Replying to John Zavacki and our host:
> Micahel states, in a message to which I relate
> >Behaviour is a pattern of action. Practices are patterns of action
> I also distinguish a pattern [or replicator/ momome/ schemata depending
> which bit of CAS language you follow] within that defines the sytem it
> enables. So, in my world view, behaviour and practice is also the action
> of a pattern [genotype specifies phentotype as well as being selected in
> larger pattern specified by interaction with other genotypes].
If, before you started your participation in this wonderful dialogue,
there was a thread on "jargon". Many of our friends are not academics.
Using genotype, phenotype, CAS, replicator, momoeme, and schemata in the
same message is a wee bit beyond the ken of most of us, but as long as
you're here, is there anything in your intellectual storehouse which could
relate the early Marvin Minsky to the "kernels" in the Chomskyan paradigm?
[Host's Note: Yes, If, if you're up to it, how about a translation of
your last msg? I guess this would probably amount to a short tutorial
on the subject. ...Rick]
==============end quote ===========
1. John. Point taken. "Jargon" is an issue because a word or phrase with a
precise meaning to some can appear as jargon to another. I unintentionally
wrote using language [or distinctions] which I assumed would convey a
meaning to those who have been active in this thread.
2. My depleted intellectual storehouse has no knowledge of Marvin Minsky
and only a second-hand understanding of the Chomskyan paradigm. [I am
beginning to try and understand more and would welcome an intellectual
contribution from you on or off list]
3. Rick. An attempt follows, prefaced by two remarks:
3A. I have tried, since joining your wonderful list to avoid attempting a
full blown assertion of my ideas on-list. I have taken up deeper
discussions off list and these have made a big difference to me. I simply
lack the skill to present a tutorial other than as a 'this is how it seems
3B I have to omit references etc from what follows. The evolution of my
ideas, with acknowledgement, can be found in 'Organisational Memetics?:
Organisational Learning as a selection process: Management Learning 1995:
26/3 pp. 299-318' and [with Ray Shaw] 'The Learning organisation Meme:
Emergence of a Management Replicator' or 'Parrots, Patterns and
Performance' [ECLO publication available on the WWW shortly-copies by
email from me]
4. OK Here goes.
----start of possible embarrassment------
Some years ago I got fascinated by the observation that organisational
innovation [I had not heard of Learning Orgs then] seemed to happen in
small teams a long way from head office or the corporate research lab. I
was struck by the parallel with what biologists call 'peripheral isolates'
- i.e. new species evolve in populations that are separated from the main
gene-pool [sorry it is not possible to do this without some jargon]. It
resonated, for me, with an observation of the history of evolution as
'long periods of boredom separated by short moments of chaos' or
'Punctuated Equilibrium' [Damn jargon]
I began to read and think more and discovered the writings of the new
science of Complexity, the philosophers of science like David Hull [whose
Science as a Selection Process should be core reading on intellectual
teatments of Learning Org] and the 'Austrian School of Economics [referred
to recently by Mike M who saw economics as a process of Natural Selection
between economic 'rules'].
Natural Selection in this context means survival of the fittest where the
context for what is fittest is provided by all the other rules in the
NOW. Many people have observed that organisations and organisms are what
the jargon labels Complex Adaptive Systems [CAS]. They share several
properties already alluded to in other threads on this list.
Many people are beginning to note that such systems have, at their core,
some set of rules, some algorithm [sorry jargon again - this is
difficult], some code or set of instructions that enables the sytem to
Murray Gell-Mann [Physicist and founder of Santa Fe Institute] calls these
Biologists call it the genetic code. The genotype [instructions for an
individual organism] or genome [instuctions for a species] specify the
organism [phenotype in biologcal 'jargon'].
Genes are relatively well understood. DNA is a molecule which
automatically seeks to copy itself [replicate] - specifying organisms and
enabling evolution in the process. The point, emerging from complexity
theory, is that genes are but a special instance, of what Gell Mann calls
schemata or what Richard Dawkins, 20 years earlier, called 'replicators' -
'entities' that seek to reproduce themselves by enabling the construction
of complex systems which will ensure the replication process. From the
view point of the gene we - that is human beings - are nothing more than
vehicles designed to make reproduction possible.
So organisations interacting with each other show all these similarities
to organisms [the Phylum Corporation in Rol's words]. My enquiry is into
the nature of the 'replicator' at their core: the organisational gene,
genotype, or genome.
Rules of precedence in science give IMO the precedence for the answer to
Dawkins who hyothesised the 'meme' or 'virus of the mind': a set of
meanings transmitted from brain to brain. Search science and you find
paradigms, search organisations and you find 'recipes', 'mental models' or
'strategic rules', search individuals and you find 'meaning spaces' or
'mental models', 'perceptions' or 'values in action'. It seems to me that
what, by analogy with biology, would be called the 'memotype' or 'memome'
is some complex set of 'interacting meaning spaces' which we [Ray Shaw and
I] call the 'pattern' - an abstract entity which seeks [without conscious
foresight] its own replication by means of the organisation it enables.
An extract from 'Shifting the Patterns' [If Price and Ray Shaw in press]
In the two previous chapters we have argued the case for each of these
alternatives. Rules of behaviour, paradigms, strategic perceptions,
traditions and language all contribute to the pattern of an organisation,
but equally each is a snapshot, a perspective on and a part of some more
intangible whole. It is the whole that replicates in organisations and
institutions interwoven with the ideas and images in people's minds. In
biological terms the pattern is the genome of the organisation [see
below].What is it built from? Is there a gene for the organisational
genome, a unit of transmission of ideas and images, rules and culture?
Richard Dawkins suggestion of the meme serves the purpose.
