DragonflyIssuesInEvolution13 Wiki

Richard Dawkins on memes - Cannes Lions 2013 video


Still one of my favorites to explain memes and the evolution of man.

Memetics is the scientific study of the evolution of memes.


Richard Dawkins coined the term "meme" in his 1976 book, The Selfish Gene. Memes, which are analogous to genes, are cultural units, or ideas, beliefs, or patterns of behaviors.  Dawkins says memes are like cultural DNA and is anything that can be imitated.    

The concept of memetics looks at this shared learning concept not as one individual influencing another, but as the meme reproducing itself in a new host.  Similar to genetics, the success of a meme is driven by the effectiveness or benefits that it has on its host.

Memes also have the ability, like genes, to mutate. When a concept or idea changes slightly, over time, and is spread to a many individuals, that meme is considered to have mutated. The success or failure of that newly mutated meme is determined based on its reproductive success, similar to genetics in natural selection.  It is through this process of meme mutation that cultures are capable of changing and evolving over time.  According to Dawkins, three conditions must be met for a meme to evolve.  There must be some variation between the old meme and the new meme that introduces new change to existing beliefs, there must be the ability for that meme to duplicate itself in many individuals, and it must be more suited to the environment than the old meme.  Similar to the idea that genes are capable of grouping together to form a genome, memes are able to group together to form meme sets. These meme sets, which are analogous to different organisms, can consist of many memes or a few individual ones.  When meme sets grow large enough they are said to form a “memeplex”. This is believed to be a large group of meme sets that has the ability to turn into a culture. 

The transfer or sharing of memes[]

 In the concept of memetics, a meme is looked at similar to a genotype in genetics.  The actual information within the meme acts as a genotype, while the resulting behaviors associated to that information are considered to be similar to a phenotype.  Memes have the opportunity to duplicate themselves by means of person-to-person communication or through the reproduction of the individual that is maintaining this informational meme.  With the reproductive success of that individual, their offspring will be raised with the same memes as their parental figures.  In this way, the passage of information from one individual to another is based not only on individual interactions but also on their surroundings.  For a meme to be successfully replicated it must first be assimilated by an individual, who then becomes the host to the meme. It must then be retained into that person’s memory, expressed by that individual through their behavior or language, and finally be transmitted to another individual.