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Meme | Wikipedia audio article

Meme | Wikipedia audio article


A meme ( MEEM) is an idea, behavior, or style
that spreads from person to person within a culture—often with the aim of conveying
a particular phenomenon, theme, or meaning represented by the meme. A meme acts as a
unit for carrying cultural ideas, symbols, or practices, that can be transmitted from
one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals, or other imitable phenomena
with a mimicked theme. Supporters of the concept regard memes as cultural analogues to genes
in that they self-replicate, mutate, and respond to selective pressures.Proponents theorize
that memes are a viral phenomenon that may evolve by natural selection in a manner analogous
to that of biological evolution. Memes do this through the processes of variation, mutation,
competition, and inheritance, each of which influences a meme’s reproductive success.
Memes spread through the behavior that they generate in their hosts. Memes that propagate
less prolifically may become extinct, while others may survive, spread, and (for better
or for worse) mutate. Memes that replicate most effectively enjoy more success, and some
may replicate effectively even when they prove to be detrimental to the welfare of their
hosts.A field of study called memetics arose in the 1990s to explore the concepts and transmission
of memes in terms of an evolutionary model. Criticism from a variety of fronts has challenged
the notion that academic study can examine memes empirically. However, developments in
neuroimaging may make empirical study possible. Some commentators in the social sciences question
the idea that one can meaningfully categorize culture in terms of discrete units, and are
especially critical of the biological nature of the theory’s underpinnings. Others have
argued that this use of the term is the result of a misunderstanding of the original proposal.The
word meme is a neologism coined by Richard Dawkins. It originated from Dawkins’ 1976
book The Selfish Gene. Dawkins’s own position is somewhat ambiguous: he welcomed N. K. Humphrey’s
suggestion that “memes should be considered as living structures, not just metaphorically”
and proposed to regard memes as “physically residing in the brain”. Later, he argued that
his original intentions, presumably before his approval of Humphrey’s opinion, had been
simpler.==Etymology==
The word meme is a shortening (modeled on gene) of mimeme (from Ancient Greek μίμημα
pronounced [míːmɛːma] mīmēma, “imitated thing”, from μιμεῖσθαι mimeisthai,
“to imitate”, from μῖμος mimos, “mime”) coined by British evolutionary biologist Richard
Dawkins in The Selfish Gene (1976) as a concept for discussion of evolutionary principles
in explaining the spread of ideas and cultural phenomena. Examples of memes given in the
book included melodies, catchphrases, fashion, and the technology of building arches. Kenneth
Pike had in 1954 coined the related terms emic and etic, generalizing the linguistic
units of phoneme, morpheme, grapheme, lexeme, and tagmeme (as set out by Leonard Bloomfield),
distinguishing insider and outside views of communicative behavior.==Origins==The word meme originated with Richard Dawkins’
1976 book The Selfish Gene. Dawkins cites as inspiration the work of geneticist L. L.
Cavalli-Sforza, anthropologist F. T. Cloak and ethologist J. M. Cullen. Dawkins wrote
that evolution depended not on the particular chemical basis of genetics, but only on the
existence of a self-replicating unit of transmission—in the case of biological evolution, the gene.
