Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Down With Memes!

Stuart Buck directs us to Alister McGrath's speech The Spell of the Meme,(PDF!) in which the Oxonian theologian remarks on the Hierophant of Memes Himself, Daniel Dennett:

First, the meme is just an hypothesis – one that we don’t need, as there are better models available – for example, in economics, but also in anthropology. If genes could not be seen, we would have to invent them – the evidence demands a biologically transmitted genetic replicator. Memes can’t be observed, and the evidence can be explained perfectly well without them. As Maurice Bloch - professor of anthropology at LSE – commented recently, the “exasperated reaction of many anthropologists to the general idea of memes” reflects the apparent ignorance of the proponents of the meme hypothesis of the discipline of anthropology, and its major successes in the explanation of cultural development – without
feeling the need to develop anything like the idea of a “meme” at all.

Dennett, creator of a thousand brainless scarecrows, makes himself such an easy target. McGrath also makes a nice comparison between memetics and the theory of the ether, and wishes for a new Michelson and Morely to rid us of this tiresome idea.

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