Received: by alpheratz.cpm.aca.mmu.ac.uk id QAA22230 (8.6.9/5.3[ref email@example.com] for cpm.aca.mmu.ac.uk from firstname.lastname@example.org); Wed, 3 Apr 2002 16:53:10 +0100 X-Originating-IP: [220.127.116.11] From: "Grant Callaghan" <email@example.com> To: firstname.lastname@example.org Subject: Re: To be or not to be: memetics a science? Date: Wed, 03 Apr 2002 07:47:11 -0800 Content-Type: text/plain; format=flowed Message-ID: <LAW2-F1235vyVzt2YAT000029f7@hotmail.com> X-OriginalArrivalTime: 03 Apr 2002 15:47:15.0641 (UTC) FILETIME=[D4141290:01C1DB26] Sender: email@example.com Precedence: bulk Reply-To: firstname.lastname@example.org
>To the best of my knowledge, memetics is founded on the recognition of a
>second replicator, the meme. Similar to replicators of the first kind:
>memes are also necessarily subject to evolution. Memetics tries to describe
>this process of evolution in which this replicator thrives, which currently
>human culture and may very well turn into an AI-kind of turf one day.
>Another perspective which may be considered typical for memetics
>is to take on the viewpoint from the meme itself: the meme's eyeview
>(possibly inspired after Dawkins' gene's eyeview expounded in The Selfish
>In this rather controversial interpretation of culture the focus is laid on
>the meme which exploits its habitat of rendered robotic and slavelike hosts
>metaphorically and perceived selfish way to achieve domination over `rival'
>A disadvantage of this approach however is that it understates or even
>the coercive force memes need to have in order to successfully persuade
>potential hosts to adopt and propagate them.
>But that's a different story altogether. My point is that genetics has
>test their theories regarding gene-dynamics. By symmetry, one might expect
>to be able to do the same thing regarding meme-dynamics. And that's
>question I'm trying to address here.
The way I see the parallel between genetics and memetics starts with Mendel
who noticed that the regularities of basic features in certain plants were
governed by chance. Before that, the subject was based almost entirely on
taxonomy and the comparison of features, starting with Aristotle. Mendel's
work provided a mathematical basis for observing those features that
taxonomy had catalogued. This led to Watson and Crick discovering a
physical basis for nature's regularity and Darwin's grand theory of
evolution (in the reverse order).
From the memetic point of view, no one yet seems to have provided a basis
for a taxomony for memes, which to my mind is caused by the failure to agree
on the definition of what such a taxonomy would describe. The scientific
method consists of experiment and observation which are then reduced to a
hypothesis which is published and argued about by others until they reach an
agreement as to what was observed and what it means. But if no one can
reach agreement on the definition of a meme, it will be impossible to pin
down what is being observed and develop any hypothesis that people can agree
It seems to me that this is what stands in the way of memetics becoming a
science. You can't measure what you can't pin down. What features identify
memes and allow us to separate them into categories? What do these
distinguishing features consist of? Is there any consistent way of dividing
them up? Is it possible to produce a taxonomy of what we can't define?
Anthropology provides a method of classifying tools which I think would make
a good basis for looking at memes. If we define a meme as a tool which a
person uses to operate within a culture, there is at least something to
observe and categorize. We can separate cultures in terms of the tools they
used in the past and the line of evolution by which those tools developed
into the global culture we operate within today. When we compare cultures,
we can see which tools are capable of transference and incorporation to
larger spheres of influence. At some point we should be able to find
regularities in this process that are amenabe to mathematical description.
I think that's the point at which memetics has the promise of becoming a
science. The trouble is, I don't see any movement in this direction among
the people who are discussing the subject.
That, at any rate, is my view of the way things are going. I may just not
have enough information to make an informed judgement on the subject.
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