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/meem/ [By analogy with "gene"] 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 organised 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.

See also memetic algorithm.


(Pronounced "meem") A trend, belief, fashion or phrase that is passed from generation to generation through imitation and behavioral replication. Coined by Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book "The Selfish Gene," memes and memetics are the cultural counterpart to the biological study of genes and genetics. Using the evolution analogy, Dawkins observed that human cultures evolve via "contagious" communications in a manner similar to the gene pool of populations over time. See Internet meme.
References in periodicals archive ?
While the author briefly and elegantly explains the power of meme theory (memetics) he mostly writes compelling historical narrative and humanist social critique around a short set of memes that he defines, and that breathe life into how religious ideas propagate for better and for worse.
When a friend of mine, a wealthy financier with a web of international business and charity interests, recently sat me down to discuss meme theory, I became convinced that something had indeed changed.
Meme theory is widespread, and that may be a sign that the world is now truly materialistic--not in the common sense of acquisitive (though that's true) but in the philosophical sense of believing that only matter exists.
In other words, Wendy's applied both methods of "transmission" recommended by meme theory, as did the Bud Light "Yes I am" campaign that began with a hard-to-pronounce name of a basketball coach and eventually was parodied by President Clinton.