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The Hard Question of Memetics

The Hard Question of Memetics

Accepting all proofs in this blog that memetics (can) play an important role in contemporary science, one that I call the hard question of memetics remains. This hard question parallels the hard question of consciousness posed by David Chalmers in 1995: How does consciousness emerge from the physicality of brains or, in other words, how to connect qualia, personal experience, to brain activity? The hard question of memetics goes something like that:

How is the concept of memes different from prevailing ideas, myths, political PR, slogans, programs, etc.? What prompted you to reach for them? In what ways are they more productive “interpreters”? Why is it necessary for science to take memes seriously?

A comparison

I can answer this question with a comparison: Even Newtonian mechanics explains natural phenomena completely satisfactorily for 99% of human needs. Medicine treats most diseases correctly and can do the job without genetics.

Consilience

The answer is that memetics links the natural sciences, such as physics and biology, with the social sciences and provides cultural theories with a more precise tool for understanding the object of their study by elaborating myths, ideologies, and other cultural phenomena developed up to that point. Memes, with all the “characteristics” described in so many posts within this blog, allow us to explain why it so often seems that myths, fashions, brands, etc., act on their own. It explains why so many writers of literary fiction feel and declare that they have sent their book or poem into the world and that after they have finished their writings, they feel like their memetic child has begun to take on a life of its own.

No developed cultural theory has yet been able to explain this phenomenon. The blind spot of pre-memetic theory is also evident in this paper, which is exceptional in many ways but lacks the memetic perspective:

The boundary between us and non-human animals is likely symbolic. … The question is, what are the developmental and historical foundations of this capacity? What motivates us to acquire the complex cognitive architecture to learn and adopt social conventions, language, and symbolic ornamentation? (Rahman 2023, 2)

Memes are evolutionarily necessary

It is not only the question of »what motivates us«, but also what »motivates« memes. And as we know, they are »motivated« by purely evolutionary forces. As units of evolution on Earth, memes co-construct the symbolic creation of reality. Ultimately, evolution motivates human agency, except that we rationalize our mental agency as independent of external forces. This rationalist fallacy prevents us from recognizing ourselves as equal to other natural phenomena. This fallacy prevents us from understanding that culture is a natural phenomenon. This fallacy prevents us from accepting memes as co-agents of culture. It pushes memetics out of the politically correct cultural post-Second World War from accepting evolution as a natural selection that, through critical theory, culminates into the workerism of the 21st century.

A resolution

It is memetics and memetics only that offers a solution to bridge the gap of dualism, started with Plato, amplified by Descartes, and never really solved. The solution is not monism but a quantum-like acceptance of the natural unity within the persistent duality.

It is memetics only that can bridge the gap between natural and social sciences with the quantification of cultural elements and with a strong link of their revolution to the theory of natural selection.
Should not this suffice to answer the hard(est) question of memetics? Well, then, I give up (which I will never do!).

 

References:

Chalmers, David. 1995. ‘Facing Up to the Problem of Consciousness’. Journal of Consciousness Studies 2 (3): 200–219.

Rahman, Shagor. 2023. ‘Myth of Objectivity and the Origin of Symbols’. Frontiers in Sociology 8 (October): 1269621. https://doi.org/10.3389/fsoc.2023.1269621.

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