History[ edit ] In his book The Selfish Gene , the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins used the term meme to describe a unit of human cultural transmission analogous to the gene , arguing that replication also happens in culture , albeit in a different sense. In  , Dr. Ted Cloak outlined the "corpuscles of culture" - an inspiring hypothesis that Dawkins referenced. Dawkins proposed that the meme is a unit of information residing in the brain and is the mutating replicator in human cultural evolution.
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Shelves: philosophy , science , biology , mind , philosophy-of-biology Its been some time since I finished reading this book and Ive been thinking on a few major points that bother me, not in the specific claims of the contributors but in the way the issue of the validity of memetics is often discussed. So even if this has started as a book review, it is in fact the expression of my general discontent about the meme talk and my suggestions on how it might be turned into a more healthy discussion.
First of all, I have trouble understanding why nearly all the arguments in the book revolve around human social behaviour and how hard it is for memetics to account for it. My opinion is that this perspective misses the real power of memetics.
Social behaviour is also present in animal species many of which do not exhibit signs of proto-culture and yes, it can be explained without much need for memetic theories.
So why, when it comes to human social behaviour and psychology, leave this all behind and expect memetics to account for everything on its own? It seems to me that the reactions of psychologists and anthropologists against memetics are based on a misunderstanding that memetics is here to sweep their theories on human nature away and start from scratch.
This is where we differ from animals on a very observable level and this, I submit, is the domain where memetics as a research program can produce its first fruits without too much hassle with other disciplines — thus, the domain where arguments about the validity of memetics should move towards.
This simply is the essence of the memetic account of human creativity. But the project of explaining human design with memetics needs one big adjustment in the way people conceive of memes.
This is the second point that disturbs me in the discussions in general: the misguided use of the term meme. These concepts may be straw men created by the early proponents of memetics like Richard Dawkins in The Selfish Gene , and no wonder they are easily burned down by critics speaking in sarcastic tones.
This simplistic language, still adopted by some memeticists today, is turned against the memetic theory to condemn it as an oversimplification too funny to be true.
The genes constitute a recipe, not a blueprint. What makes us think that memes are much more simpler structures? Just like the biological organisms, cultural objects artefacts, theories, institutions, etc. In this perspective, the general relativity theory is a memetic construct, resulting from the interactions of maybe thousands of memes that we may not readily map one-to-one onto the properties that we perceive and talk about on a semantic level.
As Dennett reminds us on various occasions and topics, we must be prepared to, if not expect to, discover that accurate scientific theories are often counter-intuitive. Our intuitions are not a good basis for building or refuting claims about the nature of our minds and the memes, as they lead us to overrate our conscious teleological control over our creativity or to engage in a semantic mapping between whole designs, ideas or theories and single memes.
So it is my belief that memetics should — in the beginning, at least — shift its focus from human social behaviour towards human creativity and objects of culture, and do that with a more refined definition of meme to do justice to the complexity of the phenomena to be explained as well as to the memetic theory itself.
Hull manages to remain crystal clear on muddy waters of theoretical memetics with his bold arguments supported by very appropriate examples.
Darwinizing Culture: the Status of Memetics as a Science
Darwinizing Culture: The Status of Memetics as a Science