Memetics is stupid…

If a meme is a conceptual unit that prevails under certain sensory conditions, why not call “Look, it’s raining” a meme? Granting, for the sake of argument, that it is, this is my fundamental objection to memetics: it brings nothing substantial to our intellectual toolkit. It’s like charging people a lot of money to change the air in their tires: it merely renames dependable old concepts, er, I mean, memes and tries to mount an entire new “field” based on that parlor trick. It’s typical of the ideological biologization of the world rampant today. Spread, infection, cloning, mutation, etc. Even if the realities described by memetics exist, I see no reason to invent new jargon to discuss them.

[UPDATE – Monday, 16 Sept. 2013

“It is not entirely clear how it is that positing unseen and undefined entities that infect human minds by unassessed processes involving the entities’ own quest for transmission and that cause people to do things that transcend their genetic imperatives is fundamentally different from medieval demonology or, in any case, qualifies as an empirically grounded explanation in terms of natural causes.”

— Jeffrey Schloss & Michael Murray, eds., The Believing Primate: Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Reflections on the Origin of Religion (Oxford 2009), 24.]

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About The Codgitator (a cadgertator)

Catholic convert. Quasi-Zorbatic. Freelance interpreter, translator, and web marketer. Former ESL teacher in Taiwan (2003-2012) and former public high school teacher (2012-2014). Married father of three. Multilingual, would-be scholar, and fairly consistent fitness monkey. My research interests include: the interface of religion and science, the history and philosophy of science and technology, ancient and medieval philosophy, and cognitive neuroscience. Please pray for me.
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5 Responses to Memetics is stupid…

  1. Tim Tyler says:

    Simple: that’s not what a meme is. Memes – by most definitions – are socially transmitted. You can check with practically any dictionary on this point.

  2. Okay, so complete this sentence for me: “Memes are socially transmitted __________.” Argument from definition is a weak reed, in most cases. Help me understand your point better, thanks!

  3. Tim Tyler says:

    Memes are socially transmitted information – usually small sections of it. Bigger sections are more commonly referred to as “memeplexes”.

    The word ‘meme’ has been wildly successful – illustrating the need for new terminology rather well, I think.

  4. “Memes are socially transmitted information”

    Right, which is what my opening definition conveyed (a conceptual unit that prevails under certain sensory (and therefore social) conditions). Crack cocaine has also been wildly successful, but that doesn’t mean it’s intellectually helpful. Bloodletting, phrenology and psychoanalysis have also been wildly popular in their times. Indeed, the wild popularity of memetics is part of my complaint: it’s popular like a fad simply because it is a fad, driven in large part by the silly attempt to “naturalize” everything. Find a text that uses “meme” and replace it with “term, concept, idea” and you’ll lose nothing of the meaning. It’s a pseudo-scientific word that gives a luster of erudition to otherwise commonplace ideas.

    Further, the fundamental contradiction in memetics is that memes are supposed to be irrational cognitive viruses, which not even rational self-reflection can prevent once they start spreading, and yet memetics presumes to subject memes to cool rational reflection. If memes thrive precisely by surpassing and evading our ego-conscious cognitive filters, then they are not properly objects of rational analysis. THIS –>

    “It is not entirely clear how it is that positing unseen and undefined entities that infect human minds by unassessed processes involving the entities’ own quest for transmission and that cause people to do things that transcend their genetic imperatives is fundamentally different from medieval demonology or, in any case, qualifies as an empirically grounded explanation in terms of natural causes.” — Jeffrey Schloss & Michael Murray, eds., _The Believing Primate: Scientific, Philosophical, and Theological Reflections on the Origin of Religion_ (Oxford 2009), 24.

  5. Pingback: A note on method… | FideCogitActio : "Omnis per gratiam," etiam sub patrocinio S. Ignatii Loyolae et Francisci Salesii

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