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(1 of 3) Richard Dawkins' Theory of Memes, Innate Knowledge and Abstract Entities.

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Uploaded on Apr 23, 2010

A brief exposition and criticism of Richard Dawkins' theory of memes. Dawkins wants a materialist account of culture and its transmission. I argue that the theory of memes breaks down when applied to abstract entities like theories, problems, arguments. However, these abstract entities are essential for understanding and understanding is crucial for cultural transmission. If meme theory were true, then culture would consist of atomic units that get copied from person to person. But people have their own network of assumptions and are logical. Therefore, they don't just copy what they receive from others. They work out new ideas as logical consequences of the memes atoms they encounter plus their own assumptions. The result in terms of what they go on to say and write is often quite different from the memes fed to them. Dawkins has suggested that all he needs in terms of innate systems is a generalized disposition to copy. However, some of the assumptions people have are innate and so a mere disposition to copy memes cannot do all the work in explaining culture. To understand culture, one needs:
1. Innate cognitive structures, which includes
a. Assumptions about the world
b. An ability and disposition to reason logically
2. Allow abstract entities to do some work.

My criticism draws on my forthcoming book The Myth of the Closed Mind and my article:
"Dawkins and Mind Viruses: Memes, Rationality and Evolution." Journal of Social and Evolutionary Systems. (1994) Vol. 17. No. 3. pp. 243 286.

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