For Dawkins, the meme exemplified another self-replicating unit with potential significance
in explaining human behavior and cultural evolution. Although Dawkins invented the term
‘meme’ and developed meme theory, the possibility that ideas were subject to the same pressures
of evolution as were biological attributes was discussed in Darwin’s time. T. H. Huxley
claimed that ‘The struggle for existence holds as much in the intellectual as in the physical
world. A theory is a species of thinking, and its right to exist is coextensive with
its power of resisting extinction by its rivals.’ Dawkins used the term to refer to any cultural
entity that an observer might consider a replicator. He hypothesized that one could view many cultural
entities as replicators, and pointed to melodies, fashions and learned skills as examples. Memes
generally replicate through exposure to humans, who have evolved as efficient copiers of information
and behavior. Because humans do not always copy memes perfectly, and because they may
refine, combine or otherwise modify them with other memes to create new memes, they can
change over time. Dawkins likened the process by which memes survive and change through
the evolution of culture to the natural selection of genes in biological evolution.Dawkins defined
the meme as a unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation and replication, but
later definitions would vary. The lack of a consistent, rigorous, and precise understanding
of what typically makes up one unit of cultural transmission remains a problem in debates
about memetics. In contrast, the concept of genetics gained concrete evidence with the
discovery of the biological functions of DNA. Meme transmission requires a physical medium,
such as photons, sound waves, touch, taste, or smell because memes can be transmitted
only through the senses. Dawkins noted that in a society with culture
a person need not have descendants to remain influential in the actions of individuals
thousands of years after their death: But if you contribute to the world’s culture,
if you have a good idea…it may live on, intact, long after your genes have dissolved
in the common pool. Socrates may or may not have a gene or two alive in the world today,
as G.C. Williams has remarked, but who cares? The meme-complexes of Socrates, Leonardo,
Copernicus and Marconi are still going strong. Although Dawkins invented the term meme, he
has not claimed that the idea was entirely novel, and there have been other expressions
for similar ideas in the past. In 1904, Richard Semon published Die Mneme (which appeared
in English in 1924 as The Mneme). The term mneme was also used in Maurice Maeterlinck’s
The Life of the White Ant (1926), with some parallels to Dawkins’s concept.==Memetic lifecycle: transmission, retention
==Memes, analogously to genes, vary in their
aptitude to replicate; successful memes remain and spread, whereas unfit ones stall and are
forgotten. Thus memes that prove more effective at replicating and surviving are selected
in the meme pool. Memes first need retention. The longer a meme
stays in its hosts, the higher its chances of propagation are. When a host uses a meme,
the meme’s life is extended. The reuse of the neural space hosting a certain meme’s
copy to host different memes is the greatest threat to that meme’s copy.A meme which increases
the longevity of its hosts will generally survive longer. On the contrary, a meme which
shortens the longevity of its hosts will tend to disappear faster. However, as hosts are
mortal, retention is not sufficient to perpetuate a meme in the long term; memes also need transmission.
Life-forms can transmit information both vertically (from parent to child, via replication of
genes) and horizontally (through viruses and other means).
Memes can replicate vertically or horizontally within a single biological generation. They
may also lie dormant for long periods of time. Memes reproduce by copying from a nervous
system to another one, either by communication or imitation. Imitation often involves the
copying of an observed behavior of another individual. Communication may be direct or
indirect, where memes transmit from one individual to another through a copy recorded in an inanimate
source, such as a book or a musical score. Adam McNamara has suggested that memes can
be thereby classified as either internal or external memes (i-memes or e-memes).Some commentators
have likened the transmission of memes to the spread of contagions. Social contagions
such as fads, hysteria, copycat crime, and copycat suicide exemplify memes seen as the
contagious imitation of ideas. Observers distinguish the contagious imitation of memes from instinctively
contagious phenomena such as yawning and laughing, which they consider innate (rather than socially
learned) behaviors.Aaron Lynch described seven general patterns of meme transmission, or
“thought contagion”: Quantity of parenthood: an idea that influences
the number of children one has. Children respond particularly receptively to the ideas of their
parents, and thus ideas that directly or indirectly encourage a higher birthrate will replicate
themselves at a higher rate than those that discourage higher birthrates.
Efficiency of parenthood: an idea that increases the proportion of children who will adopt
ideas of their parents. Cultural separatism exemplifies one practice in which one can
expect a higher rate of meme-replication—because the meme for separation creates a barrier
from exposure to competing ideas. Proselytic: ideas generally passed to others
beyond one’s own children. Ideas that encourage the proselytism of a meme, as seen in many
religious or political movements, can replicate memes horizontally through a given generation,
spreading more rapidly than parent-to-child meme-transmissions do.
Preservational: ideas that influence those that hold them to continue to hold them for
a long time. Ideas that encourage longevity in their hosts, or leave their hosts particularly
resistant to abandoning or replacing these ideas, enhance the preservability of memes
and afford protection from the competition or proselytism of other memes.
Adversative: ideas that influence those that hold them to attack or sabotage competing
ideas and/or those that hold them. Adversative replication can give an advantage in meme
transmission when the meme itself encourages aggression against other memes.
