Re: memes and culture

From: Steven Thiele (
Date: Thu 05 Feb 2004 - 02:21:07 GMT

  • Next message: Keith Henson: "Re: memes and culture"

    At 08:49 PM 4/02/2004 -0500, you wrote:

    >>He also insists that we narrow the field by identifying where,
    >>specifically, the memetics model applies. I fully agree. I think the chief
    >>reason for the failure of memetics to be widely accepted as a science is its
    >>attempt to reduce all of culture to a memetic struggle for survival (and the
    >>corresponding illusion that this can render the study of culture into a
    >>"hard" science).
    >I can't think of anyone who takes this hard a line. We know of cultures
    >have been taken down by external physical events, others that have been
    >massively affected by disease or changes in climate.

    Keith, you have just exhibited the 'hard line'. Introducing the effect of physical events, disease, climate, etc, misses the point. Memetics understands culture as an expression (phenotype?) of memes, as if culture is an epiphenomenon. This is a 'hard line' because it doesn't leave open the possiblity that culture is a creative phenomenon. Actually, the term culture here is a bit of a problem because it is often used to refer to a particular aspect of social life (such as ways of thinking) rather than social life in all its aspects. The fact that the word culture is used so much in memetics, is, I think, not inadvertant. It presents a view of social life that appears more amenable to memetic analysis.

    Social life, meaning the complex interactions and organisings within which individuals are embedded, is a creative process. If you want to understand social life you need to examine its constituent interactions and organising in detail rather than assume that they are the products of something else with ontological priority, in this case memes. Insofar as memes are ideas, then they are not the primary creators of social life, but are just one feature of the process of social life. For example, the idea of god does not come first and then religious organisation and practices later as a
    'phenotype' of memes, rather this idea is part and parcel of the emergence of religious organisation and practice. All of social life is evolving, not just one aspect of it.

    Steven Thiele

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