Meme - Criticism of Meme Theory

Criticism of Meme Theory

An objection to the study of the evolution of memes in genetic terms (although not to the existence of memes) involves a perceived gap in the gene/meme analogy: the cumulative evolution of genes depends on biological selection-pressures neither too great nor too small in relation to mutation-rates. There seems no reason to think that the same balance will exist in the selection pressures on memes.

Luis Benitez-Bribiesca M.D., a critic of memetics, calls the theory a "pseudoscientific dogma" and "a dangerous idea that poses a threat to the serious study of consciousness and cultural evolution". As a factual criticism, Benitez-Bribiesca points to the lack of a "code script" for memes (analogous to the DNA of genes), and to the excessive instability of the meme mutation mechanism (that of an idea going from one brain to another), which would lead to a low replication accuracy and a high mutation rate, rendering the evolutionary process chaotic.

British political philosopher John Gray has characterized Dawkins' memetic theory of religion as "nonsense" and "not even a theory... the latest in a succession of ill-judged Darwinian metaphors", comparable to Intelligent Design in its value as a science.

Another critique comes from semiotic theorists such as Deacon and Kull This view regards the concept of "meme" as a primitivized concept of "sign". The meme is thus described in memetics as a sign lacking a triadic nature. Semioticians can regard a meme as a "degenerate" sign, which includes only its ability of being copied. Accordingly, in the broadest sense, the objects of copying are memes, whereas the objects of translation and interpretation are signs.

Fracchia and Lewontin regard memetics as reductionist and inadequate. Burman, by contrast, has shown that the misunderstanding that memes are "real" is a result of a popularization based on a confused interpretation of Dawkins' The Selfish Gene. Instead, for him, the idea of an "infectious idea" can be a useful conceit if used under certain conditions. He explained this in a subsequent discussion regarding his article: can't take the meme seriously as "a thing that jumps." You can only ask what insights are derived if we adopt a stance in which we accept jumping as a shortcut to get to the more interesting problem. Memes, in this sense, are a philosophical method; they aren't a scientific object.

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