Common misunderstandings of memes (and genes): The promise and the limits of the genetic analogy to cultural transmission processes

By Francisco J. Gil-White (fjgil@psych.upenn.edu ; http://www.psych.upenn.edu/~fjgil/)

Assistant Professor of Psychology, University of Pennsylvania.

Short Abstract: ëMemeticsí suffers from conceptual confusion and not enough empirical work. This paper attempts to attenuate the former problem by resolving the conceptual controversies. I criticize the overly literal insistenceóby both critics and advocatesóon the genetic analogy, which asks us to think about memes as bona-fide replicators in the manner of genes, and to see all cultural transmission processes as ultimately for the reproductive benefit of memes, rather than their human vehicles. A Darwinian approach to cultural transmission, I argue, requires neither. It is possible to have Darwinian processes without genes, or even close analogues of them. The cognitive mechanisms responsible for social-learning make clear why.” MORE

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