Wednesday, 14 December 2011


From time to time, I have pondered whether memetics could best dispense with its baggage by rebranding itself.

A bunch of dubious ideas have been promoted under the memetics banner - including the idea that memes should be based on imitation above other forms of social learning, the misleading "replicator" terminology and the internalism school.

Perhaps - I thought - the nonsense could be ditched with a rebranding exercise: "rigorous memetics" - or something like that.

The problem with this idea is that there isn't really anything wrong with memetics, except in the eyes of its critics. Neomemetics would have just been practically the same thing as memetics - with some helpful "clarifications" - to stop the critics targetting the nonsense.

Of course, there's a precident for doing just that - in the form of neo-Darwinism - though neo-Darwinism has not worked out too well.

Anyway, if individual learning is to be included under the memetics umbrella, that would be a radical change - affecting the very foundations of the field.

I think the case for doing this is fairly strong - and my proposal for how to do it actually makes few changes to memetics - although it does involve the definition of "culture".

The other issue - if we are considering expanding the domain of the meme - is to consider a further expansion - to include all environmental inheritance. That would make memes synonyms for my proposed unit of environmental inheritance: xemes.

However, the concept of "environmental inheritance" cross-cuts the propsed idea of "neomemetics". Social learning fits into the "environmental inheritance" category - while copying of ideas during individual learning does not - and yet social learning and individual learning are deeply interconencted processes. "Environmental inheritance" is still an interesting category - but giving it an elevated role is just not going to work very well - because it does not include individual learning.

At the moment, neomemetics is just an idea. I am not convinced that a rebranding exercise would help more than it would hinder. However, the possibility is something to think about.

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