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Darwinizing Culture ' the Status of Memetics as a Science' [Hardcover]

Daniel Dennett , Robert Aunger
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Book Description

1 April 2001
The publication in 1998 of Susan Blackmore's bestselling 'The meme machine' re-awakened the debate over the highly controverial field of memetics. In the past couple of years, there has been an explosion of interest in 'memes'. The one thing noticably missing though, has been any kind of proper debate over the validity of a concept regarded by many as scientifically suspect. Darwinizing culture: the status of memetics as a science pits leading intellectuals, (both supporters and opponents of meme theory), against eachother to battle it out, and state their case. With a foreword by Daniel Dennett, and contributions from Dan Sperber, David Hull, Robert Boyd, Susan Blackmore, Henry Plotkin, and others, the result is a thrilling and challenging debate that will perhaps mark a turning point for the field, and for future research. Superbly edited by Robert Aunger, Darwinizing culture is a thought provoking book, that will fascinate, stimulate, (and occasionally perhaps infuriate) a broad range of readers including, psychologists, biologists, philosophers, linguists, and anthropologists.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 260 pages
  • Publisher: OUP Oxford (1 April 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0192632442
  • ISBN-13: 978-0192632449
  • Product Dimensions: 23.1 x 2 x 15.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 735,060 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Review

A stimulating snapshot of the state of memetics from the year 1999. I recommend it to anyone interested in the history and development of the field. (On Mimetics)

If you need a guide into the murky heat of memetics, look no further than the essays in Darwinizing Culture, which are a fine illustration of the murkiness at the heart of memetics, admirably framed by Bob Aunger's introduction and conclusion (New Scientist)

About the Author

Dr Robert Aunger completed his PhD in Anthopology at UCLA. He has taught at Nortwestern University, The University of Chicago, as well as Cambridge University. He has recently signed with Free Press (via agent John Brockman) to write a trade book entitled 'The Electric Meme)

