meme n. A unit of cultural information, such as a cultural practice or idea, that is transmitted verbally or by repeated action from one mind to another
Richard Dawkins’s term for an idea considered as a replicator, especially with the connotation that memes parasitise people into propagating them much as viruses do.
Memes can be considered the unit of cultural evolution. Ideas can evolve in a way analogous to biological evolution. Some ideas survive better than others; ideas can mutate through, for example, misunderstandings; and two ideas can recombine to produce a new idea involving elements of each parent idea.
The term is used especially in the phrase “meme complex” denoting a group of mutually supporting memes that form an organized belief system, such as a religion. However, “meme” is often misused to mean “meme complex”.
Use of the term connotes acceptance of the idea that in humans (and presumably other tool- and language-using sophonts) cultural evolution by selection of adaptive ideas has become more important than biological evolution by selection of hereditary traits. Hackers find this idea congenial for tolerably obvious reasons.
Memes in general are a very interesting concept. Ideas can be like mental ‘viruses’. They want to survive, and they can (and do) spread.
The term is used especially in the phrase “meme complex” denoting a group of mutually supporting memes that form an organized belief system, such as a religion.
A set of interrelated memes can make up a ‘Meme Complex’. These groups of ideas are interrelated and co-supporting. They strengthen and reinforce each other – making the group stronger then the whole. A religion is an example of a Meme Complex. Many of the ideas central to religion are intersupporting. For example the Christian belief that a life time of good works, and belief in the Christian Religion (Meme Complex) will garner great rewards after death.
This sort of interrelationship with in a Meme Complex makes the entire thing stronger, and that much more survivable in the ‘wild’. In the world of Memes, it is survival of the fittest. Early Memes were probably very simple (Sun God Hot). Over time, the stronger ones survived, combined and slowly merged into more and more complex structures.
This whole system is very like biological evolution. Not the our uncles were monkeys theories, but rather the ‘Real’ Theory of Evolution – that things change over time when exposed to environmental pressure. Not that some of my monkeys are not uncles…
One of the methods that biological things evolve is through mutation. Not X-Men style mutation, but rather small changes over time. The changes that allow for better survival (and ultimately reproduction) will ‘stick’ and the ones that make it harder to survive will tend to be weeded out.
Anyways – so we have ideas or concepts that are able to propagate, change in response to environmental pressures, and grow stronger by merging with other ideas, or simple mutation through errors in transmission (remember the telephone game from Kindergarten?).
toxÂ·ic adj. 1. Of, relating to, or caused by a toxin or other poison. 2. Capable of causing injury or death, especially by chemical means; poisonous.
Some Memes or Meme Complexes might become Toxic. They might damage the host in order to propagate more efficiently, or have some aim that is not for the best of the host or host’s group. I believe that Toxic Memes are one of the more pressing issues that we, as a culture and race, face at this time. These diseases of the psyche must be investigated, and some form of inoculation or treatment be found.
A few of the Toxic Memes that come to mind are things like Fanaticism of any sort – be it Christian, Muslim, or Ice Cream Loving. Several of the political belief systems fall into this category as well. Communism and Fascism come to mind.
We need to find, create, sow, water and release into the wild Memes and Meme Complexes that are strong, positive, and very contagious. We need to debunk Toxic Memes, to show where they are not healthy for the carriers, and supplant them with the Meme of Love.