Memelab was originally a group of memeticists based in Bristol who met together regularly to talk about memes, evolution, human nature, and other related topics.
We usually met in Sue Blackmore’s garden, about once a month or so from early 1998. In the winter we squashed into the turret on top of the house. These meetings lasted until Nick and Paul moved away from Bristol in 2001-2.
Although we carried out only a few experiments as a group, the discussions we had contributed to many of our publications on memetics.
Over the years we’ve enjoyed visits from (among others) …
Visitors to Memelab
Dr Derek Gatherer – Then Lecturer in Molecular Genetics in the School of Biomolecular Sciences, Liverpool John Moores University.
Rob Clewley – then at Bristol University, now at Center for Biodynamics
and a group from Cambridge who climbed trees and played table tennis as well as exchanging memes.
Pascal Jouxtel visited Bristol in October 2003.
Here he is making meme soup in Sue Blackmore’s kitchen. Is there a memotype/phenotype distinction here?
Spiral Dynamics uses the term ‘meme’ but not in its original meaning – causing much confusion. In May 2006 Chris Cowan and Natasha Todorovic, who were teaching a course on Spiral Dynamics, came to visit and explore the differences.
Eric de Rochefort and Pascal Jouxtel, who attended the course, also visited memelab. Note the new animal !
John Wilkins visited from Australia to discuss speciation, natural selection and how well the meme-gene analogy can be made to work. We also had a fine barbecue.
23 August 2007. Discussed Alan Winfield’s latest robots and the start of the Artificial Culture Project. These little robots are true teme machines because (a) they operate outside of human control and (b) they have all three – heredity, variation and selection.
6 November 2007
Joined by Andrew Atkinson, discussing religions as memeplexes, the God Delusion, whether Islam is falling apart as the Church of England seems to be, the environments in which religious memes thrive and whether the mems of tolerance provide a niche for intolerant religions.
We discussed plans for empirical research, especially our idea for the Beethoven Experiment.
8 October 2011
Sue, Alan Winfield, Martin Farncombe, Daniel Riley, Jonnie Hughes.
Since Sue moved to Devon in 2008, memelabs have had to change. In 2011 Alan Winfield invited us to his house where we were joined by Jonnie Hughes with his new book On The Origin of Tepees, and my student, Daniel whose project is correlating creativity with imitation ability – measuring that by getting people to copy positions on a twister mat.
We discussed the ever-present question of why there is still no science of memetics. We need to find a use for it!
Quote of the day (Jonnie) “We are at the Aristotle stage”.
Alan said back pain is memetically transmitted! Is this so?
Alan showed us the latest robot video and ‘memographs’ showing the evolution of simple ‘dances’ copied by one robot from another – very exciting! We discussed types of imitation, diversity and stability in the meme pool, and the potential effects of rewards for the robots. What would rewards be? Energy? Being imitated? What different would this make?
25 February 2012
First memelab at Sue and Adam’s house in Devon. As people live far away, memelabs have taken on a new life as whole weekend events with everyone staying the night.
Sue, Richard Dawkins, Rachel Cohen, Jonnie Hughes, Daniel Riley, Alan Winfield, Steven Smith, Martin Farncombe.
Rachel explained her ‘Chinese Whispers’ drawing project and we all had a go at copying drawings. We discussed whether there can be any equivalent of a germ line for memetics and if so how experiments like this could be designed to test it. Richard suggested an operational test on the drawings would be to see if people could reproduce the actual sequence of copying.
Steve explained how the concept of ‘sustainable development’ has deteriorated. Can memetics help us find a way to get global agreement in time to avoid planetary disaster? Richard suggested the memetic idea of getting ‘sacrificing self for the future’ to go viral. Sue explained how her attempt to give up flying for ever came to a sad end after 5 years ‘I’m giving up on sacrifice’. Most agreed ‘We’re fucked’.
Richard pursued the separation between germ line and phenotype. Origami is a good example (as in the Foreword to Meme Machine. It is self-normalising – as are words of a known language. I would say it entails ‘copy-the instructions’ not ‘copy-the-product’. So we all learned how to make an origami junk. Martin and Daniel made mutants. I still have mine.
With drinks in the evening we tried out Daniel’s Twister game, imitating his positions.