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49 of 49 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A balanced collection of essays about memetics. 19 Feb 2001
Format:Hardcover
This collection of essays examines and criticises Richard Dawkins' theory of memes - the idea that Darwinian evolution applies to the development of culture, and that bits of culture can be treated like genes. The collection presents pieces from both supporters and critics, and from a variety of backgrounds. Philosophers, anthropologists, psychologists, sociologists, and political scientists come together and tell us what is helpful, and what's not. Memetic theory has been growing in popularity in recent years, perhaps because it is often presented as revolutionary and as having far-reaching consequences. However, little intelligent criticism has been offered of the theory, especially since it has been so misunderstood. I wrote a dissertation on the subject, and this was definitely the most useful book that i came across in my research, particularly the essay by Dan Sperber.
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Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
88 of 90 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Culture Clash in Cambridge: Meme's doubters unconvinced 24 Dec 2001
By Howard Aldrich - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Unlike most edited volumes based on conferences, which typically read like random collections of papers glued between two covers, Aunger's edited volume displays a remarkable coherence. Against all odds, he enticed a highly diverse group of academics to Cambridge who then constructively debated the status of memetics as a science. Susan Blackmore, after Richard Dawkins probably the most well-known proponent of memetics, and David Hull, a sympathetic critic, open the book with strong arguments for taking memetics seriously. Henry Plotkin and Rosaria Conte then offer critiques of what they perceive as the somewhat faulty psychological assumptions underlying the meme concept. Plotkin argues against making "imitation" the centerpiece of mimetic mechanisms, and Conte argues for a much more sophisticated and complex social cognitive perspective on memetics. She presents a complex model of humans as limited autonomous agents, focusing on their active role in the perpetuation of cultural knowledge.
Kevin Laland and John Odling-Smee are sympathetic to the general notion of memes, but ask for more consideration of the multiple processes involved in evolution. Their own contribution is the concept of niche construction, based on the idea that species have effects on their environments that subsequently constrain future generations. Reprising ideas from their 1985 book, Culture and the Evolutionary Process, Boyd and Richerson argue for population level thinking in evolutionary models of cultural change. I should note that the renewed interest in evolutionary thinking stirred up by Blackmore and others has resulted in the University of Chicago Press's re-issuing their book!
The last three chapters of the book are much more negative toward the whole enterprise. Dan Sperber uses creative examples and logical proofs to conclude that Dawkin's conception of memes is misguided. He argues that recent thinking in memetics goes against recent work in developmental and evolutionary psychology. Adam Kuper notes that there already are well-established techniques for the study of cultural diffusion, especially in anthropology. He concludes that the "memetics industry" has yet to deliver on its claims. Finally, another anthropologist, Maurice Bloch, argues that memeticists have merely rediscovered what anthropology has known for decades, and in fact, is making all the same mistakes. He has harsh words for scientists who jump into an area without paying more attention to what has already been done by others working in that area.
Aunger provides excellent introductory and concluding chapters, which constitute valuable contributions in themselves. Chapter 1 beautifully lays out the issues and provides a constructive guide to the issues over which the contributors struggled. Chapter 11 concludes the book with an assessment of the contributors' arguments and a frank admission of his own skepticism.
I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the concept of memes, cultural and social evolution, and the cultural divide between the natural and the social sciences. You will not only learn something about memes, but you will also see how serious academic debate can be pulled off in a civilized and constructive manner. My hat is off to Robert Aunger!
30 of 32 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Wonderful Introduction to Meme Theory. 12 Dec 2001
By Matthew J. Wolf-Meyer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
For those unfamiliar with the notion of "memes," they are, quite simply, the theoretical smallest cultural commodity - an idea - that replicates itself through its symbiotic relationship with its human host. The idea is either entirely absurd or the solution to the mystery of culture that has been the providence of anthropologists for the past century and a half. But, the notion was birth by a scientist (Richard Dawkins in The Selfish Gene [1977]), and this alone is enough to distance some potentially interested parties from the humanities and social sciences. Darwinizing Culture is at once the reiteration and clarification of the memetic theory (although most of the authors only work to obscure the idea in their work, pulling it in one direction or another - for their very particular use) and a series of arguments against memetic theory as it stands, as well as an argument against those theorists, isolated in the sciences, who so often find the idea attractive, and distanced from previous theories of culture and cultural development.
The collection brings together pieces from Susan Blackmore (author of The Meme Machine [Oxford, 1999]), Henry Plotkin, David Hull, and Dan Sperber, as well as many other younger theorists, all succeeding a rather terse foreword by Daniel Dennet - one of memetic theories greatest proponents. Aunger's introduction and conclusion to the collection are both wonderful contributions, and help to establish the debate, both contemporaneously and historically, for both memes enthusiasts and those new to the field. Blackmore's piece is an afterword to her earlier study, in part working to refute critics who found fault with her prior book-length examination, and as such, while it helps to provide a continuity for the debate, sets the tone of the collection, and that is one of distress. The collection effectively critiques itself by including both sides of the debate, which is admirable, but rather than clearing the slate, as Aunger hopes the collection will, it surely asks the reader to choose a side, and those ideologies are clearly demarcated by academic alignments. But that is not to say that the collection fails to be useful - in fact, quite the contrary: there are a number of essays (and I'm inclined to include them all in this), that help the conceptual understanding of the field on one level or another, but as they are in constant dialogue with one another, this utility is constantly compromised.
But, like every anthology, there is a single essay that stands out from the rest for its sheer insight and applicability, and in this case it is Kevin Laland and John Odling-Smee's innocuously titled "The Evolution of the Meme." Laland and Odling-Smee expand on Richard Dawkins' notion of the "extended phenotype" (from The Extended Phenotype [1982]), positing that the cultural artifacts that are created by civilization influence (and possible cause) both cultural and biological evolution. It sounds deceptively simple, but the premise is that by creating artifacts that alter the environment, simply by their sheer presence, the evolution of that culture is irreparable altered, always needing to incorporate the presence and utility of that artifact. With the explosion of artifacts endemic of consumer capitalism, our cultural evolution has been dramatically influenced, and Laland and Odling-Smee provide an interesting hypothesis to explain this sort of transformation in culture (and consciousness - surely Marshall McLuhan would agree with their suppositions).
If there is a fault with the collection, it is simply that the debate over memetics is a rather closed sphere - the majority of the essays cite the author's previous contribution to the field, or one or another of the other included authors. If nothing else, the contributions by Sperber and Adam Kuper should influence this, and hopefully encourage the steady incorporation of more anthropologically minded sources.
While the collection is at times rather tiresome for a meme enthusiast, and especially so for students of culture, who must deal with various reiterations of basic tenants of anthropology, it would seem to provide a comprehensive introduction to both the idea and the debates surrounding the idea for those new to the field. And for the meme enthusiast, especially for those schooled in the sciences, the arguments of Sperber and Kuper are especially important, bringing in more anthropological basis for this understanding.
5.0 out of 5 stars Minutes from the 1999 Cambridge meme summit 23 Nov 2013
By Tim Tyler - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
The book arose out of a Memetics Conference which was held at Kings College, Cambridge, in June 1999. It was published in the year 2000. This was before the heyday of memetics, which came a few years later. The book presents a unique snapshot of the state of memetics from that era.

