Saturday, 30 November 2013

Academic cultural evolution and the internet meme explosion

I had a look for coverage of the 2011 internet meme explosion in the 2013 book:

Cultural Evolution: Society, Technology, Language, and Religion edited by Peter J. Richerson, Morten H. Christiansen

All I could find was this:

Dawkins's theory of replicators is part of a general theory of “memetics” (Blackmore 1999), which proposes that only genes are replicators in biological evolution, that they are units of selection, that organisms are mere "vehicles" for genes/memes, and that cultural meme replication and selection is analog to biological parasitism. This more general theory, in our opinion, has generally not been successful in providing novel insights into cultural evolution [...]

Leaving aside the ridiculous straw man attacks, is this really the best these folk can do? We've seen the most amazing explosion of memes online recently, with great facilities for tracking and monitoring how they mutate and recombine. The internet really is the drosophila of memetics. Yet these academics seem to be so in denial about the M word that they can't even sensibly discuss the topic.

I think these folk need to get with the program. Studying prehistory is all very well - but the rest of the world has moved on. Memes are all over the internet. The next generation is growing up with memes. Memes are the future. Mememtics was ahead of its time, is all. The objections of some academics to memetics make them look stupid - in my opinion. It's a bunch of sour grapes.

Academics in the field that don't understand memes and memetics are not doing themselves any favours. If there are technical criticisms, bring them on. However, as we have seen, the technical criticisms are all simply confused misunderstandings. If you are confused about a topic and don't understand it, perhaps seek out those who are in the know - rather than parading your misunderstandings in public.

Overall, the war with the popularisers is not helping the field. It's time for a cease fire.

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