Make your own free website on


The 'memic theory of mind'

In addition to an assumption of the incommensurability between living things and their universal context or between biology and physics, one of the major shortcomings of Darwinian theory is its failure to address cultural evolution. If the "almost universally adopted definition of evolution [is] a change in gene frequencies" within a population as a result of natural selection, as Mayr (1980, p. 12) has written, and if this is, today, what is meant by Darwinism, then Darwinism, by definition, can have little if anything at all to say about cultural evolution. Cultural ordering is replicative, but what is passed on from one cycle to the next is not principally genetic information but, loosely put, ideas. On the canonical view of contemporary Darwinism the term "evolution" is thus misapplied with respect to cultural as well as non-living ("physical") processes. "Cultural 'evolution'," writes Dawkins (1986, p. 216), "is not really evolution at all if we are being fussy and purist about our use of words," although in the Selfish Gene (Dawkins, 1976) he asserted that biological and cultural change nevertheless proceed according to the same principles. It is just the kind of "replicators", he says, that are different, and he coined the world "meme" to refer to the cultural kind. Later, in the Blind Watchmaker writing that he does not consider himself informed enough on cultural change to write about it, Dawkins backpeddled somewhat to say that the comparison between biological evolution and cultural evolution, "which is not really evolution at all" (Dawkins, 1986, p. 216), "can be taken too far if we are not careful" (1986, p. 361).

Dennett, asserting what amounts to the 1976 position of Dawkins, used explicitly to provide an account of the origin of "mind" (or "consciousness") in nature, goes well beyond the received view of contemporary Darwinism and Dawkins' present position too. "Just as genes propagate themselves in the gene pool by leaping from body to body via sperm or eggs, so memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain" (Dennett, 1995b, p. 346), and just as a living thing (an "organism") is said to be simply a gene's way of making more genes, on the memic view, according to Dennett (1995b, p. 346), "a scholar is just a library's way of making another library". As the evolution of life is said to be for the good of genes, the evolution of culture is said to be for the good of memes-the telos of life is said to come from genes, while the telos of culture, of "mind", from memes. Dennett (1995b, p. 368) attacks Lewontin's criticism that the memic view "presupposes a Cartesian view of mind". But this is exactly what it does with the dead world of physics it assumes and the ideal agents it invokes to animate it.

The memic "explanation" of "mind", like the replicator account of the intentional ordering of living things in general, is no explanation at all. Instead, with the imaginary ideal agents it conjures under the rubric of memes, it simply attempts to smuggle in what it otherwise purports to explain. Like its genetic replicator counterpart it suffers fatally from the old problem of dualist interactionism, and is empirically and logically untenable. Culture theory, as noted above, is technically outside of the realm of Darwinism contemporarily defined, but well beyond this, Dennett's claim that selfish meme theory is a "through-and-through Darwinian version of mind" is false for the same reasons that the same claims made about macros or selfish bits of DNA are false. Darwin's theory was about living, reproducing, metabolizing things not about animated bits of program or ideal "replicators" building living things towards their own ends.

More substantively, the logical and empirical deficiencies of the memic view of mind are apparent in the assertion in Dennett's summary sentence that "[t]he invasion of human brains by culture, in the form of memes, has created human minds"(Dennett, 1995b, p. 369). The idea that human brains existed prior to human "minds" is certainly preposterous. From an evolutionary standpoint this assertion is empirically false, sufficient in itself to reject the theory. Yet even if this were not an empirically decidable issue, as with all dualist idealist schemes, it is a radically unparsimonious, impossibly hard to imagine theory. Most striking, however, with respect to the current discussion, is its anti-evolutionary premises. It assumes human brains and memes appeared independently of each other, independently of cultural autocatakinesis, and the selection pressure internal to it-that they appeared, in effect, by miracle. But "memes" (ideas) have no such independent existence and did not "invade" brains to create culture or mind-cultural ideas and their meanings, like genes and their relation to the autocatakinesis of living things in general, do not exist outside the circular relations that define the autocatakinesis of culture.

From the evolutionary record it is uncontentious that cultural ordering was certainly a pre human process. Brains and ideas did not evolve separately or appear suddenly and separately with the latter "invading" the former to creat "minds", but together as part of an ongoing evolutionary process. The autocatakinesis of cultural ordering goes back at least as far as the Australopithecines who used tools some three million or more years ago with the relevant cultural knowledge being passed on or replicated by simple apprenticeship or imitation (e.g., Campbell, 1985). Cultural ordering continued as a process of continuous autocatakinesis from the Australopithecines through Homo habilis and Homo erectus, and then with modern humans. The evolution of the brain, which went from roughly one-hundredth of the body weight of an Australopithecine to one forty fifth in modern humans, along with the articulation of the larynx, vocal cords, and tongue which made possible the linguistic skills on which the cultural ordering (and ideas) of modern humans depend, occurred internal to this ongoing autocatakinetic process. Human beings (and human "minds") developed as a product of brains and ideas evolving together as part of the evolutionary component production process of cultural autocatakinesis.

The Idea That Evolution Is For The Benefit Of Potentially Immortal Replicators Is False For A Number of Reasons

Perpetual Motion

Dawkin's idea, borrowed by Dennett, that evolution is for the benefit of potentially immortal replicators, that the telos of evolutionary ordering is explained by and serves potentially immortal replicators, flags the idealist core of Dennett's scheme and the separation of his abstract replicators from real-world physics and cosmology. From the standpoint of physics, energy is conserved or "potentially immortal" (immortal as far as science knows), but replicators, on the contrary, except those existing ideally outside the laws of physics (and thus, regardless of the assertions of Dawkins and Dennett, being unobservable and unknowable to science) surely are not immortal, or even potentially so. Beyond being autocatakinetic, real-world replication is an irreversible process, meaning