Non Homuncular Memetics

Paul Marsden (
Wed, 1 Oct 1997 05:20:42 -0400

Date: Wed, 1 Oct 1997 05:20:42 -0400
From: Paul Marsden <>
Subject: Non Homuncular Memetics
To: "" <>

Message text written by

>Mario Vaneechoutte wrote

>Memes do not replicate, they are being processed and - to some degree
>- - replicated by human minds. Like you, many on this list put homunculi=

>inside memes, blaming others to put a homunculus inside the human mind.
>The scientific approach is trying to explain things without homunculi of=

>any kind.

I agree totally with your last comment, but without wanting to put words
into Nick's mouth I don't think Nick did "go wrong" here. First of all
your point that Nick doesn't ask 'Why are they (memes) good at
replicating?' I would presume it is precisely because " why" questions ar=
out of the domain of scientific explanation. Science can (hopefully)
uncover models that account for *how* memes are replicated differentially=

but metaphysic questions such as why do we get up in the morning, why do =
go to bed at night and why do we spend so much of the intervening time
talking about memes are not scientific questions proper (but very
interesting questions they are to). Why do genes get replicated - Scienc=
must draw a blank on this one, but how do they get replicated - and we're=

in business, building hypotheses and testing them to build theoretical
edifices that can account for the phenomena. The same goes, I think, for=

memes which is where I echo your call for a non homuncular (where-ever
those little critters are in hiding) memetic theory.

Your criticism that Nick endows the meme with all the qualities of the
homunculus previously resident in the mind is not fair. The meme doesn't=

have intrinsic intentionality - it doesn't want to do anything it just
does it, blindly. The meme doesn't have agency, or a self, it has no
understanding or appreciation of what is going on whatsoever. This is *
very* different from the metaphysical self supposedly posited over and
above memes according to the majority of current postings which include
such ephemeral attributes. The self is nothing more than a centre of
narrative gravity, a functional shorthand for the meme-complexes that the=

human brain gets infected with through the process of interaction. =

Memetics can explain how it can be that the lights are on when when ther=
is nobody at home. When you conduct a functional analysis of culture at a=

memetic level the English language obliges you, grammatically speaking, t=
make the meme the subject of the dicussion. Just because the meme is the=

subject of the discussion does't automatically mean that it has

Paul Marsden

This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the
Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing)