Re: Memetics vs. History Of Ideas

Bill Benzon (
Sat, 14 Jun 1997 08:34:53 -0500

Message-Id: <>
Date: Sat, 14 Jun 1997 08:34:53 -0500
From: (Bill Benzon)
Subject: Re: Memetics vs. History Of Ideas

Shai Ophir asks:

>I admit I am new to this area. However, can anyone explain me in a few
>words what is the difference (if any) between memetics, and the history of
>ideas (such as analyzed by Lovejoy for example, in his book "The Great
>Chain of Being"?)
>Can memetics explain historical phenomena and changes in cultural ideas in
>a way that could not be explained before?

I hope so. But the verdict isn't in yet and won't be for some time. At
the moment I'm not sure memetics can explain anything.

But I'm not sure that Lovejoy could explain anything either. To caricature
a book I haven't looked at in 20 years, what he did in that book was take a
certain idea, one which more or less originated with the ancient Greeks,
and followed that idea through Western intellectual history, noting how the
idea changed. His evidence came from examining texts written by a
relatively small cultural elite. He assumed that this elite had minds and
that they thought about those ideas and modified them to suit, well, their

Memeticians are more likely to talk of brains than of minds (though free
will seems to be lively issue on this list), and are more interested in the
distribution of idea/memes in whole populations than in the minds of a
small elite.

William L. Benzon 201.217.1010
708 Jersey Ave. Apt. 2A
Jersey City, NJ 07302 USA

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