Bleg: Do Memes Matter to You?

For those doing or training to do academic research on linguistic and/or cultural evolution: Do memes matter to you?

I’ve got the impression that the issue that I’ve been chewing on recently, the appropriate account of memes of, if you prefer, the cultural analog of the biological gene, is mostly a theoretical one and has, so far, little bearing on empirical issues. However, I’ve also got the impression that most of the work on cultural evolution in the past decade or so has been empirical, either analysis of real-world data of one kind or another, or running simulations, and that the appropriate definition of meme doesn’t matter. You count what you can count. What matters is the quality of the raw data and the quality of the analysis.

If that is so, who cares about memes?

2 thoughts on “Bleg: Do Memes Matter to You?”

  1. As a memeophile, it irritates me that memeophobes vent by attempting to trash memes using shoddy arguments. I like the terminology of memetics. There are some others obviously don’t – but their attempts to use scientific arguments against memetics just seem like an embarrassment to me – a poor reflection of their own understanding of the topic. If you don’t understand memetics, that usually means that you are in a poor position to criticize it. However, that doesn’t seem to deter very many critics.

    In my opinion, the issue amongst those with an understanding of cultural evolution is mostly terminological. The clumsy alternatives to “meme” don’t appeal to me. Others seem to be unable to stomach anything that links culture to biology, anything that divides culture up into little pieces, or anything associated with Richard Dawkins.

    The precise location of the genotype/phenotype split in memetics doesn’t seem like that big a deal to me. It affects what counts as a cultural developmental process, but probably only a few scientists will lose sleep over the issue – and disagreement over that issue shouldn’t hold anything important back.

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