RE: Papers critical of memetics

Richard Brodie (
Fri, 5 Feb 1999 09:10:26 -0800

From: "Richard Brodie" <>
To: <>
Subject: RE: Papers critical of memetics
Date: Fri, 5 Feb 1999 09:10:26 -0800
In-Reply-To: <>

Aaron Lynch wrote:

<< Polichak found a good example of this in "Meme Central,"
(Brodie 1997,>>

Wow. First Dawkins endorses my book, then Lynch plugs my site. I guess if
you live long enough, you see everything.

<<"Memes are the basic building blocks of our minds and culture, in the same
way that genes are the basic building blocks of biological life.">>

..... which is from the memetics FAQ. By the way I'm in the process of
updating the FAQ with a compilation of your answers to the questions I
posted last week. Thanks to those who have already contributed. If you
haven't, it's not too late.

Polichak quoted this to contrast it with Blackmore's "memes are not like
genes." I didn't think that particular criticism held much water... memes
are surely like genes in some ways and not in others.

<<This is quite an extravagant and untenable claim. It certainly should not
be offered as a scientific definition. Similarly, anyone defining the term
"gene" should not embed a claim that it is the basic building block of
biological life (whether the claim is true or not). Instead, the terms
should be given definitions with a minimum of claims about what role genes
or memes play. In order to respect the empirical basis of science, a term
like "gene" should be defined in a way that leaves investigation of its
role in life processes up to empirical researchers. Likewise for the term
"meme" vis--vis its role in mind and culture.>>

Yes and no. I thought long and hard about the FAQ answer to "What is a
meme?" which you and Polichak quote. While I'm certainly not married to it,
I chose to say something that gives people an analogy to something they may
already understand. As I'm sure you are aware, evolution is a difficult
concept for most people to wrap their brains around. I don't know of anyone
who is using the memetics FAQ as a scientific definition. My working
definition, found on page 27 of Virus of the Mind, came from a distillation
of the current thinking of Dawkins, Dennett, and Plotkin, and is in fact
quite similar to the definition you published shortly after my book came

I am as eager as you to see memetics grow from the armchair theory that it
is now toward real empirical experimentation.

Richard Brodie
Author, "Virus of the Mind: The New Science of the Meme"
Free newsletter! Visit Meme Central at

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