On memes and culture

Sat, 29 Jan 1994 14:12:06 -0700

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?

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.

J. W. Forstadt BITNET: azjwf@asuacad
Department of Anthropology Internet: azjwf@asuvm.inre.asu.edu
Arizona State University