Before explaining why memetics is a bunch of hooey, we first must understand what a meme is. A meme is an idea. Nothing more, nothing less. That alone is well worth noting. When someone invents a fancy, new word to use in place of a commonplace, old word, it’s a likely sign that they’re up to something. The new word distracts your attention, and a bad notion slips in while your guard is down.
In this case, the bad notion is that ideas can take action all by themselves. Memes are credited with the ability to “replicate”, to “compete”, to “struggle”, and so forth. If anyone suggested that ideas could do such things, they’d be dismissed as crazy. Ideas replicating themselves? That’s about as likely as my car having a litter of baby cars. Ideas competing to get themselves thought? One might as well say that the vegetables in my fridge are competing to get themselves eaten.
We are told to view memes as similar to organisms, and the mind as the “environment” where they live. To state the thudingly obvious, the mind is not an environment. An environment is simply the set of circumstances that exists in a certain place and time. It is entirely passive. By contrast, the mind thinks and controls itself. There is nothing less like an environment than the human mind.
The notions that memetics depends on are not even well-defined. An organism, such as a fish or a tree, is quite clearly defined. We know exactly what it is. By contrast, it’s not clear whether a certain segment of thought is many ideas, one idea, or part of an idea. How often must a person think a certain idea for that meme to be “surviving” in their mind? And for how long a time must they think it? And how closely related must two ideas be in order for them to be the same meme?
I started a similar thread a couple months ago about evolutionary psychology, but evolutionary psychology at least makes specific and clear claims. If someone claims that there’s a gene which causes a certain behavior, we can search the genome and see whether such a gene exists. But the claim is clear and well-defined, so evolutionary psychology at least qualifies as an honest theory, even though it’s incorrect.
Memetics, by contrast, is just a bunch of meaningless babble. If someone claims that a certain meme exists with a certain frequency, that doesn’t mean anything, so there’s no way to prove or disprove the claim. Calling memetics a pseudoscience would be far too generous.
The final argument against memetics is the most obvious one. In any other field of study, there are actual results. Memetics, by contrast, has contributed nothing whatever to human knowledge.