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Memetics 101


Richard Dawkins

When Richard Dawkins (pictured) coined the term “meme” in The Selfish Gene, he gave food for thought to the scientific community of the time. In the eleventh chapter of his book, Dawkins briefly introduces a “unit of cultural transmission” (189-201). Many other scientists since then have commented on and reacted to this theory. A controversy for one, a welcome new light in the dark world of science for the other, memetics has slowly emerged from Dawkins’ book and now has truly become an interdisciplinary field which has found proponents (and opponents) in sociology, biology, psychology and other fields.

Other scientist such as Daniel Dennett, Douglas Hofstadter and Susan Blackmore have become proponents of this theory and helped to make it to what it is now. The field even has its own Scientific Journal and is widely used in computer science (memetic algorithms) and marketing (viral marketing).

A lot of publications, scientific or popular press, have had memes as main subject. Susan Blackmore wrote the basic book on memetics, the Meme-Machine and more recently, Kate Distin wrote The Selfish Meme, a critical reassesment of Dawkins theory.

This section is only a brief introduction. I would advise the reader who is willing to delve in to the depths of memetics to take a closer look at the recommended reading section.

©2006 Klaas Chielens