Cultural epidemiology versus memetic transmission

Investor logo


Year of publication 2014
Type Appeared in Conference without Proceedings
MU Faculty or unit

Faculty of Arts

Description Memetic authors try to consistently maintain all basic elements and rules of the neo-Darwinian theory of natural selection. However, this effort fails, because the cultural changes are not subject to these elements and rules, and subsequently cultural variants do not meet the definition of replicators. Firstly, most parts of culture do not consist of small, independent (discrete) pieces of information, so that the gene/meme metaphor might represent more than just a vague analogy. Secondly, even if it did, these entities (independent/discrete pieces) almost never create exact copies of themselves (high fidelity replications) in cultural transmission, which makes cumulative cultural evolution impossible, because it effectively removes the effects of natural selection from the game. Cultural epidemiology argues that the emergence and transmission of cultural variants may be caused by the imitation of behaviour, but if we look at the process more closely, we find out, that it is a transformation rather than true replication. This is because while one cultural variant induces in one mind one kind of behaviour, the spectator of this behaviour, who tries to imitate the same kind of action, is able to do so by creating in his mind a cultural variant that is completely different from the original. The new product is a mixture of something preserved and of something newly constructed, which is shaped to fit the capacities, needs and interests of the transmitter. D. Sperber argues that most factors that guide inferences that take place in the minds of imitators (those who learn), are highly idiosyncratic and they have to do with the unique location of individual in time and space. He suggests that it is not true copying, but that every new form of cultural variant tends to gravitate towards powerful cultural attractors that ensure that deviations cancel each other out.
Related projects:

You are running an old browser version. We recommend updating your browser to its latest version.