There's an "Introduction" and "Conclusion" by Robert Aunger and then various other chapters - with the advocates coming first, and the critics coming last.

Susan Blackmore's chapter "The memes' eye view" updates and responds to criticism of her 1999 book The Meme Machine. It's great material - though I don't approve of Sue's emphasis on imitation.

The late David Hull's chapter is titled: "Taking memetics seriously: Memetics will be what we make it". David chastises Blackmore for her narrow, imitation-based memetics. He ponders extending memetics to cover all learning. The chapter features David wearing his "philosopher of science" hat, and taking a look at the chances for memetics. I was especially pleased to see Hull discusssing cultural kin selection. He says:

"One final example of similar processes operating in biological and memetic change is kin selection."

...and then goes on to say...

"In science, scientists also distinguish between kin and nonkin, but the relevant genealogy is conceptual. The issue is not who holds similar ideas but who is conceptually connected to whom. The best way to increase the likelihood that you will be a successful scientist is to work under a successful scientist."

It's good stuff.

Then we have Henry Plotkin on "Culture and psychological mechanisms". Plotkin takes a psychologist's perspective on the topic. He also disapproves of Blackmore's narrow imitation-based memetics. He discusses the definition of culture. It's a short chapter.

Then Rosaria Conte has a chapter titled: "Memes through (social) minds". This chapter is heavier going. Rosaria discusses multi-agent systems, social simulations and their links with memetics. It's a long chapter. The best bit for me was the extension of the trio of "Fidelity, Fecundity and Longevity" to include other factors - one she calls "Adjustability" - which is to do with the ability to adapt. That's an interesting idea.

Much of the rest of the book is more critical of memetics. I'll use most of the rest of this review to respond to some of these criticisms.

Kevin Laland and John Odling-Smee contributed a chapter titled "The evolution of the meme". That mostly presented their idea of niche construction - which I think is a great idea with a dubious name.

They did present one criticism of memetics. They say:

"In spite of an explicit analogy between memes and viruses (Dawkins 1976), memetics as a discipline has tended to concentrate almost exclusively on ‘infectiousness’ as the factor most responsible for why memes spread. However, the success of a virus depends not only on its infectiousness, but also on the susceptibility of its hosts, and on whether the social environment promotes contact between hosts (Ewald 1994). Based on our evolutionary perspective, we suggest that the same three factors may determine the success of memes."