Cognitive: ideas perceived as cogent by most in the population who encounter them. Cognitively
transmitted memes depend heavily on a cluster of other ideas and cognitive traits already
widely held in the population, and thus usually spread more passively than other forms of
meme transmission. Memes spread in cognitive transmission do not count as self-replicating.
Motivational: ideas that people adopt because they perceive some self-interest in adopting
them. Strictly speaking, motivationally transmitted memes do not self-propagate, but this mode
of transmission often occurs in association with memes self-replicated in the efficiency
parental, proselytic and preservational modes.==Memes as discrete units==
Dawkins initially defined meme as a noun that “conveys the idea of a unit of cultural transmission,
or a unit of imitation”. John S. Wilkins retained the notion of meme as a kernel of cultural
imitation while emphasizing the meme’s evolutionary aspect, defining the meme as “the least unit
of sociocultural information relative to a selection process that has favorable or unfavorable
selection bias that exceeds its endogenous tendency to change”. The meme as a unit provides
a convenient means of discussing “a piece of thought copied from person to person”,
regardless of whether that thought contains others inside it, or forms part of a larger
meme. A meme could consist of a single word, or a meme could consist of the entire speech
in which that word first occurred. This forms an analogy to the idea of a gene as a single
unit of self-replicating information found on the self-replicating chromosome.
While the identification of memes as “units” conveys their nature to replicate as discrete,
indivisible entities, it does not imply that thoughts somehow become quantized or that
“atomic” ideas exist that cannot be dissected into smaller pieces. A meme has no given size.
Susan Blackmore writes that melodies from Beethoven’s symphonies are commonly used to
illustrate the difficulty involved in delimiting memes as discrete units. She notes that while
the first four notes of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony (listen ) form a meme widely replicated
as an independent unit, one can regard the entire symphony as a single meme as well.The
inability to pin an idea or cultural feature to quantifiable key units is widely acknowledged
as a problem for memetics. It has been argued however that the traces of memetic processing
can be quantified utilizing neuroimaging techniques which measure changes in the connectivity
profiles between brain regions.” Blackmore meets such criticism by stating that memes
compare with genes in this respect: that while a gene has no particular size, nor can we
ascribe every phenotypic feature directly to a particular gene, it has value because
it encapsulates that key unit of inherited expression subject to evolutionary pressures.
To illustrate, she notes evolution selects for the gene for features such as eye color;
it does not select for the individual nucleotide in a strand of DNA. Memes play a comparable
role in understanding the evolution of imitated behaviors.The 1981 book Genes, Mind, and Culture:
The Coevolutionary Process by Charles J. Lumsden and E. O. Wilson proposed the theory that
genes and culture co-evolve, and that the fundamental biological units of culture must
correspond to neuronal networks that function as nodes of semantic memory. They coined their
own word, “culturgen”, which did not catch on. Coauthor Wilson later acknowledged the
term meme as the best label for the fundamental unit of cultural inheritance in his 1998 book
Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge, which elaborates upon the fundamental role of memes
in unifying the natural and social sciences.==Evolutionary influences on memes==
Dawkins noted the three conditions that must exist for evolution to occur:
variation, or the introduction of new change to existing elements;
heredity or replication, or the capacity to create copies of elements;
differential “fitness”, or the opportunity for one element to be more or less suited
to the environment than another.Dawkins emphasizes that the process of evolution naturally occurs
whenever these conditions co-exist, and that evolution does not apply only to organic elements
such as genes. He regards memes as also having the properties necessary for evolution, and
thus sees meme evolution as not simply analogous to genetic evolution, but as a real phenomenon
subject to the laws of natural selection. Dawkins noted that as various ideas pass from
one generation to the next, they may either enhance or detract from the survival of the
people who obtain those ideas, or influence the survival of the ideas themselves. For
example, a certain culture may develop unique designs and methods of tool-making that give
it a competitive advantage over another culture. Each tool-design thus acts somewhat similarly
to a biological gene in that some populations have it and others do not, and the meme’s
function directly affects the presence of the design in future generations. In keeping
with the thesis that in evolution one can regard organisms simply as suitable “hosts”
for reproducing genes, Dawkins argues that one can view people as “hosts” for replicating
memes. Consequently, a successful meme may or may not need to provide any benefit to
its host.Unlike genetic evolution, memetic evolution can show both Darwinian and Lamarckian
traits. Cultural memes will have the characteristic of Lamarckian inheritance when a host aspires
to replicate the given meme through inference rather than by exactly copying it. Take for
example the case of the transmission of a simple skill such as hammering a nail, a skill
that a learner imitates from watching a demonstration without necessarily imitating every discrete
movement modeled by the teacher in the demonstration, stroke for stroke. Susan Blackmore distinguishes
the difference between the two modes of inheritance in the evolution of memes, characterizing
the Darwinian mode as “copying the instructions” and the Lamarckian as “copying the product.”Clusters
of memes, or memeplexes (also known as meme complexes or as memecomplexes), such as cultural
or political doctrines and systems, may also play a part in the acceptance of new memes.
