Why Did Memetics Fail? Comparative Case Study



Year of publication 2020
Type Article in Periodical
Magazine / Source Perspectives on Science
MU Faculty or unit

Faculty of Arts

Web http://dx.doi.org/10.1162/posc_a_00350
Doi http://dx.doi.org/10.1162/posc_a_00350
Keywords Dual-inheritance cultural evolution; memetics; gene-culture coevolution; history of science; case study
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Description Although the theory of memetics appeared highly promising at the beginning, it is no longer considered a scientific theory among contemporary evolutionary scholars. This study aims to compare the genealogy of memetics with the historically more successful gene-culture coevolution theory. This comparison is made in order to determine the constraints that emerged during the internal development of the memetics theory that could bias memeticists to work on the ontology of meme units as opposed to hypotheses testing, which was adopted by the gene-culture scholars. I trace this problem back to the diachronic development of memetics to its origin in the gene-centered anti-group-selectionist argument of George C. Williams and Richard Dawkins. The strict adoption of this argument predisposed memeticists with the a priori idea that there is no evolution without discrete units of selection, which in turn, made them dependent on the principal separation of biological and memetic fitness. This separation thus prevented memeticists from accepting an adaptationist view of culture which, on the contrary, allowed gene-culture theorists to attract more scientists to test the hypotheses, creating the historical success of the gene-culture coevolution theory.
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