I'm pretty sure that this is their idea - and not the fault of memetics. Dawkins in The Selfish Gene (from 1976) described memes as varying in fidelity, fecundity and longevity. Fecundity corresponds to Laland and Odling-Smee's "infectiousness" - but that isn't the only factor that affects meme spread - Dawkins himself listed some other ones - namely fidelity and longevity

The idea that the "infectiousness" of a meme is entirely the property of the meme itself - and doesn't depend on the memetic immune system of its hosts or the frequency of interactions between them seems too daft and ridiculous to be anything other than a straw man to me. No wonder the idea is presented without being supported by any references.

Laland and Odling-Smee finish with:

"This work, and numerous other studies, simply would not have been possible without the assumption that culture could be broken down into discrete units, akin to memes. There already exists a respectable, and well-established, formal theory of memetics, in the form of cultural evolutionary and gene-culture coevolutionary theory (Cavalli-Sforza and Feldman 1981; Boyd and Richerson 1985; Feldman and Laland 1996). We recommend that meme enthusiasts exploit it."

That seems fair enough. However, that work has some hangovers associated with it that memetics could well do without - but sure the memetics folk should join forces with the academics rather than squabbling too much with them. The academics need to cut out their sniping at memes too, though!

A sympathetic interpretation of memetics is not particularly difficult to find. If people are incapable of finding such an interpretation, then they should consider trying harder - or working in some other field.

The next chapter is titled: "Memes: Universal acid or a better mousetrap?" by Robert Boyd and Peter Richerson.

The "universal acid" of the title is from Dennett's 1995 book. To explain their title, they conclude "Memes are not a universal acid, but population thinking is a better mousetrap."

Dennett originally said it was Darwinism - not memes - that was the "universal acid". It isn't clear why Boyd and Richerson have substuted the term "memes" into this thesis before criticising it.

Darwinism as a "universal acid" that eats into everything is a bit of a marketing idea - in my opinion. By contrast, population thinking is all very well - but it doesn't really play the same marketing role.

In the chapter, Boyd and Richerson summarise their own ideas about how the organic and cultural realms coevolve. This material is good. However, then they lay into memes. Their critique strikes me as being incompetent. They say:

"In The Extended Phenotype, Richard Dawkins (1982) argues that the cumulative evolution of complex adaptations requires what he calls replicators, things in the physical world that produce copies of themselves, and have the following three additional properties:

Fidelity. The copying must be sufficiently accurate that even after a long chain of copies the replicator remains almost unchanged.
Fecundity. At least some varieties of the replicator must be capable of generating more than one copy of themselves.
Longevity. Replicators must survive long enough to affect their own rate of replication."

I don't think Dawkins said that. Nowhere in the The Extended Phenotype does Dawkins make that argument. Instead he says:

"This, then, is our candidate replicator. But a candidate should be regarded as an actual replicator only if it possesses some minimum degree of longevity/fecundity/fidelity (there may be trade-offs among the three)."

At the time, Boyd and Richerson avoided easy refutation by failing to provide a very specific reference for what they claimed Dawkins said. Nobody had the patience to trawl through the whole of The Extended Phenotype to verify that this argument was not included. However, now I think that what they wrote can be identified as being not something that Dawkins actually claimed or wrote.

The next chapter is by Dan Sperber. It's called "An objection to the memetic approach to culture". Sperber has several fancy critiques of memes. He concludes by saying:

"Memeticists have to give empirical evidence to support the claim that, in the micro-processes of cultural transmission, elements of culture inherit all or nearly all their relevant properties from other elements of culture that they replicate"

However it isn't clear to me why he thinks that this is a claim of memetics. Both organic and cultural copying can have practically any degree of fidelity - if exposed to mutagens. It all just seems like a ridiculous straw man to me.

Sperber asks:

"If, as I believe, this is not even remotely the case, what remains of the memetic programme?"