Memeplexes comprise groups of memes that replicate together and coadapt. Memes that fit within
a successful memeplex may gain acceptance by “piggybacking” on the success of the memeplex.
As an example, John D. Gottsch discusses the transmission, mutation and selection of religious
memeplexes and the theistic memes contained. Theistic memes discussed include the “prohibition
of aberrant sexual practices such as incest, adultery, homosexuality, bestiality, castration,
and religious prostitution”, which may have increased vertical transmission of the parent
religious memeplex. Similar memes are thereby included in the majority of religious memeplexes,
and harden over time; they become an “inviolable canon” or set of dogmas, eventually finding
their way into secular law. This could also be referred to as the propagation of a taboo.==Memetics==The discipline of memetics, which dates from
the mid-1980s, provides an approach to evolutionary models of cultural information transfer based
on the concept of the meme. Memeticists have proposed that just as memes function analogously
to genes, memetics functions analogously to genetics. Memetics attempts to apply conventional
scientific methods (such as those used in population genetics and epidemiology) to explain
existing patterns and transmission of cultural ideas.
Principal criticisms of memetics include the claim that memetics ignores established advances
in other fields of cultural study, such as sociology, cultural anthropology, cognitive
psychology, and social psychology. Questions remain whether or not the meme concept counts
as a validly disprovable scientific theory. This view regards memetics as a theory in
its infancy: a protoscience to proponents, or a pseudoscience to some detractors.==Criticism of meme theory==An objection to the study of the evolution
of memes in genetic terms (although not to the existence of memes) involves a perceived
gap in the gene/meme analogy: the cumulative evolution of genes depends on biological selection-pressures
neither too great nor too small in relation to mutation-rates. There seems no reason to
think that the same balance will exist in the selection pressures on memes.Luis Benitez-Bribiesca
M.D., a critic of memetics, calls the theory a “pseudoscientific dogma” and “a dangerous
idea that poses a threat to the serious study of consciousness and cultural evolution”.
As a factual criticism, Benitez-Bribiesca points to the lack of a “code script” for
memes (analogous to the DNA of genes), and to the excessive instability of the meme mutation
mechanism (that of an idea going from one brain to another), which would lead to a low
replication accuracy and a high mutation rate, rendering the evolutionary process chaotic.British
political philosopher John Gray has characterized Dawkins’ memetic theory of religion as “nonsense”
and “not even a theory… the latest in a succession of ill-judged Darwinian metaphors”,
comparable to Intelligent Design in its value as a science.Another critique comes from semiotic
theorists such as Deacon and Kull. This view regards the concept of “meme” as a primitivized
concept of “sign”. The meme is thus described in memetics as a sign lacking a triadic nature.
