Friday, 3 February 2017

Steven Rose: memes are vacuous

Here's Steven Rose on memes:
The problem is that a meme can be almost anything: a fashion for wearing your baseball hat backwards, a word, a snatch of music, a political affiliation, a comedian’s catchphrase or how to shape a stone axe. Where a gene is – more or less – a specific DNA sequence with an equally more or less defined biological function, memes can be whatever you choose. It is a term so vacuous, despite its regular appearance in dinner party chatter, that it has its philosophical and biological critics unable to choose between indignation and helpless laughter. Dennett realises this and devotes a chapter to responding to his critics. I could – just – condone his enthusiasm if he regarded memes as metaphorical, but he categorically denies this. A word, he insists, in his account of the origins of language, is merely a meme that can be pronounced.

Such vacuity makes the meme concept theoretically useless as a tool for understanding cultural evolution.

For me the fact that memes and memeplexes can represent any inherited cultural item is a virtue - that means that memes are general. For Steven Rose that makes them "vacuous". Does Steven Rose feel the same way about "information", I wonder. Information can represent literally anything you can imagine. Is the term "information" also vacuous? I would claim that information is not vacuous: it's the basis of information technology.

Perhaps I should not spend too much time on Steven Rose. Rose co-authored: "Not in Our Genes: Biology, Ideology, and Human Nature" - a really bad book that surely illustrates his ignorance.

Does Steven Rose have any understanding of cultural evolution? I searched to answer this question. I found out that Steven has edited a volume titled: "Alas, Poor Darwin: Arguments Against Evolutionary Psychology" - but little sign of any content relating to cultural evolution. This is yet another critic who not familiar with the subject matter. Alas, that is always the most common kind.

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