Problems Facing Meme Theory

Using Darwinian evolution to explain how culture originated and evolved into its complex design through free will or common sense is a difficult and controversial task of Meme Theory. The following are some of the problems facing the theory.

1. The terms used in Meme Theory are not firmly defined and consistent. For example, "meme" is defined by various theorists as "behavior," "information," "ideas," "instructions in brains," or "mental states"

In other instances while attempting to draw parallels to Darwinian evolution, meme proponents created new and figurative genetic terminology for Meme Theory such as "memetic phenotype", "memetic allele", "memetic chromosome." Other terms, having no parallels to evolution, are created to mimic an analogous biological function such as "replicator" and "interactor."."

In attempting to translate Meme Theory to apply to ethics, "i-culture" and "m-culture" is used.

2. Another significant problem is whether Meme Theory can adequately explain the diversity and complexity of human culture. How are the rules for cultural behavior in one person’s brain transmitted to another?

Memetic phenotypes have been proposed to explain this transmission, but there is confusion on how mutations are introduced. Are they accidental, random, or intentional?

Furthermore the transmission is not through the classical Mendelian transmission of genetic inheritance. Meme theory propose a Lamarkian hereditary mechanism in which acquired traits are transmitted. How can cultural evolution still be considered Darwinian?

This is a considerable problem. In order for cultural evolution to be considered Darwinian, genetic information must be transmitted through inheritance, and yet the diversity and complexity of human culture can only be accounted for by a huge amount of new genetic information introduced through some other manner.

3. The natural selection of memes is not subject to the forces of nature as in Darwinian evolution, but rather self selected.

For example, meme theorists believe that:

Human consciousness has the power to select memes in order to fulfill some life goal, and

Human intelligence can intentionally design memes.

If memes are not subject to the pressures of natural selection and instead chosen by their human hosts, how can cultural changes be considered the result of Darwinian evolution?

©2003 A resource for learning how to read the Bible.