Dominique Guillo, Centre Jacques Berque (USR 3136, CNRS-MAEE), 35, avenue Tarik Ibn Ziad, 10000 Rabat, Maroc Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The meaning of the concept of natural selection undergoes important changes when it circulates, through the use of analogies, between the realms of biological and cultural phenomena. These changes are not easily detected, but they are unavoidable. They have to do with differences between the properties of cultural phenomena and those of biological phenomena: in particular, the absence of the equivalent of a Hardy–Weinberg law for culture. These differences make it necessary to translate the concepts of classic population genetics into the language of transmission. This translation enables the theorists discussed here to build a unitary general theory of evolution (GTE) based on analogies between biological and cultural evolution, and at the same time to single out their differences. But the unity and the rigor of this theoretical approach are merely apparent. The concept of selection as it is defined here loses, in its three spheres of application – GTE, culture but also biology – the meaning and explanatory power it has in classic population genetics. This means that the mechanism of Darwinian selection cannot be considered as a universal algorithm that is valid for both biological and cultural phenomena alike.
Department of Psychology, University of Strathclyde, 40 George Street, Glasgow, G11QE, UK, G.Jahoda@strath.ac.uk
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.