Memetics – The Concept of Memes

A meme is a unit of culture. Richard Dawkins first coined the term meme in the year 1976 in his book “The Selfish Gene”. In this book, Dawkins explains that meme represents culture just as gene represents biology. He defines meme as an idea that is reproducible which can transmit itself within cultures.

What is a Meme?: Meme (pronounced as in dream), as mentioned above is an idea. As a matter of fact, an idea cannot be contained within one mind and it, through writings, actions or speech can be transmitted to another mind at a very fast pace.

From the definition above, we can deduce that an idea is like a virus, which infests itself from one brain to another, during which course an entire culture would be influenced.

Dawkins explains in his book that fashion, tunes, catchy phrases and technology as a few examples of memes.

Meme was derived from the Greek word ‘Mimeme’ meaning something which is imitated.

Memetics: We can gather from the definition of meme that an idea cannot be contained within one mind. So, there definitely exists a host for an idea. Now, depending on the host’s effectiveness and his/her influence on the next mind, memes would start reproducing themselves and evolve.

This study of memes and their transmission came to be known as memetics (analogous to genetics) and the person who studies this came to be known as a memeticist (just as a geneticist).

Meme Traits: Dawkins attributes the evolution of an idea to the evolution of a gene. All we know is that genes are contained within the DNA and the fittest survive and evolve over a period of time and are passed on to the next generations.

  • In the same way, a meme also has a few traits. For instance, false ideas propagate at a much quicker pace when compared to true ones. So, it can so happen that even though the meme is absolutely true and solid, it just won’t propagate because it may be less abundant which will eventually lead to its extinction.
  • So, less abundant memes are bound to go extinct.
  • Similarly, memes, which evolve effectively, are spread very easily. For instance, the song remixes that we get to see and listen to today. In the same way, jokes, sexual content and scary things also spread very easily.
  • It can thus be understood that an idea needn’t necessarily be true for it to evolve. It just has to survive.

One of the best examples of meme is religion. Religion has been part of human culture for thousands of years now and it just keeps transmitting itself through generations. In a way, a meme can also become mechanical after a while as its influence on us is so strong.

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