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, 12 (4), 351-81

The Trouble With Memes : Inference Versus Imitation in Cultural Creation


The Trouble With Memes : Inference Versus Imitation in Cultural Creation

S Atran. Hum Nat.


Memes are hypothetical cultural units passed on by imitation; although nonbiological, they undergo Darwinian selection like genes. Cognitive study of multimodular human minds undermines memetics: unlike in genetic replication, high-fidelity transmission of cultural information is the exception, not the rule. Constant, rapid "mutation" of information during communication generates endlessly varied creations that nevertheless adhere to modular input conditions. The sort of cultural information most susceptible to modular processing is that most readily acquired by children, most easily transmitted across individuals, most apt to survive within a culture, most likely to recur in different cultures, and most disposed to cultural variation and elaboration.

Keywords: Cognition; Culture; Imitation; Inference; Meme; Modularity.

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