term meme (it's pronounced like dream or cream) was coined by
Richard Dawkins, Professor
of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University, in
his 1976 book
The Selfish Gene.
he suggested “tunes, ideas, catch-phrases, clothes fashions, ways of
making pots or of building arches”.
are habits, skills, songs, stories, or any other kind of information
that is copied from person to person. Memes, like genes, are
replicators. That is, they are information that is copied with
variation and selection. Because only some of the variants survive,
memes (and hence human cultures) evolve. Memes are copied by
imitation, teaching and other methods, and they compete for space in
our memories and for the chance to be copied again. Large groups of
memes that are copied and passed on together are called co-adapted
meme complexes, or memeplexes.
word “meme” has recently been included in the Oxford English
Dictionary where it is defined as follows “meme (mi:m),
n. Biol. (shortened from mimeme ... that which is
imitated, after GENE n.) “An element of a culture that may be
considered to be passed on by non-genetic means, esp. imitation”.
to memetics, our minds and cultures are designed by natural selection
acting on memes, just as organisms are designed by natural selection
acting on genes. A central question for memetics is therefore ‘why
has this meme survived?’. Some succeed because they are genuinely
useful to us, while others use a variety of tricks to get themselves
copied. From the point of view of the “selfish memes” all that
matters is replication, regardless of the effect on either us or our
memes are almost entirely exploitative, or viral, in nature, including
chain letters and e-mail viruses. These consist of a “copy-me”
instruction backed up with threats and promises. Religions have a
similar structure and this is why Dawkins refers to them as ‘viruses
of the mind’. Many religions threaten hell and damnation, promise
heaven or salvation, and insist that their followers pass on their
beliefs to others. This ensures the survival of the memeplex. Other
viral memes include alternative therapies that don’t work, and new
age fads and cults. Relatively harmless memes include children’s
games, urban legends and popular songs, all of which can spread like
the other end of the spectrum memes survive because of their value to
us. The most valuable of memeplexes include all of the arts and
sports, transport and communications systems, political and monetary
systems, literature and science.
has been used to provide new explanations of human evolution,
including theories of altruism, the origins of language and
consciousness, and the evolution of the large human brain. The
Internet can be seen as a vast realm of memes, growing rapidly by the
process of memetic evolution and not under human control.
field of memetics is still a new and controversial science, with many
critics, and many difficulties to be resolved.
Examples of memes
Anything that is copied from person to person, or book to person
Loo Roll meme !
other sites provide definitions, FAQs and other basic information on
memes. See Links.
more on definitions see Blackmore,S.J.
1998 Imitation and the definition of a meme. Journal of Memetics
- Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission, 2.