The answer is, of course: most of Darwinism - namely: population memetics, symbiosis, epidemiology, parasitism, mutualism, immunity, recombination, kin selection, kin competition and group selection - among other things.

Next is Adam Kuper's chapter: "If memes are the answer, what is the question?".

Adam Kuper's chapter is not great. To me, he comes across as a pissed-off anthropologist. He concludes with some criticisms:

"I do not believe that memes help us. To begin with, the analogy between memes and genes is fanciful and flawed."

That criticism seems pretty vague. The idea is more that both "memes" and "genes" represent pieces of heritible information that participate in adaptive Darwinian evolution - not that there is some sort of "analogy" between them.

Adam continues:

"Second, if memes are really what we would normally call ideas (and, perhaps, techniques), then it is surely evident that ideas and techniques cannot be treated as isolated, independent traits."

Uh huh? So can genes be treated as "isolated, independent traits"? I would say that genes interact during development. So, why expect to treat memes as "isolated, independent traits" if genes do not represent "isolated, independent traits"? It appears that this isn't so much a criticism as the author's own personal muddle.

Adam then says:

"Third, ideas and innovations are transmitted and transmuted in ways that are very different from the transmission of genes."

It's true that some memes are transmitted through the air in the form of light rays or vibrations, while modern genes are mostly confined to nucleic acids - but so what? Darwinism just talks about inheritance, without going into implementation details too much. The details of how heritable information is transmitted and transmuted is all part of life's rich tapestry - not some sort of objection to applying Darwinian principles in the first place.

I think Adam needs to get with the program.

Lastly there's Maurice Bloch's chapter "A well-disposed social anthropologist's problem with memes".

Maurice Bloch identifies much of memetics as basic anthropology. Then he goes on to offer some criticisms. He doesn't think culture can be "atomised". He writes:

"Is the practice of finishing the main rounds of rituals during the rainy season because the ancestors have so ordained and because the harvest can only take place when the crops are dry, is it a part of the memeplex about the weather, or the religion memeplex or the naive physics memeplex, or the social memeplex? Or is it that all these things link up into one gigantic memeplex? The answer to these questions can only be totally arbitrary. In reality, culture simply does not normally divide up into naturally discernible bits."

There are several issues here. One is whether you can break culture up into discrete bits. What can be divided up into discrete bits is cultural information. Information can be divided up into discrete bits - as can be clearly seen by the way so much of it it has migrated onto the discrete medium of the internet. Hopefully now, the internet clearly illustrates how cultural information can be divided up into discrete bits whose frequencies can be measured.

Then there's the issue of of whether there are "natural break lines" in cultural information - like there are on bars of chocolate - which make it more likely to divite at certain points. Natural break points can often be identified by the frequency at which actual breaks take place during transmission processes. So, for example, quotations often start with a capital letter and end with a full stop. Music, movies, art and computer programs also have natural break points. Culture does normally divide up into naturally discernible "bits". However, I don't think it always does that. There are probably even pieces of culture that have a roughly equal chance of being divided at any point.

However, the whole issue of natural break points strikes me as being a bit of a red herring. Evolution is based on heredity - and we have a science of heredity - namely: genetics. Heredity is not dependant on heritable information having natural break points. So, I see no reason why the science of cultural heredity - namely memetics - should insist on there being natural break points either. For example, you don't need natural break points to be able to perform meme frequency analysis. There the experimenter decides what sequences they are interested in looking at.

In summary, culture is full of natural break points. There may be some areas where they don't exist, but: so what? If there were no natural break points, and cultural transmission processes broke heritable information up entirely at random, memetics would be OK with that situation, most of its models would be unchanged, and the concept of a "meme" would still be a useful one.

Bloch also raises the issue that memes can overlap. However genes can overlap too. I don't see this as being a big deal.

