Why is there no science of memetics?

Seminar for Institute of Biomedical and Life Sciences,
Division of Molecular Genetics, Glasgow University April 29th 2005

Dawkins’s idea of memes as cultural replicators holds out the promise of integrating the social and biological sciences within the same evolutionary framework. It provides new explanations for human uniqueness, including the origins of the big brain, and of language and culture; it explains the evolutionary processes that are shaping the internet and the web; and gives a new account of self and consciousness.

Research on imitation, the essential skill for memetic evolution, has been flourishing, much of it backing up memetic theory. And several of the key predictions from memetics have been confirmed in fields as disparate as robotics, neuroscience and animal behaviour. Why then, nearly thirty years after Dawkins coined the word “meme” and five years after I wrote “The Meme Machine” is there no thriving science of memetics? I shall outline the basics of memetics, try to clear up some common misunderstandings, and explain why I remain incorrigibly optimistic about the explanatory power of the notion of memes.