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Monday, March 2, 2015

Common Creativity

Two months ago, a term for what I do popped into my mind.  Physicists study physics, a geneticist studies genes, and therefore, studying memetics must make me a memeticist. 

This struck me as a novel word and I reveled in what seemed to be a unique, creative moment.  It seemed plausible I was the first, the only person to come up with the term.  After all, the word "meme" is only forty-something years old & most who pursue memetic studies have other labels for themselves: biologist, geneticist, philosopher, etc.  Most seem too busy defending the theory to bother defining a relationship to it. 

Then (as often happens in our interconnected world) I came across an account on Twitter created by Robert M. Sarwark, @TheMemeticist from March 2012.  Realizing someone had stood on that summit before me detracted little from my enjoyment of the view.  It even gave me a sense of companionship, even if we were separated by two years.

I had felt unique and inspired.  As the uniqueness drifted away I examined the feeling of inspiration more closely.  I've often heard from creative folk (whether they're aerial dancers, watercolorists, musicians or preachers) that their art comes from someplace outside  themselves.  That is precisely how I felt, like this was not a personal discovery but instead a received gift.  While one could easily dismiss it as a mistaken perception, it seems less ridiculous than the other popular claim that creativity comes from the god-like awesomeness of one individual mind.

The word "memeticist" solidified in my mind like a lightning bolt, but the patterns which created it started forming ages before.   "Meme" may have been coined in the 70s, but the '-ist' suffix has been a part of the English-language program for many more generations.  My thoughts were shaped by a cultural drive to define myself, or at least my professional self, with a label identifying my area of specialization (a cultural drive shaped by European history and economics).  My idea was also shaped by a need for precision, confidence, even legitimacy, to justify going forward in this discipline instead of choosing a more established field.  These ingredients are common to the dominant cultural and linguistic milieu, formed over generations.  They are my rich memetic heritage, not some mythological personal brilliance or external, all-knowing intelligence. 

It should be no surprise the same words & ideas solidify in different minds simultaneously, given the right ingredients and environment.  Our brains assimilate, compute, assess, fuse, corrupt & discard existing linguistic and cultural algorithms.  Progress is built on these existing received frameworks, imbuing each progressive step with the limitations and flaws of previous programs until the bugs are identified and resolved. 

Far from being the opposite of scientific inquiry, creativity is a basic part of the scientific process, vital to growth and innovation.

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