Re: reply to Benzon

From: William Benzon (
Date: Wed 28 May 2003 - 09:26:24 GMT

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    You should also take a look at:

    Francisco J. Gil-White , Common misunderstandings of memes (and genes): The promise and the limits of the genetic analogy to cultural transmission processes

    Abstract: ŒMemetics¹ suffers from conceptual confusion and not enough empirical work. This paper attempts to attenuate the former problem by resolving the conceptual controversies, which requires that we not speculate about cultural transmission without being informed about the cognitive mechanisms responsible for social learning. I criticize the overly literal insistence‹by both critics and advocates‹on the genetic analogy, which asks us to think about memes as bona-fide replicators in the manner of genes, and to see all cultural transmission processes as ultimately for the reproductive benefit of memes, rather than their human vehicles. A Darwinian approach to cultural transmission, I argue, requires neither. It is possible to have Darwinian processes without genes, or even close analogues of them. The insistence on a close genetic analogy is in fact based on a poor understanding of genes and evolutionary genetics, and of the kinds of simplifications that are legitimate in evolutionary models. Some authors have insisted that the only admissible definition for a Œmeme¹ is Œselfish replicator.¹ However, since the only agreement as to the definition of
    Œmeme¹ is that it is what gets passed on through non-genetic means, only conceptual confusion can result from trying to make a hypothesis into a definition. This paper will argue that, although memes are not, in fact,
    Œselfish replicators,¹ they can and should be analyzed with Darwinian models. It will argue further that the Œselfish meme¹ theoretical calque imported from genetics does much more to distort than enlighten our understanding of cultural processes.

    You should be able to download it here:


    PS, on the players, Peter Richerson works closely with Robert Boyd; Gil-White is a student of Boyd's.

    on 5/27/03 9:41 PM, Richard Brodie at wrote:

    > Bill,
    > It only took me two tries to find a paper that seemed to resonate with your
    > point of view:
    > He claims memes aren't replicators because it is likely that the same
    > phenotypic characteristic can be transmitted with a completely different
    > mental rule in the recipient from the one used by the originator. I call
    > that mutation. Clearly something is being transmitted, and it is likely that
    > in several generations of transmission the set of internal rules (he uses
    > the example of how to position the mouth to make the "pf" sound in the
    > German word "apfel") will settle down to a small set.
    > Richard Brodie

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