Memes: Universal acid or a better mousetrap?

Robert Boyd and Peter J. Richerson

in Darwinizing Culture

Published in print January 2001 | ISBN: 9780192632449
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191670473 | DOI:
Memes: Universal acid or a better mousetrap?

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This chapter argues that memeticists have been far too fascinated with one of Darwin's conceptual advances: the identification of natural selection as the mechanism for cumulative adaptation. It also argues that population thinking is the key to conceptualizing culture in terms of material causes, and can play an important, constructive role in the human sciences. It is thought that Darwinian models of culture are useful for two reasons. First, they serve to connect the rich models of behavior based on individual action developed in economics, psychology, and evolutionary biology with the data and insights of the cultural sciences, anthropology, archaeology, and sociology. Second, population thinking is useful because it offers a way to build a mathematical theory of human behavior that captures the important role of culture in human affairs. The problem of human cooperation should be considered in order to know how useful population-based models can be. It is stated that memes are not a universal acid, but population thinking is a better mousetrap.

Keywords: memes; universal acid; population thinking; mousetrap; Darwinian models

Chapter.  7988 words. 

Subjects: Cognitive Psychology

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