Working Definitions: Various thoughts on Science, Art, Culture, Memes and More

"All artists are trying to literally create life." William Burroughs[6] 
It is of great social import for our future to analyze and criticize works of art (a cow or a gene-manipulated bacterium) by the views and criteria of art, and not only by economic, political, and scientific criteria." Peter Gerwin Hoffman, quoted in [5]

“The process is hugely meticulous,” says Zaretksy, “There is incredible rigor.” By contrast, “Artists are taught to be walking singularities, scientists are focused on repeatability.” [1]
Note: see the full text for detailed definitions and sources in the glossary
Art Science Culture Meme
Full definition   Full definition   Full definition   Full definition
  • Human effort to imitate, supplement, alter, or counteract the work of nature.
  • Knowledge; knowledge of principles and causes; ascertained truth of facts.
  • The totality of socially transmitted behavior patterns, arts, beliefs, institutions, and all other products of human work and thought.
  • A unit of cultural information, such as a cultural practice or idea, that is transmitted verbally or by repeated action from one mind to another.
  • The production of the beautiful in a graphic or plastic medium.
  • Accumulated and established knowledge, which has been systematized and formulated with reference to the discovery of general truths or the operation of general laws; knowledge classified and made available in work, life, or the search for truth; comprehensive, profound, or philosophical knowledge.
  • These patterns, traits, and products considered as the expression of a particular period, class, community, or population: Edwardian culture; Japanese culture; the culture of poverty.
  • Richard Dawkins's term for an idea considered as a replicator, especially with the connotation that memes parasitise people into propagating them much as viruses do.
  • Human works of beauty considered as a group
  • Knowledge when it relates to the physical world and its phenomena, the nature, constitution, and forces of matter, the qualities and functions of living tissues, etc.; -- called also natural science, and physical science.
  • These patterns, traits, and products considered with respect to a particular category, such as a field, subject, or mode of expression: religious culture in the Middle Ages; musical culture; oral culture.
  • Memes can be considered the unit of cultural evolution. Ideas can evolve in a way analogous to biological evolution. Some ideas survive better than others; ideas can mutate through, for example, misunderstandings; and two ideas can recombine to produce a new idea involving elements of each parent idea.
  • High quality of conception or execution, as found in works of beauty; aesthetic value.
  • Art, skill, or expertness, regarded as the result of knowledge of laws and principles.
  • The predominating attitudes and behavior that characterize the functioning of a group or organization.
  • he term is used especially in the phrase "meme complex" denoting a group of mutually supporting memes that form an organized belief system
  • A nonscientific branch of learning; one of the liberal arts.
  • Any branch or department of systematized knowledge considered as a distinct field of investigation or object of study; as, the science of astronomy, of chemistry, or of mind.
  • Intellectual and artistic activity and the works produced by it.
  • Use of the term connotes acceptance of the idea that in humans (and presumably other tool- and language-using intelligent beings) cultural evolution by selection of adaptive ideas has become more important than biological evolution by selection of hereditary traits.
  • A system of principles and methods employed in the performance of a set of activities
  • A high degree of taste and refinement formed by aesthetic and intellectual training.
Usage: Science, Literature, Art. Science is literally knowledge, but more usually denotes a systematic and orderly arrangement of knowledge. In a more distinctive sense, science embraces those branches of knowledge of which the subject-matter is either ultimate principles, or facts as explained by principles or laws thus arranged in natural order. The term literature sometimes denotes all compositions not embraced under science, but usually confined to the belles-lettres. [See Literature.] Art is that which depends on practice and skill in performance. Source: Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary, © 1996, 1998 MICRA, Inc.

Usage Note: The application of the term culture to the collective attitudes and behavior of corporations arose in business jargon during the late 1980s and early 1990s. Unlike many locutions that emerge in business jargon, it spread to popular use in newspapers and magazines. Few Usage Panelists object to it. Over 80 percent of Panelists accept the sentence The new management style is a reversal of GE's traditional corporate culture, in which virtually everything the company does is measured in some form and filed away somewhere. · Ever since C.P. Snow wrote of the gap between “the two cultures” (the humanities and science) in the 1950s, the notion that culture can refer to smaller segments of society has seemed implicit. Its usage in the corporate world may also have been facilitated by increased awareness of the importance of genuine cultural differences in a global economy, as between Americans and the Japanese, that have a broad effect on business practices.

