Tuesday, September 27, 2005

On Selfish Memes

“Memetics is one possible way of using Darwinian evolutionary ideas to study culture. As I shall explain below, it is not the only way of doing this. According to memetics, the essence of culture is constituted by memes and the essence of cultural change is constituted by changes in meme frequencies. Memes are mental states that embody discrete chunks of socially transmissible information. To say that the information that memes embody is socially transmissible is to say that memes can give rise to other memes through social learning. To say that memes embody a discrete chunk of information is to say that, when the information present in a meme is socially transmitted, such information does not usually blend with the information present in other memes. On this view, social transmission is (at least at its most fundamental level) a copying process in which memes generate copies of themselves. Memes are thought to be socially transmissible beliefs, desires, values, and mental representations of tunes, stories, myths, rituals, ways of doing (or saying, or thinking about) things, etc. According to some versions of memetics, it is not just socially transmissible mental states that deserve to be classified as memes, but also those artefacts and activities (including those of a linguistic and textual nature) that can be copied and that can result in the existence of similar artefacts or activities.” – Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews.

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