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A meme identifies ideas, practices, traditions or beliefs that are transmitted verbally or by repeated action from one mind to another (from one person or group of people to another person or group of people). It identifies a basic unit of cultural information. The concept comes from an analogy made by Richard Dawkins in his book in The Selfish Gene (1976): as genes transmit biological information, memes can be said to transmit idea and belief information. Richard Dawkins initially defined meme as a noun which "conveys the idea of a unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation".


Genes and Memes

In analogy with gene, a meme is any form of cultural replicator - an idea, behavior, style or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture. In the narrower sense, only those ideas can be considered as a meme which form a kind of body as survival mechanism. Just as genes are the recipes for stringing together amino acids into proteins, memes are the general recipes for stringing together independent objects into coherent systems: ideas into theories, persons into social systems, and individuals into groups.

Both genes and memes are capable of being copied and replicated. As an abstract information pattern, a meme is more abstract and less concrete than a gene, in fact a gene can be considered as the implementation of a special meme, the idea of a self-replicating molecule. Although memes appeared later than genes in evolution, because they are associated with society, culture, and social systems, they are indeed more fundamental than genes. They are the more general and more abstract idea.

Memetic Bodies

Cultural objects can be viewed as constructs of cultural DNA: companies contain Corporate DNA, social groups and societies are based on a common set of shared customs, laws, and policies. In this sense, both genes and memes are capable of having "bodies". Languages, civilizations, complex societies and minds can be considered as memetic bodies, at least to some extent. In principles, any social group which is defined by a set of memes can be considered as a memetic body, similar to a genetic body constructed by genes.

Soul Dust

A single meme or idea can be considered as the legacy of a civilization or individual person. In the former case it would be "dust of a civilization", in the latter a kind of "soul dust", for example a quote from someone who is no longer living. Although he is no longer living, he has left traces of his existence in this particular sentence.

Reconstruct a Mind

Can we (re-)construct minds from different parts or pieces ? Is there a blueprint for a soul (whatever that is)? If genes are blueprints used to construct bodies, then maybe memes can be considered as blueprints to construct minds. An autobiography is maybe the thing which is perhaps the most similar to such a blueprint. One difference to genetic blueprints is the temporal relationship: genetic blueprints exist before the life of the individual, whereas autobiographies exist only after the life of the individual. During our life, our personality is reinforced and we become more like ourselves.


  • Wikipedia entry for meme
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