Dawkins’s meme is thirty years old this year –
a brilliant idea that unifies biology with culture, provides a new
understanding of human evolution, and accounts for human uniqueness,
the large human brain, and the origins of language and
consciousness. It also explains the evolutionary processes that are
shaping the web and driving the information explosion today; and has
fascinating implications for how we live our lives and for free will
and responsibility. Yet thirty years on there is no thriving science
of memetics. Why?
Perhaps the idea of the meme as a replicator is
just plain wrong, or is an “empty analogy” or a “meaningless
metaphor”. Perhaps memetics is in fact going on but under other
names. Perhaps memetics has been so badly misunderstood that its
advantages have been ignored. Or perhaps it is just too difficult at
the moment. Or could it be that people are just too frightened by
the implications to take it seriously?
I shall outline the basics of memetics, ponder
these questions, and explain why I remain incorrigibly optimistic
about the explanatory power of the notion of memes.