Memetics is the scientific approach to evolutionary models of information transfer based on the concept of the meme.
History of the term
In his book The Selfish Gene (1976), the ethologist Richard Dawkins invented the term meme to describe a unit of human cultural evolution analogous to the gene, arguing that replication also happens in culture, albeit in a different sense. In his book, Dawkins contended that the meme is a unit of information residing in the brain and is the mutating replicator in human cultural evolution. It is a pattern that can influence its surroundings and can propagate. This created great debate among sociologists, biologists, and scientists of other disciplines, because Dawkins himself did not provide a sufficient explanation of how the replication of units of information in the brain controls human behavior and ultimately culture. Accordingly, the term "unit of information" came to be defined in different ways by many scientists.
Susan Blackmore (2002) re-stated the meme definition as whatever is copied from one person to another person, whether habits, skills, songs, stories, or any other kind of information. Further she said that memes, like genes, are replicators. That is, they are information that is copied with variation and selection. Because only some of the variants survive, memes (and hence human cultures) evolve. Memes are copied by imitation, teaching and other methods, and they compete for space in our memories and for the chance to be copied again. Large groups of memes that are copied and passed on together are called co-adapted meme complexes, or memeplexes. In her definition, thus, the way that a meme replicates is through imitation. This requires brain capacity to generally imitate a model or selectively imitate the model. Since the process of social learning varies from one person to another, the imitation process cannot be said to be completely imitated. The sameness of an idea may be expressed with different memes supporting it. This is to say that the mutation rate in memetic evolution is extremely high, and mutations are even possible within each and every interaction of the imitation process. It becomes very interesting when we see that a social system composed of a complex network of microinteractions exists, but at the macro level an order emerges to create culture.
Another definition, given by Hokky Situngkir , tried to offer a more rigorous formalism for the meme, memeplexes, and the deme, seeing the meme as a cultural unit in a cultural complex system. It is based on the Darwinian genetic algorithm with some modifications to account for the different patterns of evolution seen in genes and memes. In the method of memetics as the way to see culture as a complex adaptive system, he describes a way to see memetics as an alternative methodology of cultural evolution. However, there are as many possible definitions that are credited to the word "meme". For example, in the sense of computer simulation the term memetic programming is used to define a particular computational viewpoint.
Memetics can be simply understood as a method for scientific analysis of cultural evolution. However, proponents of memetics as described in the Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission believe that "memetics" has the potential to be an important and promising analysis of culture using the framework of evolutionary concepts.
- How can we measure meme as a cultural unit in cultural evolution?
- Measurement implies some sort of notational description able to usefully label a meme's content
- Measurement implies a notation of meme propagation, both historically (a memealogy, so to speak) and in the present
- Measurement implies a way to provide tools for describing likely futures for a meme
- How different is biological evolution and the cultural one?
- What is the interplay between the memetic approach and the recent advancements of computer science, including computational sociology?
- The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins, Oxford University Press, 1976, 2nd edition, December 1989, hardcover, 352 pages, ISBN 0192177737; April 1992, ISBN 019857519X; trade paperback, September 1990, 352 pages, ISBN 0192860925
- The Meme Machine by Susan Blackmore, Oxford University Press, 1999, hardcover ISBN 0198503652, trade paperback ISBN 0965881784, May 2000, ISBN 019286212X
- The Ideology of Cybernetic Totalist Intellectuals an essay by Jaron Lanier which is very strongly critical of "meme totalists" who assert memes over bodies.
- Culture as Complex Adaptive System by Hokky Situngkir - formal interplays between memetics and cultural analysis.
- Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
- Virus of the Mind by Richard Brodie - An introduction to the field of memetics.