Cultural Evolution, Memes, and the Trouble with Dan Dennett

67 Pages Posted: 8 Aug 2013

Date Written: August 7, 2013


Philosopher Dan Dennett’s conception of the active meme, moving about from brain to brain, is physically impossible and conceptually empty. It amounts to cultural preformationism. As the cultural analogue to genes, memes are best characterized as the culturally active properties of things, events, and processes in the external world. Memes are physically embodied in a substrate. The cultural analogue to the phenotype can be called an ideotype; ideotypes are mental entities existing in the minds of individual humans. Memes serve as targets for designing and fabricating artifacts, as couplers to synchronize and coordinate human interaction, and as designators (Saussaurian signifiers). Cultural change is driven by the movement of memes between populations with significantly different cultural practices understood through different populations of ideotypes.

Keywords: meme, cultural evolution, memetics, Dennett, replicator, language, sign, music, words

Suggested Citation

Benzon, William L., Cultural Evolution, Memes, and the Trouble with Dan Dennett (August 7, 2013). Available at SSRN: or

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