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Criticism Of Memetic Theory

Despite the cult popularity of the idea, memetic theory is hardly discussed in recent texts on evolutionary psychology and linguistics. The prevailing consensus seems to be that the meme is a nice metaphor but one that has perhaps been taken too far. Memes, after all, are hard to define, quantify, and measure; their very existence is somewhat nebulous, inferable but not scientifically verifiable.

Some have also assailed memes not only as bad science but as reactionary politics. The complexity of human development is overly reduced into nonmaterialist, quasi-mystical, pseudo-scientific terms, which in turn are only a new Kabbalah, a recasting of age-old ideas of angels and demons and magic words that can control reality. Many also question the memetics community's frequent, almost reflexive, assaults on religion, which they characterize as nothing more than preprogrammed, irrational memetic replication. Moreover the idea of human behavior as nothing but the programming of snippets of information is troubling to many—and not only those who still maintain a belief in free will. To hold with a radical memetic view of human behavior is to ignore the factors of economics, environment, and politics in history. As such, memetics is a fascinating and promising protoscience but further research and experimentation is needed before it can become a full-fledged discipline in its own right.


Aunger, Robert. The Electric Meme: A New Theory of How We Think. New York: Free Press, 2002.

Blackmore, Susan. The Meme Machine. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Boyd, Andrew. "Truth Is a Virus: Meme Warfare and the Billionaires for Bush (or Gore)." In The Cultural Resistance Reader, edited by Stephen Duncombe. New York: Verso, 2002.

Dawkins, Richard. The Selfish Gene. New ed. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1989. Originally published in 1976.

Gardner, James. "Memetic Engineering." Wired 4.05 (May 1996). Available at http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/4.05/memetic.htm.

Journal of Memetics. Available at http://jom-emit.cfpm.org/.

Ridley, Matt. The Origins of Virtue. New York: Penguin Books, 1996.

Stephenson, Neal. Snow Crash. New York: Bantam, 1992.

Kenneth Mondschein

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Mathematics to Methanal trimerMeme - The Selfish Meme, Memetic Engineering, Criticism Of Memetic Theory, Bibliography