruh 108).

Memetic Engineering #

  • Concept: This involves creating and propagating memes deliberately to achieve specific goals, such as influencing public opinion or behavior (Wilson and Unruh 115, 120).
  • Techniques: Effective memetic engineering requires understanding how to craft compelling messages that resonate with people’s emotions and values. This concept draws on insights from “The Long Tail” by Chris Anderson (2006), which explores niche markets and their potential for wide reach (Wilson and Unruh 115).

Bricolage #

  • Definition: Bricolage is creating new structures or meanings by rearranging existing materials or ideas. In memetics, it describes how individuals construct their identities by selecting and combining different memes (Wilson and Unruh 127, 137).
  • Application: This concept emphasizes the creative aspect of identity formation and cultural participation, aligning with Claude Lévi-Strauss’s notion of bricolage in “The Savage Mind” (Lévi-Strauss 1962) (Wilson and Unruh 137).

Belief and Paradigms #

  • Definition: Belief is a subjective experience of knowing, often resulting from interaction with memes (Wilson and Unruh 154, 160).
  • Influence: Manipulating belief involves introducing contradictions in existing belief systems and offering new memes as solutions, highlighting the dynamic interplay between personal and cultural evolution (Wilson and Unruh 160).
  • Reference: Robert Anton Wilson’s concept of “Reality Tunnels” in “Quantum Psychology” (1990) illustrates how belief systems shape perception and behavior (Wilson and Unruh 154).

Branding as Memetic Engineering #

  • Concept: Brands are memes carrying specific emotional and cultural messages. Effective branding creates narratives that consumers integrate into their identities (Wilson and Unruh 171, 177).
  • Strategies: This involves creating emotionally resonant stories and experiences, making the brand memorable and influential. The authors draw parallels with Aaron Lynch’s “Thought Contagion” (1996), which explores how beliefs spread through memetic mechanisms (Wilson and Unruh 171).

Practical Applications #

Marketing #

  • Strategies: Use memetic strategies to craft campaigns that resonate deeply with target audiences. Leverage viral marketing techniques to spread memes effectively.
  • Examples: The success of campaigns like “Got Milk?” demonstrates the power of effective meme transmission in marketing (Wilson and Unruh 177).

Personal Development #

  • Techniques: Form mastermind groups to harness collective intelligence for achieving personal and professional goals. Use memetic principles to understand and influence your own belief systems (Wilson and Unruh 193, 197).

Social Influence #

  • Approach: Create and propagate memes that align with desired social changes. Understand the role of egregores in shaping group dynamics and leverage them for positive outcomes (Wilson and Unruh 205, 210).

References and Suggested Reading #

The authors extensively reference other works to build their arguments, drawing on insights from thinkers such as:

  • Dawkins, Richard. “The Selfish Gene.” Oxford University Press, 1976.
  • de Chardin, Pierre Teilhard. “The Phenomenon of Man.” Harper & Row, 1959.
  • Bloom, Howard. “The Lucifer Principle.” Atlantic Monthly Press, 1995.
  • Lynch, Aaron. “Thought Contagion: How Belief Spreads Through Society.” Basic Books, 1996.
  • Wilson, Robert Anton. “Quantum Psychology: How Brain Software Programs You and Your World.” New Falcon Publications, 1990.
  • Anderson, Chris. “The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More.” Hyperion, 2006.
  • Lévi-Strauss, Claude. “The Savage Mind.” University of Chicago Press, 1962.
  • Ellwood, Taylor. “Multi-Media Magic.” Megalithica Books, 2008.
  • Wiener, Norbert. “Cybernetics: Or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine.” MIT Press, 1948.
  • Hill, Napoleon. “Think and Grow Rich.” The Ralston Society, 1937.