From: Steven Thiele (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Next message: Chris Taylor: "Re: what is a meme?"
Date: Thu 29 Jan 2004 - 01:12:08 GMT
I have tried to send a message to
this site twice without success, so I assume there is a limit to the size
of the posting. For this reason I have cut my posting in half and sent
two emails. I apologise for this.
It is a good rule of thumb to assume that whenever people start arguing
about the definition of a word, no inquiry of any consequence is going on
because there is no shared sense about what is to be inquired into.
The term memes has never referred to a particular phenomenon. This has
been the problem right from the time Dawkins proposed it because he was
arguing analogically, and not from evidence of any kind about the
existence of something that he decided to call memes. He just assumed
that there must be something in social life analogous to genes in
biological life, namely memes. Because there is no justification for
doing this, memetics was doomed from the start to a Babel about meaning.
This is exactly the same problem that bedevils most of the social
sciences. It is instructive that scientifically oriented thinkers should
end up this way whey they attempt to explain social life.
The interesting question is why memetics has been so attractive. The
answer is that there is an intellectual vacuum in the area of what can
simplistically be called ‘the relations between social life and
biological life’. Sociologists (and other social scientists) have failed
to fill this vacuum, so biologists are constantly tempted to have a go at
filling it. Biologists first tried to do this by directly extending
genetics, but, as Dawkins clearly acknowledged when he came up with the
term memes, this couldn’t get anywhere because social life is clearly a
different form of life that biological life - it can't be explained
But instead of going out and studying social life and finding out what it
is made up of and how it works, in the same way as he studied biological
life, Dawkins extended biological explanation, specifically neo-Darwinian
explanation, by recourse to analogy. This was never going to work. If
social life is qualitatively different from biological life then it needs
a qualitatively different explanation which an analogy could never
University of New England
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: Thu 29 Jan 2004 - 10:35:16 GMT