Many critics have sought to dismiss The Selfish Gene as overly 'atomistic'
or reductionist; a criticism that Dawkins answers by pointing out that the
title is more likely to engage a reader, and convey a message than is
The ill defined bit of a chromosome that one could argue is selfish
because of the way it interacts with a lot of other poorly defined bits of
a complex chromosome system
which is what he really meant. We have to remember in other words that
despite the increasing facility with which the term gene is used a gene
is, in fact, an ill defined entity. There is no hard and fast rule for
saying where in a genetic paragraph one gene stops and another starts. The
word *meme* was coined to convey a similarily imprecise unit of cultural
transmission say a tune, idea, catch-phrase, fashion, recipe or design.
The title 'The Selfish Gene' is itself a good example of a meme; an entity
or element of cultural transmission that propagates from mind to mind
conveying a meaning in the process; a meaning that may mutate each time it
is transmitted but one that is captured and remembered. Any other cultural
artefact can serve the same purpose. As Dawkins puts it:
When you plant a fertile meme in my mind you literally parasitize my brain,
turning it into a vehicle for the meme's propagation in just the way that a
virus may parasitize the genetic mechanism of a host cell.
The comparison with a virus is apt, for viruses are essentially free
strands of DNA or RNA that replicate not by building their own copying
machines but by inducing the machines of others to make the copies;
freeloading on other gene's photocopiers. Such freedom enables viruses to
evolve many times faster than genes which are tied into larger genomes.
Just think of the annual varieties on the theme of the flu virus. They
also promote actions in their hosts which will facilitate their own, not
their host's [or host's genes] replication. Sneezing is a classic example.
Slightly more sinister is the supposed increase in libido in the early
stages of syphilis.
The word meme is a meme in its own right. The meme is a unit as a gene is
a unit, and the boundaries of both are somewhat vague. A gene is a
particular subset of the letters on a strip of DNA; a phrase in DNA's
language, the smallest unit capable of seeking its own replication. A
similar distinction is intended by 'meme' an entity that will be
recognised as such but may be repeated or combined with others to form
some larger unit of replication. If you want your wider ideas - your
memotype - to propagate giving them an infectious titles helps .
If we think of patterns as built of memes in the way genomes are built of
genes we reach the following comparison:
An organism is coded via chemical strands of DNA, sections of which form
genes, the smallest units capable of being copied. An Organisation is
coded via 'ideas and images of the mind' abstract strands of thinking,
perception and language, the smallest units of which can be thought of as
memes, the smallest elements capable of being exchanged, with an
associated sense of meaning and interpretation, to another brain.
Genes, in aggregate, form chromosomes, recognisable, discreet units of a
genetic code. Memes in aggregate constitute mental models, paradigms,
languages, traditions, habits and rules; inter-related units of a cultural
or economic code, widely shared patterns of perception, communication,
understanding, appreciation and tradition. Only scale and scholastic
origins differentiate a meme, an industrial recipe, a mental model, a
paradigm or a language as building blocks of a composite pattern. In an
important sense, and in the context of other memes and patterns, memes
enable organisations as genes enable organisms in an environment created
by other genes.
Several chromosomes constitute a genotype: the total genetic code of a
particular organism or genome, the code of a complete species. Without the
code neither organism nor species would exist but they can only become
what the code permits. The genotype defines the phenotype, the bodily
structure and capabilities, the 'strategy', and behaviour of an organism
in its environment and its interactions with other organisms. In aggregate
'ideas and images of the mind' form a pattern, the memotype of an
individual and the memome or 'cultural code' that enables, shapes and
influences any organisation and underpins its internal behavioural rules
and external stance to strategic relationships. A diagram, [figure 4.3]
may help convey this image of the meme as the unit at the heart of this
A pattern requires memes, language, artefacts and symbols to communicate
from mind to mind. The converse does not hold. Memes can survive, and
adapt themselves to many patterns. The knowledge of how to brew beer is an
example. Recall the various words for beer in Chapter One. They are
variants on a 'brewing meme' that has survived as a component of thousands
of years' worth of cultural evolution. The meme 'alcohol' has an even
longer pedigree. It can be traced to a root in the oldest recorded written
language, Sumerian, and has, ever since, both enabled but on occasion
limited the hosts which carried it!
Tom Lloyd argued for a strictly commercial variant on the meme, found in
companies, one which he labelled the strategic pattern or a streme. He
suggested considering companies as "alien entities, the first our species
has encountered". It may be more helpful to consider memes or patterns in
this way, replicators that, once created seek to take on a life of their
own whether or not that life necessarily benefits the hosts through which
they replicate. In doing so we can consider them as 'selfish', that is
successful if they encourage behaviour that ensures their own
==========end of extract========
I'm sorry if this seems complex. To try and explain these connections in a
short tutorial is 'b-difficult'
If we get the idea that there are 'viruses of the mind' whose ultimate
interest is their own replication, we get, for me, an insight into not
only what enables organisations but also the source of many barriers to
individual and organisational learning.
The point is that at the end of the day in minds, companies and societies,
there are entitities [patterns] that enable the mind, company or society,
but ultimately seek to fashion it for their own purposes - their survival
not ours. - Unless that is we choose to do soemthing about it.
John/ Rick - Does it help?
[Host's Note: Thanks, If, for this intro. Yes, it does help and I hope
this will be fertile ground here. ...Rick]
Anyone - Am I up an academic creek without a paddle?
The Harrow Partnership
Pewley Fort Guildford UK
Dr Ilfryn Price <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Learning-org -- An Internet Dialog on Learning Organizations For info: <email@example.com> -or- <http://world.std.com/~lo/>