Dennett on Memes, Neurons, and Software

34 Pages Posted: 12 Oct 2015

Date Written: October 6, 2015


In his work on memetics Daniel Dennett does a poor job of negotiating the territory between philosophy and science. The analytic tools he has as a philosopher aren’t of much use in building accounts of the psychological and social mechanisms that underlie cultural processes. The only tool Dennett seems to have at his disposal is analogy. That’s how he builds his memetics, by analogy from biology on the one hand and computer science on the other. These analogies do not work very well. To formulate an evolutionary account of culture one needs to construct one’s gene and phenotype analogues directly from the appropriate materials, neurons and brains in social interaction. Dennett doesn’t do that. Instead of social interaction he has an analogy to apps loading into computers. Instead of neurons he has homuncular agents that are suspiciously like his other favorite homuncular agents, memes. It doesn’t work.

Keywords: cultural evolution, memes, neuroscience, philosophy of mind, computation

Suggested Citation

Benzon, William L., Dennett on Memes, Neurons, and Software (October 6, 2015). Available at SSRN: or

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