The ideas about ideas that have been presented in this blog may appear to be unrelated. It is worth stepping back at this point to identify the ways that each piece fits together. Fundamentally, we are looking at the way ideas are acquired, modified, and transfered again.
1) Acquisition: The forces that dominate in this stage have been discussed in previous posts using the analogy of “burs in the woods”. We encounter ideas with a certain frequency, context and willingness to encode. We encounter ideas through human interaction, media forms such as books, movies, and the internet. Each of these ideas has a certain degree of “stickiness”.
2) Mutation: Once acquired ideas generally undergo some form of change. There are highly conserved memes and there are others that change quite a bit with each iteration (perhaps by design). The determining factors of mutation include the “instructions” that come along with the meme, which means whether or not mutation is rewarded in the context of the transfer mechanism. For example, in many scientific disciplines and art, innovation and creativity are supported, leading to higher levels of mutation. In religion, mutation or innovation tends to be discouraged. Dominant social forces in these cases have to do with emphasis on either conformity or distinction. These social forces are discussed in detail in other posts.
3) Transfer: Finally, memes are, in successful cases, passed on. The dominant factors here are levels of evangelism and mechanism of transfer. In the base case, brains are hosts of memes and act as dead ends. With increasing levels of evangelism people tend to try and spread ideas with more enthusiasm. The mechanism of transfer is also relevant. Do people copy directly, or are there intervening factors? If there is high evangelism and only direct copying then we end up with instructional videos and tours. If there is high evangelism and market mediated transfer then we get heavily promoted pop songs that people vote onto countdowns. Low evangelism things might be internet videos that can either go viral, or remain in obscurity. The mechanisms that lead to the success or failure of memes are complex and will hopefully be elucidated in future posts.
All of these posts really do come together in a systematic approach to the ways that ideas propagate. While the topic is too broad to cover completely, we can begin to understand some of the key principles and forces at work.