An Afterword on Memes

     Memes are ideas that accumulate people.  There are many memes that are common across cultures such as memes related to food preferences, family relationships, sexual access, childrearing, political and economic practices and religion.

     Since the term was first coined in the mid-1970ís by Richard Dawkins in the last chapter of his book entitled The Selfish Gene, the science of memetics has come a long way but is still in its theoretical adolescence. There are differing views mainly between those who believe that the only memes worthy of study are those that directly support biological survival and reproduction and genetic transmission such as cultural ideas regarding mating, family and social interaction, and those who take a looser interpretation to include all self-replicating and contagious ideas that spread throughout human populations for one reason or another.  Some memes are adaptive and spring more directly from biological adaptations, some may be indirectly adaptive and others may have no adaptive value whatsoever.  I believe all memes are interesting and worthy of study whether they are directly adaptive or not because many memes are very contagious among humans and have many interesting effects.  Memetics asks not how people accumulate ideas but how ideas accumulate people. 

     The survival and reproduction promoting functions of many memes are obvious and they are usually the big universal cultural ideas such as the economics of survival, mating, family, and social control and direction.  Other big ones but with perhaps more indirect functions are religion, art, mythology, philosophy and science.  Religion is a powerful meme machine with both direct and indirect survival and reproduction functions.  Think of all the ways that religious memes hold human minds.  Ideas like divine reward and punishment and eternal afterlife are all pretty compelling. Religious memes related to sex and family can promote sexual reproduction and survival through the family unit (Be fruitful and multiply but donít mess around with your neighborís wife).  Religious memes can also immunize its host against other religious memes by making them believe that theirs is the only true religion.   Religion can also be said to have important mental health and social solidarity and control features that may directly or indirectly contribute to a humanís survival and reproduction. 

 

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