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Memes: worth saving

ems8140's picture

Thursday’s discussion with Professor Dalke touched briefly on the concept of memes, which Dennett describes as “a handy word for a salient (memorable) cultural item, something with enough Design to be worth saving—or stealing or replicating” (143). Memes are an important part of what separates humans from other species. Dennett states, “we are different. We are the only species that has an extra medium of design preservation and design communication: culture” (338). Without culture, that which has been designed by humans would not be maintained. As described by Dennett, “a meme’s existence depends on a physical embodiment in some medium; if all such embodiments are destroyed, that meme is distinguished”(348). Therefore, it is necessary for culture to be passed on in order to ensure it is sustained. However, because there is a Darwinian aspect to memes, it is through this movement through generations that culture becomes changed and evolved.

According to Dennett, Darwin’s dangerous idea is that evolution from natural selection may apply not only to biological processes, but also to many systems including individuals and culture. This concept may be considered dangerous because not everyone believes Darwin’s idea of evolution, so to extend this theory to other facets of life could lead to problems. I thought it was interesting when Dennett discusses those individuals who dislike the idea of an “evolutionary explanation of the creation” (341) for culture. Those people like the idea of memes because as already described, these cultural units help to distinguish us from other species. Yet, they hate the idea that “culture must have a Darwinian origin” (341). I believe this quotation to be true, because there would be no other way for culture and memes to develop or evolve otherwise.


In addition, here is the quote I couldn’t find in class on Thursday. I think it relates nicely to our discussion from last week about those people who are more science-oriented versus literary/philosophy oriented.

“But there is no such thing as philosophy-free science…The Darwinian Revolution is both a scientific and philosophical revolution, and neither revolution could have occurred without the other” (21).

As discussed in class, I think that a person cannot only have one mindset when discussing evolution. One must be open to ideas from both the biological perspective and the philosophical perspective.




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