Notebooks

Memes, and Related Ideas about the Evolution of Culture

13 Jul 2012 10:08

Thoughts, like fleas, jump from man to man. But they don't bite everybody.
---Attrib. Stanislaw Lem
Just what is a meme? Dawkins calls it an imitable behavior, but most people who use the notion are more concerned with ideology than how to lay the table, and even Dawkins cites religion as a bundle of memes --- "viruses of the mind," is his phrase. Which brings me to: Metaphorical uses, as opposed genuine research. Spread of the meme-meme (just the other year I saw in the cultural studies section of the local bookstore a tract called Media Viruses whose palpitating dust-jacket makes it appear as though the secret workings of the world are to be laid bare by the author using the magic tool of "viruses of the mind"; and whose index and bibliography don't even mention Dawkins.) And thought-cliches. And pseudo-events. And propaganda. Is the reputation of The Selfish Gene as a piece of crude Social Darwinism a meme?

How far back does the contagion analogy for ideas go? (At least to Pliny.)

Can one have a "memetic illness," the same way some people have genetic illnesses? What would it look like? Organized religion? A millenarian movement?

See also: Archaeology; Evolution; Evolutionary Economics; Evolutionary Epistemology; Historical Materialism; Institutions; Religion; Sociology; Universal Darwinism.


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