The concept of memes was created by Richard Dawkins in his book The Selfish Gene to explain ideas, concepts, culture, styles and sounds which are passed on through generations in an analogous way to how genes are. Some quotes from the book:
“We need a name for the new replicator, a noun that conveys the idea of a unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation. ‘Mimeme’ comes from a suitable Greek root, but I want a monosyllable that sounds a bit like ‘gene’. I hope my classicist friends will forgive me if I abbreviate mimeme to meme. If it is any consolation, it could alternatively be thought of as being related to ‘memory’, or to the French word même. It should be pronounced to rhyme with ‘cream’.”
“Examples of memes are tunes, ideas, catch-phrases, clothes fashions, ways of making pots or of building arches. Just as genes propagate themselves in the gene pool by leaping from body to body via sperms or eggs, so memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain via a process which, in the broad sense, can be called imitation.”
“When you plant a fertile meme in my mind you literally parasitize my brain, turning it into a vehicle for the meme’s propagation in just the way that a virus may parasitize the genetic mechanism of a host cell.”
“The meme for blind faith secures its own perpetuation by the simple unconscious expedient of discouraging rational inquiry.”
Richard has twitted that the ‘Wikipedia entry on “Meme” is excellent: long, thorough, accurate, fair.’ That can be found here.
Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog