Sunday, 7 October 2012

Memes are not "atomistic"

In recent comments about memes, David Sloane Wilson is critical of the idea of:
memes as primarily atomistic free agents

He joins other meme critics in invoking atomism:

C. Herrmann-Pillath (2011) says:

As it stands, memetics is an approach to culture that is problematic in two respects. First, it is atomistic, and second, it is mentalist.
I Pörn (2002) says:
When atomism is transferred to the social sciences, individualism results. In cultural studies atomism appears as the presupposition of “memes”—that is, a cultural object or belief that can be replicated, passed on, and evolve, and which seems to have a life of its own.

The name atom comes from the Greek (atomos, "indivisible"). It means "uncuttable", something that cannot be further divided.

Words are memes. Words can be subdivided into syllables or letters. It is pretty obvious that some memes are divisible in this way. Similarly genes may be divided into nucleotides. Neither genes or memes are "atomistic".

Of course, no meme enthusiasts ever characterised memes as "atomistic" in the first place.

Instead, "atomism" is a term that has been applied to memetics by critics. This approach is known as a straw-man attack. Such attacks involve projecting undesirable traits onto the object of criticism and then making out that they actually belong to it. Straw man attacks are a well known form of fallacious arugmentation.

Memes are reductionistic, not atomistic - and reductionism is wonderful - one of the foundation stones of the scientific method.

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