What I didn't know - until recently - is that David subsequently did a rapid turnaround on the topic - and documented it in a series of blog posts. Here they are:
- 2003) Biological versus cultural evolution. Gene Expression, April 26th
- 2003) Cultural Evolution by Group Selection. Gene Expression, May 4th
- 2003) Altruism and Group Selection. Gene Expression, May 6th
- 2003) Clarifications (and a bit more). Gene Expression, May 9th
- 2003) The meme is the theme. Gene Expression, May 11th
- 2003) More on memes. Gene Expression, May 28th
- 2003) Is culture useful. Gene Expression, May 28th
There might be a closer analogy between memes and viruses, which are essentially disembodied bits of DNA, free to skip from one body to another. Dawkins himself makes the comparison with viruses, but does not pursue its implications as far as I would wish.That is almost correct - memes are a lot like the heritable information of viruses - at least in the case of memes that are deleterious to their hosts.
At the end he says:
After recent discussion of cultural evolution I realised that I didn’t know much about memes, so I set myself the penance of reading Susan Blackmore’s The Meme Machine.
Still, it’s an important book, and well worth reading. Overall, it left me with the feeling that memes do need to be taken seriously, but only as one aspect or dimension of cultural evolution.
Not too shabby an awakening, overall. I'll have to annotate future citations of his criticisms to say that he eventually came around.