Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Peter Godfrey-Smith on memes

Here's Peter Godfrey-Smith on memes:

Memes. In this area I think there was a "move towards the middle ground" over the course of the week. Here is my attempt to make the middle ground explicit, combining elements from Dennett, Blackmore, and Sperber and linking them to the ideas above: meme-talk is appropriate as a way of discussing recurring cultural objects that are produced and used in a somewhat low-comprehension way. They need not be replicators, even in a relaxed sense. They might arise by hetero-impact. But there is (or should be) a real difference between a meme-based view of cultural variants and a traditional rational choice framework. It is not the case that memes are just whatever recurs in culture; Sperber pointed out that this would trivialize the meme framework, and I think that is right. But memes need not be copied. There might be a role for attractors, hetero-impact, and so on. So the viability of this relaxed view of memes is tied to the empirical disagreement described above about comprehension.

I guess I think that the future of meme-talk will be in informal summaries of low-comprehension processes of cultural change, rather than actual theory-building.

I'm quoting this because I think it is wrong. I think it is also pretty silly. There's no theory of memes as "low-comprehension" entities. Intelligently designed memes qualify too. One would not avoid calling a "gene" a "gene" because it was the product of genetic engineering. Memetically engineered memes are memes too. Peter's proposal makes no sense at all.

Of course it is also not the case that "memes are just whatever recurs in culture". Just as there are genes (copied) and gene products (not copied), so culture is composed of memes (copied) and meme products (not copied).

No comments:

Post a Comment