Re: meme definitions

Bill Benzon (
Wed, 18 Jun 1997 06:26:23 -0500

Message-Id: <>
Date: Wed, 18 Jun 1997 06:26:23 -0500
From: (Bill Benzon)
Subject: Re: meme definitions

Alex Brown,
>My question: is there a difference between the study of cultural
>evolution per se and memetics? Are there in fact two difference
>perspectives involved here?]

Well, the study of cultural evolution predates the existence of memetics.
So in that rather trivial sense, yes, there is a difference.

And if we look at how biology gets done, there is a difference between the
way a comparative anatomist looks at biological evolution and the way a
geneticist does, though the broad framework of biological theory should
guarantee that their work more or less dovetails. One could imagine a
similar division of intellectual labor in the study of culture. I'd say
that most of my work in cultural evolution has been something like
comparative anatomy & physiology, looking at broad classes of cultural
"species" and thinking about how they are constructed and how they operate.

Now, does memetics have anything to offer the study of cultural evolution?
In theory, quite a bit. In practice, that remains to be seen. My own
prejudice is that a memetics which emphasizes memes as little autonomous
informatic automatons working their way though cultural space (to parody
one version) -- that memetics has little to offer. Just what a more
serious memetics would look like is not at all clear to me. But it
certainly has to get serious about just what it is that is being selected
and retained and why.

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

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