Bloch then turns to what he calls "cultural consistency" - saying:

"the transmission of culture is not a matter of passing on ‘bits of culture’ as though they were a rugby ball being thrown from player to player. Nothing is passed on; rather, a communication link is established which then requires an act of re-creation on the part of the receiver. This means that, even if we grant that what was communicated was a distinct unit at the time of communication, the recreation it stimulates transforms totally this original stimulus and integrates it into a different mental universe so that it loses its identity and specificity. In sum, the culture of an individual, or of a group, is not a collection of bits, traits, or memes, acquired from here and there, any more than a squirrel is a collection of hazelnuts."

I think this is all a misunderstanding. If memes are pieces of cultural information, then cultural information can be divided into memes - just as a matter of definition. Bloch emphasizes that cultural information is "digested". Certainly some information is commonly lost during the process of transmission - but we can see that some information is not lost during transmission - the parts that contribute to cumulative cultural evolution. Those bits are more like the squirrel's genes than the squirrel's diet - since they are preserved intact down the generations. Bloch exaggerates the impact of the "digestion" process. Empirically, assimilation of culture does leave some things largely intact from one generation to the next.

Bloch says that culture:

"is not a library of propositions or memes. This type of argument is principally intended as a criticism of American cultural anthropology, which (as we saw) was itself a criticism of diffusionism. But clearly it also applies to the simple diffusionist idea that culture is made up of ‘bits of information’ that spread unproblematically by ‘transmission’, where transmission is understood as a unitary type of phenomenon. British anthropologists, including myself, would argue that knowledge is extremely complex, of many different kinds, and impossible to locate, as though it were of a single type."

Information can represent complex structures of different kinds. Memes are just bits of cultural information - so have no problem representing complex information of many different kinds. As for knowledge being "impossible to locate", that reckons without the fMRI machines of the neuromarketers. They put people into scanners and then examine how their brains respond to meme exposure. The idea that memes are "impossible to locate" is one of the many criticisms of memetics that progress is gradually pushing into the dustbin of history.

Lastly one of my favourie bits from Bloch:

"Of course, memeticists will want to argue that they are saying more than the diffusionists ever did and cannot therefore be dismissed in the same way. They will bring up the originality of thinking of the evolution of culture from ‘the memes’ point of view’. And, of course, they are right, because if they had been able to argue that there were such things as memes, this would have been a fascinating new perspective on human history. The point is, however, that they have not succeeded in arguing convincingly — any more than the diffusionists had before them when talking of ‘traits’ — that there are such things in the world as memes. And so, talk of invasion by the ‘body snatchers’, to use Dennett’s delightful phrase, is an idea as intriguing, as frightening and as likely as invasion by little green men from Mars."

In this passage, Bloch adopts the position of a "trait denialist" - which strikes me as a bizarre position. Of course there are cultural traits.

Bloch started off the chapter by emphasizing the similarities between memetics and conventional anthropology. However, in this passage he agrees that memetics is radical and new. If culture really is a type of symbiotic relationship with entities with inheritance not based on DNA, then that's a big deal for the social sciences, for evolutionary biology and for biology.

These days, a number of leading scientists in the field support the symbiosis perspective. For example, we have Peter Richerson saying:

"I think it is near to undeniable that cultural variants are sometimes selected to become selfish pathogens along the lines that Dawkins suggested. Since some cultural variants can spread rapidly among people, as in the case of fads, they rather resemble the life cycle of a viral or bacterial pathogen."

Viral videos and viral marketing are not just a way of speaking - these types of phenomenon demand models based on symbiology. So, in this passage, Bloch is wrong, but he is eloquently wrong, clearly expressing the influence of memetics on the old paradigm which it displaces.

I haven't commented on Robert Aunger's "Introduction" or "Conclusion". I don't much like those parts of the book, so I'll just keep quiet about them.
2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Why the science of cultural transmission is not developing. 12 Oct 2010
By Baraniecki Mark Stuart - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Dawkins: A Meme - a unit of cultural transmission.

