'Colorless Green Homunculi'

From: William Benzon (bbenzon@mindspring.com)
Date: Thu 17 Oct 2002 - 14:51:51 GMT

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    Human Nature Review 2002 Volume 2: 454-462 ( 17 October ) URL of this document http://human-nature.com/nibbs/02/benzon.html

    Essay Review

    Colorless Green Homunculi by William L. Benzon

    The Electric Meme: A New Theory of How We Think by Robert Aunger The Free Press, 2002. ISBN: 0743201507

    Though he wasn't the first to propose that culture evolves by a Darwinian mechanism-F. T. Cloak (1973) was earlier-the idea has been associated with Richard Dawkins ever since he coined the term "meme" in The Selfish Gene. As genes are the fundamental replicating units of biological evolution, so memes are the replicators of cultural evolution. In Dawkins' words (p. 192):

    Examples of memes are tunes, ideas, catch-phrases, clothes fashions, ways of making pots or of building arches. Just as genes propagate themselves in the gene pool by leaping from body to body via sperms or eggs, so memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain via a process which, in the broad sense, can be called imitation.

    Dawkins had little to say about just where one might look in the brain to find memes and other memeticists have been content to follow him in that. Robert Aunger, an anthropologist at the University of Cambridge, believes that it is time memeticists end their agnosticism on this matter. To that purpose he has written The Electric Meme.

    It is best viewed as two books. One book is comprised of the first six chapters, which are preparatory in nature, reviewing the current state of memetics, alternative analyses of human cultural evolution, types of replicator (DNA, prions, computer viruses), and the physical nature of information. This book is competent, interesting, and thought provoking.

    The second book sets forth Aunger's new theory of neuromemetics. It differs from the first as night from day. For reasons that I cannot fathom, when Aunger begins constructing his neural model he sheds the discipline of Dr. Jekyll in favor of the random muttering of Mr. Hyde. This second book is a failure. Aunger's ideas are vague, incoherent, and contradictory. Trying to infuse his phrases and sentences with meaning made me feel like Hercules fighting the many-headed Hydra. Every time Hercules cut one head off, two or three others sprung up to replace it. Every time I've tried to patch one of Aunger's coherence-leaks I've had to entertain a handful of improbable assertions to make the one patch plausible. I cannot recommend this second book to anyone for any purpose.

    Full text http://human-nature.com/nibbs/02/benzon.html The Electric Meme: A New Theory of How We Think http://human-nature.com/r/aunger.htm Beethoven's Anvil: Music In Mind And Culture by William L. Benzon http://human-nature.com/r/benzon.htm

    =============================================================== This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing) see: http://www.cpm.mmu.ac.uk/jom-emit

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