Re: On memes and culture

Fri, 4 Feb 1994 07:40:57 -0500

>Steve Mizrach has thrown the idea of memetics into the debate on culture and
>cultural transmission. I would like to hear more on this approach, though I do
>admit that I am skeptical. From an evolutionary ecological standpoint, cultural
>change is addressed in terms of a Darwinian process which selects behaviors
>resulting in differential genetic fitness of individuals. I believe that the
>weakness of this viewpoint is its failure to model the process of the cultural
>transmission of behavior along genetic lines. How is the concept of memes
>better in this matter? It sounds like the problem of behavioral transmission is
>being simplified unnecessarily through the direct analogy with biology. Can a
>concept such as inclusive "memetic" fitness be valid? What are the units of
>selection in this Darwinian model? Can the study of memes be operationalized,
>and if not, what is the value of this approach?

Certainly. One can trace the path of a memetic lineage in the same way as
one traces a genetic lineage. But the methods of replication for memes are
not the same as for genes. Memes are replicated primarily through
communication (voice, text, images, electronic, sometimes nonverbal.) Hence
the need for different analytical tools. Memetic "fitness" cannot be
evaluated in Darwinian terms. I prefer to look at it in terms of software
coding. There is "good" code, and then there is "bad" code, which contains
bugs and so forth... "good" code survives and gets used in new programs,
"bad" code simply won't run on the hardware...

>I hardly think that it is useful to view "Christianity" as a memetic system
>which has undergone a number of "mutations". What kind of understanding do
>we gain by this approach? Please let me know if I am underestimating the
>concept of memetics.

Why not? Christianity is a set of memes (or propositions) dealing with such
matters as "Heaven," "Hell," "the Trinity," and various other entities.
Clearly some of those memes have changed; some have been eliminated; some
have been added. This process can be called "mutation."

>J. W. Forstadt BITNET: azjwf@asuacad
>Department of Anthropology Internet:
>Arizona State University

If I refer to "memes" as "code" and "memetic systems" as "programs"
and "meme complexes (cultures)" as "system environments," (such as DOS, et
al.), with the implicit assumption that the "brain" is a "computer," can we
move beyond talking Darwinism here, and start talking memetics?

Seeker1 [@Nervm.Nerdc.Ufl.Edu] (real info available on request)
Anthropologist, Cybernaut, PoMoDemite, Noetician, Situationiste, et al.
University of Florida, Gainesville, Cosmic Nexus of the Universal Matrix
"'Tis an ill wind that blows no minds!" --Malaclypse the Younger