Re: Not a comprehensive theory

Paul Marsden (
Mon, 2 Aug 1999 13:26:28 +0200

From: "Paul Marsden" <>
To: "memetics" <>
Subject: Re: Not a comprehensive theory
Date: Mon, 2 Aug 1999 13:26:28 +0200

Hello Mark,

>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

Your first paragraph is a good representation of our (Blackmore and other
members of MemeLab) opinion that individual learning from this point of view
is not memetic.

However what you say in the second paragraph does not follow. Culture is
defined by
most dictionaries and social scientists, in terms of the non-genetic
transmission and acquisition of information. It isn't what you have, it is
what you pass on, that is cultural. Your own subjective 'user' awareness of
emotions and other qualia, unless they are acquired culturally are not
memetic from this point of view. So memetics may, in principal at least,
provide a comprehensive theory of culture, whilst not providing for a whole
psychology. In other words, IMO, memetics is a framework for social
psychology, and possibly sociology, rather than for the whole field of

However, I do agree with your implication that, Blackmore's reduction of all
culture to imitation in MM is too restrictive. Rather, the term memetic may
usefully be applied to all that is socially learned (observational learning,
vicarious learning, stimulus enhancement, contagion, instruction AND
imitation), i.e. all that is cultural as opposed to all that is genetically
inherited or individually acquired information.

Hope this is useful


Paul Marsden
Graduate Research Centre in the Social Sciences
University of Sussex
ICQ 35642304
Tel (44) (0) 958 733 414

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