Semioticians can regard a meme as a “degenerate” sign, which includes only its ability of being
copied. Accordingly, in the broadest sense, the objects of copying are memes, whereas
the objects of translation and interpretation are signs.Fracchia and Lewontin regard memetics
as reductionist and inadequate. Evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr disapproved of Dawkins’
gene-based view and usage of the term “meme”, asserting it to be an “unnecessary synonym”
for “concept”, reasoning that concepts are not restricted to an individual or a generation,
may persist for long periods of time, and may evolve.==Applications==
Opinions differ as to how best to apply the concept of memes within a “proper” disciplinary
framework. One view sees memes as providing a useful philosophical perspective with which
to examine cultural evolution. Proponents of this view (such as Susan Blackmore and
Daniel Dennett) argue that considering cultural developments from a meme’s-eye view—as if
memes themselves respond to pressure to maximise their own replication and survival—can lead
to useful insights and yield valuable predictions into how culture develops over time. Others
such as Bruce Edmonds and Robert Aunger have focused on the need to provide an empirical
grounding for memetics to become a useful and respected scientific discipline.A third
approach, described by Joseph Poulshock, as “radical memetics” seeks to place memes at
the centre of a materialistic theory of mind and of personal identity.Prominent researchers
in evolutionary psychology and anthropology, including Scott Atran, Dan Sperber, Pascal
Boyer, John Tooby and others, argue the possibility of incompatibility between modularity of mind
and memetics. In their view, minds structure certain communicable aspects of the ideas
produced, and these communicable aspects generally trigger or elicit ideas in other minds through
inference (to relatively rich structures generated from often low-fidelity input) and not high-fidelity
replication or imitation. Atran discusses communication involving religious beliefs
as a case in point. In one set of experiments he asked religious people to write down on
a piece of paper the meanings of the Ten Commandments. Despite the subjects’ own expectations of
consensus, interpretations of the commandments showed wide ranges of variation, with little
evidence of consensus. In another experiment, subjects with autism and subjects without
autism interpreted ideological and religious sayings (for example, “Let a thousand flowers
bloom” or “To everything there is a season”). People with autism showed a significant tendency
to closely paraphrase and repeat content from the original statement (for example: “Don’t
cut flowers before they bloom”). Controls tended to infer a wider range of cultural
meanings with little replicated content (for example: “Go with the flow” or “Everyone should
have equal opportunity”). Only the subjects with autism—who lack the degree of inferential
capacity normally associated with aspects of theory of mind—came close to functioning
as “meme machines”.In his book The Robot’s Rebellion, Stanovich uses the memes and memeplex
concepts to describe a program of cognitive reform that he refers to as a “rebellion”.
Specifically, Stanovich argues that the use of memes as a descriptor for cultural units
is beneficial because it serves to emphasize transmission and acquisition properties that
parallel the study of epidemiology. These properties make salient the sometimes parasitic
nature of acquired memes, and as a result individuals should be motivated to reflectively
acquire memes using what he calls a “Neurathian bootstrap” process.==Religion==Although social scientists such as Max Weber
sought to understand and explain religion in terms of a cultural attribute, Richard
Dawkins called for a re-analysis of religion in terms of the evolution of self-replicating
ideas apart from any resulting biological advantages they might bestow. As an enthusiastic Darwinian, I have been
dissatisfied with explanations that my fellow-enthusiasts have offered for human behaviour. They have
tried to look for ‘biological advantages’ in various attributes of human civilization.
