An objection to the memetic approach to culture

Dan Sperber

in Darwinizing Culture

Published in print January 2001 | ISBN: 9780192632449
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191670473 | DOI:
An objection to the memetic approach to culture

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This chapter determines a major empirical hurdle for any future discipline of memetics. It mainly shows that one can find very similar copies of some cultural item, link these copies through a causal chain of events which faithfully reproduced those items, and nevertheless not have an example of memetic inheritance. In addition, the stability of cultural patterns is proof that fidelity in copying is high despite individual variations. It is also believed that what is offered as an explanation is precisely what needs to be explained; what is offered as a solution is in fact the very problem to be solved. Moreover, the issue is whether the relative stability observed in cultural transmission is proof of replication. The example of the acquisition of language is briefly addressed. The Darwinian model of selection is informative, and in various ways, for thinking about culture. Imitation is of course well worth investigating. On the other hand, the grand project of memetics is misled.

Keywords: memetics; culture; copying; language; Darwinian model; imitation

Chapter.  4482 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Cognitive Psychology

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