Memes are contagious ideas, stories, images, and rituals that spread from imagination to imagination, generation to generation, shaping and shifting human cultures.


The “Atoms of Culture”

As we go about our day-to-day lives, we constantly encounter pieces of the culture that carry meaning for us such as customs, ideas, symbols, slogans, or rituals, All of these act as containers for cultural information that spread virally from person to person, moment to moment, generation to generation. These self-replicating units of culture that take on a life of their own are “memes” (rhymes with “dreams”).

The concept of “atoms of culture” that spread and act like genes has been around since at least the 1950’s and in 1976 evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins coined the word “meme” from the Greek root meaning “to imitate.”

Memes are everywhere – from personal mannerisms and collective ritual, to the advertising slogans and political buzzwords that dominate the media. Over time memes tend to morph, disappear, or even dramatically change in meaning. For example, we still toss coins into fountains because that was how the Romans once asked aquatic deities for favors; today we simply say we are making a wish.

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For other uses, see Meme (disambiguation).

A meme (play /ˈmm/[1]) is an idea, behavior or style that spreads from person to person within a culture.[2] While genes transmit biological information, memes are said to transmit ideas and belief information.

A meme acts as a unit for carrying cultural ideas, symbols or practices, which can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals or other imitable phenomena. Supporters of the concept regard memes as cultural analogues to genes in that they self-replicate, mutate and respond to selective pressures.[3]

The word "meme" is a shortening (modeled on "gene") of mimeme (from Ancient Greek μίμημα Greek pronunciation: [mǐːmɛːma] mīmēma, "something imitated", from μιμεῖσθαι mimeisthai, "to imitate", from μῖμος mimos "mime"),[4] together with a pun on the French word même ("same"). It was coined by the British evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins in The Selfish Gene (1976)[1][5] 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, catch-phrases, fashion and the technology of building arches.[6]

Advocates of the meme idea say that memes 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 influence a meme's reproductive success.

Memes spread through the behaviors 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. Some memes may replicate effectively even when they prove to be detrimental to the welfare of their hosts.[7]

A field of study called memetics[8] 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 scholarship can examine memes empirically. Developments in neuroimaging may however make empirical study possible.[9] Some commentators[who?] question the idea that one can meaningfully categorize culture in terms of discrete units.

meme1From: The Daily Bell

A meme is a dominant social theme with the strength for propagation from one generation to another.

A dominant social theme is a belief system (usually concerning a purported social or natural problem) promoted by the monetary or power elite. The related problem, as it is presented, may be centered on people themselves (overpopulation) or be caused by people (global warming).

A dominant social theme typically is launched from one or more centers of the elite's global architecture, such as the United Nations, World Bank, World Trade Organization or World Health Organization. The theme is then rebroadcast by the mainstream media. Dominant social themes are notable for their resistance to contrary evidence, and they invariably imply a need for unaccountable, elite authorities to impose a solution.

With sufficient repetition in the mass media (including "news" and entertainment presentations) and through enshrinement in school curricula, a dominant social theme can become so engrained in the public mind that it is passed from one generation to the next, as though it were folk wisdom. It becomes virtually exempt from questioning.

The fear of over-population is a meme, as the worry now has spanned generations. A generalized fear that the world may run out of resources, including basic resources such as oil and water, appears on its way to becoming a meme.

According to various sources, The British scientist Richard Dawkins presented the term in his book, The Selfish Gene (1976). It was his idea that a meme encapsulated the spread of ideas and could evolve in some sense as a gene could. The term has become very popular over the decades, especially since the advent of the Internet which could be seen, in some sense, as validating the concept.