Re: Robert Aunger essay

From: Derek Gatherer (
Date: Thu 13 Apr 2006 - 07:16:57 GMT

  • Next message: Jesse Micheal Fagan: "Re: Robert Aunger essay"

    Welcome Christopher

    I'd love to reply at some length, but unfortunately the Easter hols are coming up and I'll be away for a week. Possibly in the meantime you'll get plenty of replies from other list members.

    Cheers Derek

    At 15:07 12/04/2006, you wrote:
    >Dear list members,
    >First off, thank you for providing this excellent list-serve &
    >Journal. I've just recently joined the list and I'm very excited
    >that it exists. My name is Christopher Kelley and I'm a graduate
    >student in Buddhist studies at Columbia University in New York City.
    >Presently I'm working on a memetic analysis of Buddhist philosophical culture.
    >My purpose in posting today is to elicit your feedback on Robert
    >Aunger's thought provoking essay in the new anthology, "Richard
    >Dawkins: How a Scientist Changed The Way We Think." I've not had a
    >chance to read the entire book, but I thought his essay raised some
    >important points that deserve professional reflection.
    >Below I've enumerated some excerpts, but obviously it would be ideal
    >to read them in context.
    >1/ ". . . no significant body of empirical research has grown up
    >around the meme concept (the birdsong work being the sole, limited
    >exception), nor has memetics made empirically testable propositions
    >or generated much in the way of novel experimental or observational
    >data. In fact the memetic literature remains devoted almost
    >exclusively to theoretical antagonisms, internecine battles, and
    >scholastic elucidations of prior writings on memes" [178].
    >2/ "Why is memetic science ailing? I think most of the problems have
    >to do with the lack of a useful definition" [178].
    >3/ "As we will see, getting specific about the nature of memes leads
    >to questions about whether there is indeed any subject matter for
    >memetics to study" [178].
    >4/ ". . .what makes the meme concept special as an account of
    >cultural evolution is its role as a replicator in culture. . .
    >replication can be defined as a special relationship between a
    >source and a copy such that four conditions hold: causation. .
    >similarity. . information transfer. . . duplication" [179]
    >5/ " . . replication of information is unlikely to be how most
    >social learning occurs. Neither are memes necessary to explain
    >cultural traditions. . . So taking the stability of culture as prima
    >facie evidence of the existence of memes is mistaken. Replication is
    >not a necessary component of an interesting Darwinian process, and
    >may not be involved in the explanation of human culture" [185-86].
    >6/ "My attempt to provide a more precise definition of memes has,
    >ironically, shown that memetics appears to be in search of subject
    >matter because its central claim, the meme hypothesis, lacks substance" [186].
    >7/ ". . .it will be difficult to deny memes a role in the future of
    >cultural evolutionary studies. This is because the meme meme has
    >already become part of the culture it was supposed to explain . . .
    >people will continue to use the word 'meme' in a vague way when
    >discussing cultural change. . . but . . . memetics is unlikely ever
    >to become an empirical science, because when we define memes in a
    >manner precise enough to start making testable predictions, we find
    >that we have largely defined them out of existence" [186].
    >Christopher Kelley

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