Surfing the Zeitgeist

So — a couple of posts back I innocently remember a conversation I had with Susan Blackmore in my kitchen one night at least five years ago (she had come through Boston to give a talk at Mass Art, was staying with my wife and me, and I had just learned that she really, really, hates Lapsang Souchong tea.)

We were arguing about her very strong view of memes. She argues that ideas are imperfect self replicators, analogous to genes, and following Dawkins’ concept of the selfish gene, individuals perceiving themselves to be conscious (us) are in fact merely the vessels for this second class of selfish replicators.

Susan is a systematizer and an avid and extravagant theorizer. I’m a historian by temperament and with what little training I have I look for the details in the grounds of experience, and I don’t see the justification for the strong claim she makes. I’ll blog at greater length on this post -book (2 weeks or less to send the sucker in…), but what brought all this up is that having not spoken to Susan for a couple of years, and not thought much about memes until Bora socked me with one a couple of days ago, who turns up at TED but Dr. Blackmore, in all her memetic — and now temetic — glory (Go to the link if you want to know what a “teme” is.)

I still think her core premise is incorrect, that she mistakes persuasive metaphor for analogic identity — but I deeply enjoy the pressure she puts on me to say why. More on that later. For now, I feel very zeitgeisty. Who needs TED when you’ve got Inverse Square?

3/3/08: Minor update to correct the more obvious usage mistakes.

Image: Anonymous artist, Brazil, “Extracting Foot Worm,” 19th century. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Explore posts in the same categories: big ideas, blogospheric tail chasing

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3 Comments on “Surfing the Zeitgeist”

  1. Shannon Says:

    Tom, stop blogging and finish your book!


  2. I am also deeply unhappy with the entire endeavor of memetics. I use the word ONLY for ‘blog memes’, as it is a technical term for them. I am looking forward to your take.


  3. Great to hear you’re still arguing about memes. I remember the kitchen! Memetics still provides, for me, a way of viewing the world that makes sense of the accelerating and mad changes in technolgy and our (increasingly irrelevant) role. But do tell me why you disagree (when you’ve finished the book!). S.


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