Thursday, 13 October 2011

Paul Erhlich's latest attack on memetics

Paul Erhlich's latest article in Seed Magazine offers the following critique of memetics:
Richard Dawkins’s brave conjecture about “memes” (gene analogs) being discrete units of cultural inheritance has not proved entirely fruitful - and the analogy is in retrospect far-fetched. Genes are passed unidirectionally between parent and offspring, and the recipients must accept them. Memes could be passed hundreds of generations at a leap (Aristotle to you), horizontally among peers (gang member to gang member), backwards in generations (learning from your grandkids), and so on. And, unlike genes, not only can cultural inheritances be rejected but they can also be purposefully modified.
Alas, these criticism are misguided. They reveal a lack of understanding of memetics.

Parasite genes spread horizontally among peers and there are disease avoidance strategies for rejecting them. They can travel from offspring to parent. Memes don't usually pass hundreds of generations in one leap - most memes that come from Aristotle actually have dozens of intermediaties. Memes can lie dormant on stone tablets - but genes can lie dormant too - the oldest documented germinating seed is estimated to be nearly 2,000 years old.

As for genes not being capable of being purposefully modified - in fact there is genetic engineering, just as there is memetic engineering.

This content is very similar to content from a previous interview with Paul - which I previously replied to.

I think the scientists involved should try harder to find a sympathetic interpretation of memetics. It isn't that difficult to do.

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