Memetics

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Memetics is a theory of mental content based on an analogy with Darwinian evolution, originating from Richard Dawkins' 1976 book The Selfish Gene. It purports to be an approach to evolutionary models of cultural information transfer. A meme, analogous to a gene, is essentially a "unit of culture"—an idea, belief, pattern of behaviour, etc. which is "hosted" in one or more individual minds, and which can reproduce itself from mind to mind. Thus what would otherwise be regarded as one individual influencing another to adopt a belief is seen memetically as a meme reproducing itself. As with genetics, particularly under Dawkins's interpretation, a meme's success may be due to its contribution to the effectiveness of its host. Memetics is notable for sidestepping the traditional concern with the truth of ideas and beliefs.

The Journal of Memetics was published electronically from 1997 to 2005.[1]

Contents

History of the term

In his book The Selfish Gene (1976), the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins used the term meme to describe a unit of human cultural transmission analogous to the gene, arguing that replication also happens in culture, albeit in a different sense. In his book, Dawkins contended that the meme is a unit of information residing in the brain and is the mutating replicator in human cultural evolution. It is a pattern that can influence its surroundings – that is, it has causal agency – and can propagate. This created great debate among sociologists, biologists, and scientists of other disciplines, because Dawkins himself did not provide a sufficient explanation of how the replication of units of information in the brain controls human behaviour and ultimately culture, since the principal topic of the book was genetics. Dawkins apparently did not intend to present a comprehensive theory of memetics in The Selfish Gene, but rather coined the term meme in a speculative spirit. Accordingly, the term "unit of information" came to be defined in different ways by many scientists.

The modern memetics movement dates from the mid 1980s. A January 1983 Metamagical Themas column [2] by Douglas Hofstadter, in Scientific American, was influential as was his 1985 book of the same name. "Memeticist" was coined as analogous to "geneticist" originally in The Selfish Gene. Later Arel Lucas suggested that the discipline that studies memes and their connections to human and other carriers of them be known as memetics by analogy with 'genetics.'"[3] Dawkins' The Selfish Gene has been a factor in drawing in people of disparate intellectual backgrounds. Another stimulus was the publication in 1991 of Consciousness Explained by Tufts University philosopher Daniel Dennett, which incorporated the meme concept into a theory of the mind. In his 1991[4] essay Viruses of the Mind, Richard Dawkins used memetics to explain the phenomenon of religious belief and the various characteristics of organised religions. By then, memetics had also become a theme appearing in fiction (e.g. Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash).

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