Some People Get High On Verbiage

Jan 11, 2006 In biologicalEvolution forum



I saw a book review in the Jan 2006 Scientific American, reviewing D.C.Dennett’s book “Breaking the Spell: Religion as a natural phenomenon”:

A. “Breaking the Spell: Religion as a natural phenomenon”, gee, what an admirably profound, sophisticated and impressive book title and subject!

And SciAm’s book review title “Getting a rational grip on religion; is religion a fit subject for scientific scrutiny?”, wow! how exhilarating and daring! how scientific!

B. And since the SciAm book review brings in also “memes”, a term I have seen occasionally but so far not ever looked up, I now searched and found:

” As defined by Richard Dawkins in The Selfish Gene (1976): “a unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation.” “Examples of memes are tunes, ideas, catch-phrases, clothes fashions, ways of making pots or of building arches. Just as genes propagate themselves in the gene pool by leaping from body to body via sperms or eggs, so memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain via a process which, in the broad sense, can be called memory…”

Gee whiz and double wow! how elegant and wise! The coupled words/terms ‘communications’ and ‘memories’ and their connotations are simply too mundane and not scientific, sophisticated or impressive enough…

C. Some people do get high on verbiage…


Cliff Lundberg:

Is it fair to say, for purposes of evolutionary theory, that cultural factors are simply part of the environment?

Anything can be said to ‘have a life of its own’ if it becomes important. Is Dawkins getting anywhere with his ‘memes’? Or is it a pointless abstraction?




I tried to express my opinion re both the book’s title/subject and re SciAm’s review title, without conveying my opinion (BS…) about both of them, with genteel irony.

Re your question “Is Dawkins getting anywhere with his ‘memes’?” I really do not know. Never cared to follow this up. I imagine that the “memes” thing might have been an unsuccessful attempt to convey what I term “cultural evolution”, which is covered also in my “Unfinished Evolution Symphony” title that I sent to both Scientific American and Science. From past experience with scientists’ guilds’ periodicals I have not expected even an acknowledgment (understandable, as I have not included even one single reference!) and indeed there was no peep from either of them.


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