Not a comprehensive theory

Lord Zarquon (
Mon, 2 Aug 1999 00:39:27 -0700 (PDT)

Date: Mon, 2 Aug 1999 00:39:27 -0700 (PDT)
From: Lord Zarquon <>
Subject: Not a comprehensive theory

Susan Blackmore, in _The Meme Machine_, stresses that only behavior
that is truly imitatable can be 'coded for' by memes. Thus qualia,
emotions, beliefs acquired through operant conditioning, and the like
are not memes. In other words, human minds are full of things that are
not memes.

Because human culture is largely a product of the human mind, and the
human mind is not entirely composed of memes, it follows that human
culture cannot be understood in terms of the interactions of memes

As an illustration, consider the meme for removing pickles from
hamburgers. No doubt, one of the reasons people perform this ritual is
because they have seen other people do it (memetic transmission). But
part of the explanation must surely be that pickles cause some people
to experience unpleasant qualia (i.e. it tastes bad). So, there cannot
be a purely memetic explanation of the 'pickle removal' behavior.

So memetics cannot be a comprehensive theory of human culture. The
'memetic stance' may shed light on aspects of culture, such as the
tricks used by chain letters and religions to propagate, but human mind
and culture are the product of such complex causes that memetics alone
cannot explain it.

Human culture demands scientific explanation. Memetics can contribute
to this explanation, but it is not the whole of it.

James McComb
(Please forgive the intrusion of a layman into this list.)
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