Thursday, 1 March 2012

David Burbridge's meme turnaround

I've previously cited David Burbridge's 2003 criticisms of memes in my book on memetics and in my page of criticisms of memetics - where I listed one of his criticisms in the section of particularly pointless or daft criticisms. A bit cheeky of me - since it is evident from his other writings that David is clearly a smart cookie.

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:

It is interesting to see the gears turning. In one article he points how different genetic and memetic evolution are - because genes are adaptive for their hosts, but memes are not necessarily - but then it is as though the penny drops as he is writing - and he says that:

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.

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