Memes, minds and imagination

Symposium: Imaginative Minds.
British Academy, London, April 30-May 1 2004


Human minds are founts of creative imagination. Why?

I want to explore possible evolutionary reasons for this capacity. Traditional explanations assume that creative imagination is biologically adaptive or is a by-product or necessary concomitant of other biologically useful skills such as solving problems, attracting mates, avoiding predators and so on.

An alternative is that creative imagination might be primarily of memetic rather than biological advantage; its evolution being driven by the competition between memes rather than genes. I shall briefly review meme theory and memetic drive, consider how their application to creative imagination might be tested, and compare this approach with other related theories such as Miller’s theory of sexual selection. Relevant examples include scientific eureka moments, literary and musical creativity, the contents of daydreaming, and distracting thoughts during silent meditation.

On the memetic view, human and biological creativity are essentially the same process. In both cases design is driven by the evolutionary algorithm operating on a replicator, whether that replicator is genes or memes.