Memes: Universal acid or a better mouse trap?

Among the many vivid metaphors in Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, one stands out. The understanding of how cumulative natural selection gives rise to adaptations is, Dennett says, like a “universal acid”—an idea so powerful and corrosive of conventional wisdom that it dissolves all attempts to contain it within biology. Like most good ideas, this one is very simple: Once replicators (material objects that are faithfully copied) come to exist, some will replicate more rapidly than others, leading to adaptation by natural selection. The great power of the idea is that the resulting adaptations can be understood by asking what leads to efficient, rapid replication. Given that ideas seem to replicate, it is natural that Dawkins (1976, 1982), Dennett (1992), and others have explored the possibility of using this idea to explain cultural evolution.
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