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Memetics 101

Linked Memes or Memeplexes

Many scientists have argued that memes do not always work alone; just like genes group themselves in gene complexes, memes group themselves in so-called meme complexes or memeplexes. Like genes, they work together and influence each other. Memeplexes work together in ways that they will build in protections for each other within the memeplex.

By taking a very open definition of memes as a starting point, it is possible to see every meme as a memeplex because, in some way, our own views have been influenced by our own memes and are thus unavoidably linked to them. This relates closely to the phenomenological problem that all the research is, per definition, not entirely objective, as there is already a frame of reference in which the research is carried out. The German philosopher, Kant, said that our thinking was limited by our perception; because of this, we can never observe the true nature of something (“ding an sich”) but only the nature of the object as it is perceived, shaped by our frame of reference.

Both Dawkins and Blackmore have described how religions can be defined as memeplexes. It is essential to see the importance of a memeplex such as religion. Such memeplexes do not only find shelter in the mind of a new host, but they will change the perceptions and life of their new host.

The purpose of religion may seem awkward or even unintelligible, but to the host the memeplex of religion creates a paradigm through which he or she can solve philosophical questions and feel content in knowing that these questions can be solved. The built-in defense mechanisms against other explanations will furthermore protect the host (and the memeplex) from being subjected to changes of this basic belief system. Aside from protecting the host from hostile meme-intrusions, religions also include a factor of ‘conversion’. All major world-religions have a religious task to spread the religion and convert non-believers. Next to that, they all have their own holy scriptures which hasten spreading and make sure the memes can survive over time (Blackmore, Meme Machine 187-194).

©2006 Klaas Chielens