For instance, tribal religion has been seen as a mechanism for solidifying group identity,
valuable for a pack-hunting species whose individuals rely on cooperation to catch large
and fast prey. Frequently the evolutionary preconception in terms of which such theories
are framed is implicitly group-selectionist, but it is possible to rephrase the theories
in terms of orthodox gene selection. He argued that the role of key replicator
in cultural evolution belongs not to genes, but to memes replicating thought from person
to person by means of imitation. These replicators respond to selective pressures that may or
may not affect biological reproduction or survival.In her book The Meme Machine, Susan
Blackmore regards religions as particularly tenacious memes. Many of the features common
to the most widely practiced religions provide built-in advantages in an evolutionary context,
she writes. For example, religions that preach of the value of faith over evidence from everyday
experience or reason inoculate societies against many of the most basic tools people commonly
use to evaluate their ideas. By linking altruism with religious affiliation, religious memes
can proliferate more quickly because people perceive that they can reap societal as well
as personal rewards. The longevity of religious memes improves with their documentation in
revered religious texts.Aaron Lynch attributed the robustness of religious memes in human
culture to the fact that such memes incorporate multiple modes of meme transmission. Religious
memes pass down the generations from parent to child and across a single generation through
the meme-exchange of proselytism. Most people will hold the religion taught them by their
parents throughout their life. Many religions feature adversarial elements, punishing apostasy,
for instance, or demonizing infidels. In Thought Contagion Lynch identifies the memes of transmission
in Christianity as especially powerful in scope. Believers view the conversion of non-believers
both as a religious duty and as an act of altruism. The promise of heaven to believers
and threat of hell to non-believers provide a strong incentive for members to retain their
belief. Lynch asserts that belief in the Crucifixion of Jesus in Christianity amplifies each of
its other replication advantages through the indebtedness believers have to their Savior
for sacrifice on the cross. The image of the crucifixion recurs in religious sacraments,
and the proliferation of symbols of the cross in homes and churches potently reinforces
the wide array of Christian memes.Although religious memes have proliferated in human
cultures, the modern scientific community has been relatively resistant to religious
belief. Robertson (2007) reasoned that if evolution is accelerated in conditions of
propagative difficulty, then we would expect to encounter variations of religious memes,
established in general populations, addressed to scientific communities. Using a memetic
approach, Robertson deconstructed two attempts to privilege religiously held spirituality
in scientific discourse. Advantages of a memetic approach as compared to more traditional “modernization”
and “supply side” theses in understanding the evolution and propagation of religion
were explored.==Memetic explanations of racism==
In Cultural Software: A Theory of Ideology, Jack Balkin argued that memetic processes
can explain many of the most familiar features of ideological thought. His theory of “cultural
software” maintained that memes form narratives, social networks, metaphoric and metonymic
models, and a variety of different mental structures. Balkin maintains that the same
structures used to generate ideas about free speech or free markets also serve to generate
racistic beliefs. To Balkin, whether memes become harmful or maladaptive depends on the
environmental context in which they exist rather than in any special source or manner
to their origination. Balkin describes racist beliefs as “fantasy” memes that become harmful
or unjust “ideologies” when diverse peoples come together, as through trade or competition.==Architectural memes==
In A Theory of Architecture, Nikos Salingaros speaks of memes as “freely propagating clusters
of information” which can be beneficial or harmful. He contrasts memes to patterns and
true knowledge, characterizing memes as “greatly simplified versions of patterns” and as “unreasoned
matching to some visual or mnemonic prototype”. Taking reference to Dawkins, Salingaros emphasizes
that they can be transmitted due to their own communicative properties, that “the simpler
they are, the faster they can proliferate”, and that the most successful memes “come with
a great psychological appeal”.Architectural memes, according to Salingaros, can have destructive
power. “Images portrayed in architectural magazines representing buildings that could
not possibly accommodate everyday uses become fixed in our memory, so we reproduce them
unconsciously.” He lists various architectural memes that circulated since the 1920s and
which, in his view, have led to contemporary architecture becoming quite decoupled from
human needs. They lack connection and meaning, thereby preventing “the creation of true connections
necessary to our understanding of the world”. He sees them as no different from antipatterns
in software design—as solutions that are false but are re-utilized nonetheless.==Internet culture==An “Internet meme” is a concept that spreads
rapidly from person to person via the Internet, largely through Internet-based E-mailing,
blogs, forums, imageboards like 4chan, social networking sites like Facebook, Instagram,
or Twitter, instant messaging, social news sites or thread sites like Reddit, and video
hosting services like YouTube and Twitch.In 2013, Richard Dawkins characterized an Internet
meme as one deliberately altered by human creativity, distinguished from Dawkins’s original
idea involving mutation by random change and a form of Darwinian selection.==Meme maps==
One technique of meme mapping represents the evolution and transmission of a meme across
time and space. Such a meme map uses a figure-8 diagram (an analemma) to map the gestation
(in the lower loop), birth (at the choke point), and development (in the upper loop) of the
selected meme. Such meme maps are nonscalar, with time mapped onto the y-axis and space
onto the x-axis transect. One can read the temporal progression of the mapped meme from
south to north on such a meme map. Paull has published a worked example using the “organics
meme” (as in organic agriculture).==See also====Notes

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