Re: Papers critical of memetics

Aaron Lynch (
Mon, 01 Feb 1999 13:19:28 -0600

Message-Id: <>
Date: Mon, 01 Feb 1999 13:19:28 -0600
From: Aaron Lynch <>
Subject: Re: Papers critical of memetics
In-Reply-To: <001901be4a9e$19a6c2c0$db4b95c1@PaulMarsden>

At 09:10 AM 1/28/99 -0000, Paul Marsden wrote:

>To kick the ball rolling how about
>"Currently the internet blooms with dozens of websites proclaiming the
>birth of the new science of memetics. Most of this is simply awful,
>but that should not surprise us. As Sturgeon's Law reminds us, 95% of
>everything is crap. The hard part--especially during these early days
>of proto-memetics--is to identify the 5% that is actually good."
>By none other than
>Dennett, D.C. (1998) Memes: Myths, Misunderstandings and Misgivings

Thanks, Paul.

I agree with what Dennett has said here. Compounding the problem is that
some of the sloppily conceived works have aggressively deflected attention
from more carefully conceived works for self-serving purposes.

A quotation related to Dennett's will appear in the opening 2 paragraphs of
an executive summary of my JoM-EMIT paper _Units, Events, and Dynamics in
Memetic Evolution_. It was accepted about 6 months ago for publication in
_Complexity_, but is not yet published.

"...The idea of exporting the theoretical and empirical successes of
evolutionary biology to the study of culture has attracted scientists for
over a century now. In recent decades, much of the attention has focused on
generalizing the evolutionary replicator theory to cover neurally stored
information much as genetic evolution theory covers the realm the
information stored in nucleic acids. In the last chapter of his 1976 book
The Selfish Gene, Zoologist Richard Dawkins illustrated some of the
parallels by asserting that cultural evolution could be analyzed in terms
of replicating units analogous to the biochemical units known as "genes."
Thus, he coined the word "meme" to denote an item of information that
replicates brain to brain rather than molecule to molecule.

A popular interest in memes followed, but Dawkins did not wish to shift his
focus away from biology to offer guidance to the growing crowd of people
interested in memes. As a result, some of the writings developed over the
years have mixed contagious euphoria with conceptual weakness, providing an
unfortunate vaccination against the meme concept among many scientists.
Most of those scientists recognize that strong theories cannot flow from
neologisms and analogies alone. New terminology must be given specific,
formal, and technical definitions without any embedded confusions. The
quantitative aspects of the theory must be shown to be expressible in
mathematical terms, and a basis for incorporating theory into computer
simulations should be provided. Only then will the theory offer researchers
an objective means of proceeding with the kind of investigations that lead
to falsification or validation. ..."

--Aaron Lynch

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Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
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