A variety of academics from different disciplines look at the "meme" idea 24 years after Dawkins introduced it in his 1976 book, "The Selfish Gene". The result is a miserable rag bag of a text.

Academics setting out on a journey of discovery tend do nothing until the concepts of "journey" and "discovery" are clearly defined - which may be never - and which may suit them just fine as they still collect their salaries. Contributing author David Hull wants them to get moving, emphasising that Darwin was happy to proceed with his investigation while the gene was still hypothetical.

There is some agreement among the authors that Blackmore's requirement (in her book "The Gene Machine") for memes to replicate by imitation is too restrictive, but the background unwillingness to investigate the issues is wholly depressing. Sociologists are just not interested in the dynamics of the transmission of ideas, anthropologists say that they've covered that ground already (and don't give much importance to it) and psychologists regard information transmission as irrelevant to social dynamics.

So biologists are left holding the bag (meme) and the editor (Robert Auger) can only make the following timid statement with regard to the revolutions of language, writing and the Internet; "But whether these have increased the transmissibility of memes .............. remains to be determined."

He does suggest that three forms of inheritance (genes, memes and artifacts) could form the basis of a new sophisticated theory of information transmission but it is clear that none of these authors is going to play the ball. As a complete layman it would seem to me that a young technologist reading a scientific paper and and checking with his supervisor, is taking on a meme - but that may be just my imagination.
3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 10 Big Minds, Essential Foundation Reading 26 Nov 2007
By Robert David STEELE Vivas - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book, and The Electric Meme: A New Theory of How We Think are both world class and should be read along with Group Genius: The Creative Power of Collaboration and Five Minds for the Future. I believe we are at the very beginning of a new era in which we will be able to map linguistics and culture, and devise beneficial bacteria at the same time that we devise beneficial memes. Ideas, not weapons, will be the dominant feature of the 21st Century.

The book grabs we right away with the statement that good ideas can go extinct and bad ideas can infect. See also Forbidden Knowledge: From Prometheus to Pornography and Weapons of Mass Deception: The Uses of Propaganda in Bush's War on Iraq.

Early on the book provokes me to note that what is relevant is culturally determined. In the attack on Iraq, for example, the only relevant information was that which Dick Cheney wished to act on. Nothing else. See Vice: Dick Cheney and the Hijacking of the American Presidency and The One Percent Doctrine: Deep Inside America's Pursuit of Its Enemies Since 9/11.

This edited work, while a melange of competing opinions, is a very valuable foundation work for an emerging discipline

One note from each contributing author:

Blackmore: into parapsychology, inspired the third book I plan to do in 2009, ABNORMAL INTELLIGENCE: From Bacterial to Extra-Terrestial

Hull: memes can be tracked statistically, e.g. mentions and variants on the web.

Plotkin: Different forms of knowledge and belief (I note: religions and nationality are a form of super-meme).

Conte: 12 different ways for memes to spread

Laland & Odling-Smee: Niche construction alters evolutionary paths

Boyd & Richerson: need to map cultures at memetic level and do population modeling [I note that Information Operations as now emergent in the US Department of Defense is nowhere near this level of sophistication, and that the EarthGame planned by Medard Gabel is precisely what we need now.]

Sperber: notes Chompsky's contributions, linguistics can help, grammar is inferred. I note: Memes plus True Cost at Point of Sale will save us.

Kuper: Ecology of ideas, cultural difusion, ideological change, technical innovtation

Bloch: social & cultural anthropologists shave been wrong to ignore biologists and other natural scientists--memetics must be a multidisciplinary endeavor.

Aunger: cultural change is the next big challenge. Memes CAN improve life, lead to peace and prosperity, but mememetics is not yet documented nor empirically researchable.

The references that each author provides at the end of their respective chapters are a PhD in waiting.

See also:
Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming
A Power Governments Cannot Suppress
Society's Breakthrough!: Releasing Essential Wisdom and Virtue in All the People
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