<philosophy> /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.
Last updated: 1996-08-11
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