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Crowding out Memetic Explanation

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 January 2022


Memes have been proposed to explain wide swathes of human culture and language use. I argue that what is really doing the explanatory work in many of these cases is a basic mechanism of information transmission, which is distinct from memetic evolution by natural selection in significant ways. Perhaps the most significant of these is that information transmission depends primarily on the interests of the users of information, rather than the reproductive interests of the informational entities—‘memes’—themselves. Although my main target is memetic approaches, this argument also applies to some other, nonmemetic, theories of cultural evolution.

Cognitive Sciences
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My thanks to Daniel Dennett, Patrick Forber, Peter Godfrey-Smith, David Haig, Enoch Lambert, Ron Planer, Charles Rathkopf, Gill Shen, Shawn Simpson, Jared Warren, and audiences at Stanford and University of California, Merced, for helpful discussions and feedback.


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