Sunday, 15 December 2013

Rupert Sheldrake on memetics

In my last blog post here, I wrote:

I'm actually secretly pleased when such folk criticise memetics. If only Roger Penrose, Rupert Sheldrake, John Searle, Deepak Chopra and Al Gore could be persuaded to say some bad things about memetics!

I just checked: Rupert Sheldrake has said some bad things about memetics! In Morphic Resonance: The Nature of Formative Causation he says:

Richard Dawkins coined the word meme to refer to “a unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation. He deliberately chose a word that sounded rather like gene to stress the analogy between genes and memes as replicators. But one of the problems with this term is that it is atomistic: it implies that memes are independent units, at the same level as each other. By contrast, thinking of cultural inheritance in terms of morphic fields has no such implication: morphic fields are organised in nested hierarchies.

So: memes are "atomistic" - and the answer is "morphic fields"!

For anyone unfamiliar, Rupert Sheldrake is a card-carrying pseudoscientist. His writings are full of parapsychological nonsense. Sheldrake's concept of "morphic resonance" is sheer pseudoscience.

So: would I like to replace cultural Darwinism with a bunch of mystical phoney baloney? Thanks - but no thanks!

Of course, just because some ignorant folk criticise memetics, it doesn't mean that it is true. However, from the perspective of an advocate, the more of the opponents are idiots, the better. One of the historical problems with memetics is that its prominent supporters have been folk other scientists don't want to associate with. That's not a problem with the theory, it's more of a sociological problem. However the "other side" isn't too great either. Rupert Sheldrake is the tip of an iceberg of undesirables.


  1. Is your claim that his concept of morphic resonance is "sheer pseudoscience" based on his wikipedia article? Or have you actually read his books?

    You should know that memetics is also characterized as pseudoscience on wikipedia.

    "Memetics has been deemed a pseudoscience on several fronts. Its proponents' assertions have been labeled 'untested, unsupported or incorrect.'"

    You also might want to read this article:

  2. Alas, I read "The Presence of the Past" when it came out. Of course, one was more than enough. I do know what I am talking about when it comes to Sheldrake.

    Memetics has indeed been characterized as pseudoscience - but then so have lots of other interesting topics.