Darwin-L Message Log 5:144 (January 1994)

Academic Discussion on the History and Theory of the Historical Sciences

This is one message from the Archives of Darwin-L (1993–1997), a professional discussion group on the history and theory of the historical sciences.

Note: Additional publications on evolution and the historical sciences by the Darwin-L list owner are available on SSRN.

<5:144>From hantuo@utu.fi  Tue Jan 25 23:40:15 1994

To: Darwin-L@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu
From: hantuo@utu.fi (Hanna Tuomisto)
Subject: The memetic and the mimetic
Date: 	Wed, 26 Jan 1994 07:47:34 +0200

Gerard Donnelly Smith wrote:

>The essential difference between the memetic and the mimetic:
>memetic theory suggests that cultural traits can be inherited,
>whereas mimetic theory argues that they can not be inherited, but
>must be learned.

>Note another reference to "meme" as inheritable social unit.  Would
>some one please explain why this Memetic theory proposed by Dawkins
>works better than Mimetic theory which the Humanities have
>been using to discuss cultural transmission in literature, mass media
>and religion for 2500?

I am not familiar with the possible controversies between the Mimetic and
Memetic theories outside this list, but I am familiar with the writings of
Dawkins. And the way he proposed the memetic model to work would place his
theory under the definition of Mimetic as outlined above.

Dawkins explicitly denied any inheritance of particular cultural traits. He
argued that only the capacity for culture is inherited, not the culture
itself, which must be learned. The idea was that once the genes have
produced brains that are physically complex enough to enable extensive
learning, behavior will take forms that were never programmed in the
genetic code. Memes, as defined by Dawkins, are bits of culture that can
reproduce in the minds of people. The 'reproduction' of a meme is getting
learned by a new person and thus occupying a space in that person's mind.
There is no genetic connection evoked here; Dawkins only offered this as an
analogous model for how genes reproduce and occupy a space in a genome. As
examples of memes, Dawkins mentioned things like tunes, poems, and
religious doctrines. A successful meme is one that is learned and
remembered by many people; an unsuccessful meme is rapidly forgotten.
Examples of successful memes would include the famous tunes of Beethoven's
Fifth, and the song 'Happy birthday to you'.

Hanna Tuomisto

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