memetic method, was Nazi Thought Contagion

Bill Benzon (
Thu, 09 Oct 1997 11:50:55 -0400

Date: Thu, 09 Oct 1997 11:50:55 -0400
From: Bill Benzon <>
Subject: memetic method, was Nazi Thought Contagion

N Rose wrote:

> One of my abiding concerns about memetic 'explanations' of
> history and cultural change is that they have a tendancy to over
> simplify the issues. Certainly some simplification is necessary
> - even desirable - but it makes it very difficult to convince
> non-memeticists that our kind of work is serious and not just an
> exercise in rhetoric.

Yes on both accounts.

> Unfortunately memetic evolution is as
> complicated as history - so is there anything we *can* do about
> it?

Learn some history?

> Perhaps one of the most important benefits of using selectionist
> explanations (in biology) is that we can postulate fewer
> functions than biological features.


> In memetics, however, my concern is that there is a tendancy to
> form a new theory for each element of culture we examine. As
> such many memetic explanations of cultural phenomena risk falling
> into the 'just so story' category of explanation.


> of culture. Only then will we have less theories than elements
> of culture, and be able to claim that memetics is the equal to
> selectionist explanations in biology - and better than
> sociological reasoning (in an Occam's razor kind of way). seems to me you need to learn some standard mechanisms of
sociological reasoning and see how memetics can augment them. Surely
sociologists have something to say which could be translated into
discussions of selection pressure, the landscape of memetic fitness.

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