FAQs > Questions About Spiral Dynamics and Memetics
How do the vMEMEs in
Spiral Dynamics, memetics and Dr. Graves' work connect?
Dr. Graves didn't speak of memes or memetics.
The terminology of memes and vMemes was added in the
1990s and incorporated into the 1996 Spiral Dynamics book which contrasts memes
- ideas and conceptual units which are transmitted between people -
with Gravesian levels of psychological existence which are designated
as vMemes. (Superscript v + meme was meant to suggest a Value
system as a meme attractor; it is admittedly clunky.) They are
meme-attractors and shapers, and sometimes serve as the transmitters
which send memes on their way to other minds.
To understand the difference, think of contents and
conceptualization. Memes are things we think about. vMemes
structure how we think about those things. Understand the vMemes
active in a person or group - the underlying world view - and you
begin to understand why some memes resonate and others don't, and why
the same meme can be framed in many different ways. For example,
notions like "democracy" or "justice" can be
expressed in various forms, depending on the container they're put
Once you begin to understand the systems along the Spiral you will begin to
recognize the difference between memes and vMemes because
it's like recognizing the difference between effects and causes,
symptoms and diseases. Memes and vMemes become conflated
and confused primarily at the more superficial myth/metaphor levels of
understanding. Once you delve into the models and theory, the
difference becomes obvious. But when this body of knowledge is treated primarily as a
color-code for types of people, then it is easy to miss the difference
between behaviors and the reasoning behind them.
Dawkins is generally credited with introducing the term
"meme" to popular usage in his 1976 book, The Selfish
Gene. Richard Brodie expanded on the memetics in his 1995 book, Virus
of the Mind. Others who have written on memes and memetics include
Robert Aunger (The Electric Meme and Darwinizing Culture:
The Status of Memetics as a Science) and Aaron Lynch (Thought
Contagion). The versatile scholar Susan
Blackmore's book, The
Meme Machine, should be considered a primary source for those
interested in memetics as related to SD. (An 18 minute video of Sue
Blackmore's TED presentation
is available online.)
Many of the findings of the memeticists help to explain how the
replicants - behaviors, concepts, ideas, even logos - wrapping around the ways of thinking
along the Spiral which then migrate and spread among minds.
Mindscapes centered on a quest for absolute meaning and purpose,
certainty, and obedience to external authority will likely be more
open to particular memes than those who sense a world of
collaboration, sharing, belonging, and affect. The Spiral model provides a framework for analysis of memes
- why some are sticky and some are not - and a better understanding of why memes
resonate in some minds, at some times, and not others.
Metaphorically, the principles of meme spread can be applied to vMEME
spread, as well. This is what confuses a lot of people. When the
Gravesian systems are collapsed into simplistic typologies and little
more than a color-code, then "Green" or "Orange"
can devolve into memes - replicated information packets - just as
Democrat and Republican, conservatives and liberals, collapse for some
into stereotypes. It's here that the values (memes) versus Value
Systems (vMemes) distinction becomes important. The eternal
question is not to catalog what someone values, but to
understand why and how that thing comes to be important,
and to anticipate what will happen if the mindset is in transition.
Whenever someone speaks of "Green values" vs. "Blue
values", look out. This reflects only a myth-level understanding
of the Spiral. It is not a values model; it is a valuing model. (In
defense of those who mush up the distinction, so did Dr. Graves at
times. See his article
in The Futurist for some examples since values are far
easier to observe and measure than the elusive valuing systems that
lie beneath them.)
So, is it possible for vMemes to spread and act as
replicators? Yes, but not at this myth/metaphor level. Conceptions of
what the vMemes are like might well spread, but not the
thinking, itself. Typically, such descriptions rely on contents and
behaviors and equate them with levels. That's why there are various
renditions of the levels' characteristics, especially in the less
well-defined Green, Yellow, Turquoise, etc. Remember that vMemes
are biopsychosocial systems and, as such, emerge out of double-helix
interactions between neuronal systems inside and existential
conditions outside. While it is possible to paint on a few memes to
give the appearance of a vMeme's stereotype, actualizing it
as a full-on coping system is something else.
Recent works by Susan Blackmore and others familiar with field of memetics discuss
'consciousness' in a more expansive way that is closer to our own sense of a biopsychosocial
systems energetic field than the original notion of a virus-like meme as a self-replicating
thing. In our view, that does not diminish the original value of
memetics, and Blackmore has amplified on it. We continue to argue that both
vMEMEs—are useful chunks for analysis. As was said
back in the 1996
Spiral Dynamics book, vMEMEs are like attractors and containers for
memes, sponges that sop up the ideas that are seeking to replicate
through our minds and shaping them to fit and congruence.
Still, many people continue to confuse the terms, though the two constructs are
quite different. One is an idea and concept chunk; the other a container and
empty framework in need of contents. Because of the similarity in the
terms, we often speak of 'LOE' (level of existence) or 'coping system'
to break out of the mess. To suggest that meme and vMeme
are interchangeable terms only extends the semantic confusion, and to overlap the language
diminishes both. The theory of memetics and the Spiral model are complementary; but a meme is not
a vMeme, and a Gravesian level of psychological existence
is not a meme.
For more on the Spiral model and the theory of memetics, click on
"About Spiral Dynamics" at the top of your
screen and look in the Theory section.
How do schema and thema interact?
An ongoing dilemma in using and teaching Graves and the Spiral model
is the differentiation of artifacts (memes playing out as schema---actions, beliefs, behaviors, mental scripts and anchors for perceptions) from vMEMES (the underlying thema—ways of thinking about things, worldviews, coping systems), then pulling them back together into a coherent picture of human nature in its various
contexts. For example, Dr. Graves described the first level of existence like this: "As A and N interact, the resultant is the automatic psychosocial way of living. This is a general way (thema) which can be specified into many particular forms (schema) of problems A, and many variances in the N neurological system." Each level of existence (nodal color in
Spiral Dynamics language) has a unique thematic form that is both like and unlike others in the hierarchy.
Though many disagree, we continue to believe that the meme/vMEME differentiation is important because using "meme" as a generic conflates the symptoms with the underlying causes—the thema with the schema—and leads us to miss nuance and generate troublesome stereotypes. It's very Korzybskian in its levels of abstraction and parallels the old problem of distinguishing values (as attitudes and content) from value systems (as cognitive structures).
Research into both areas is important so that an even clearer sense of thema (per Graves and other theorists) can be derived, as well as applications dealing with the schema observable in individual and group behaviors.