The ghosts in the meme machine.
The ghosts in the meme machine
The notion of `memes’ as replicators similar to genes, but concerned with cultural units, was put forward by Dawkins (1976). Blackmore (1999) used this notion to elaborate an ambitious theory designed to account for numerous aspects of human evolution and psychology. Her theory is based on the human capacity for imitation, and although the operation of the `memes’ is said to be purely mechanical, the figurative language used implies that their `actions’ are purposive. This article will show that imitation had been regarded as important for human advance well before Darwinism. Moreover, at the end of the 19th century descriptions of the functioning of imitation in society had been put forward that closely parallel those given by Blackmore. Hence it is argued that what is convincing about her thesis is not new, and what is new is speculative and highly questionable.