Source: The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition
Copyright © 2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company.

What is art and how do we evaluate it?   What is science and how do we evaluate it?
  • human activities
  • a way of testing reality
  • problem solving
  • a way of representing reality or concepts
  • human activities
  • problem solving
  • a way of testing reality
  • a way of gaining knowledge of the universe
  • potential for utility
Attributes of a work of art we evaluate:   Attributes of a work of science we evaluate:
  • concept
  • coherence
  • execution
  • concept(s)
  • can someone else replicate the results - set up the same conditions and run the experiment and get the same outcomes
  • operation of the model
``In science, scimus ut sciamus; in art, scimus ut producamus. And, therefore, science and art may be said to be investigations of truth; but one, science, inquires for the sake of knowledge; the other, art, for the sake of production; and hence science is more concerned with the higher truths, art with the lower; and science never is engaged, as art is, in productive application. And the most perfect state of science, therefore, will be the most high and accurate inquiry;the perfection of art will be the most apt and efficient system of rules; art always throwing itself into the form of rules.'' --Karslake.
Source: Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary, © 1996, 1998 MICRA, Inc.
"Knowledge and our approaches to it are the subjects of my paintings." Cristina Vergano [2]

Artist statement:

My paintings hark back to a time before the Industrial Age; when geography still held unknowns, archeology was not a science, and science itself was struggling to find order in an overbearing nature which held more ominous questions than answers.

I portray those offspring of evolution, which could have been but never came to be, or have developed, but died never being witnessed by humans.

Knowledge and our approaches to it are the subjects of my paintings. The cartouche held by the hybrid being in the central panel of the triptych bears a quote from Virgil's Georgics: "Felix qui potuit rerum cognoscere causas," (happy is he who knows the causes of things). The similar scroll in the right panel reads "Certum est qui impossible est," (it is certain because it is impossible -Tertullian). The bird in the left panel holds a cartouche which reads "Damnant quod non intellegunt," (they condemn what they do not understand -Anon). The Latin quotations reflect the three basic attitudes toward knowledge: belief by faith, knowledge based on rationality, and blind rejection of what does not fit our parameters. Paradoxically, I embrace all of these.

Source: [2]

In the Nature of Things (Simia Pelagi) (detail), 2001  
oil on panel, 28x56" (triptych, open)
Private Collection, USA
"How can the discoveries of scientific research and the powerful metaphors of art combine to impact society at large?" Learn more about the ASCI 2001 conference here: and here Work includes: " projects involving artists and scientists, ranging from photographs rendered in hybrid grass, to a musical score based on brain activity, to sculpture grown from living tissue."[3]

Genomic Art

  • art that reflects on the process, meaning, and ramifications of genetic research
  • artistic practices that use genetics as metaphor and/or creative substrate
  • Difference between genetic art and other representational art is that it is visualizing mental constructs, as DNA is invisible to our eyes, instead of portraying objects that we can see.
  • See: Gessert, George, A Brief History Of Art Involving DNA, 1996.
"It is important to analyze and criticize art from the perspective of genetics, since all art has genetic implications and effects. All culture, for that matter, has genetic effects." - George Gessert, Notes on Genetic Art, 1993 [6].
Memetics and Culture:

"Given that we now know more about the way the human brain processes information, should we use this knowledge to engineer culture more adapted to our minds so that we are more susceptible to it? But then, who decides what culture is good for us? And what about the inevitable unforeseen consequences of memetic modification? How should we react to the very real possibility of designing information that hi-jacks the processing structure of our brains, like a computer virus, to replicate itself for its own ends? Before we know it, we may find ourselves humming to tunes we do not like, becoming victims to fashions and fads, or becoming obsessed with buying quite useless products. Or is it already too late?" Read more at [6]

For more on Contagion Psychology:




  Gessert, George, A Brief History of Art Involving DNA, 1996
  Gessert, George, Notes on Genetic Art, Lenonardo, 26 (3) 205-211, 1993