The History and Philosophy of Memetics

What is the Philosophy of Memetics?

Memetics is related to Darwinian evolution in a way that might surprise you. There is a parallel in the way that thoughts and genes replicate. A meme is thought of to be a unit of thought or culture, in the same way that a gene is a unit of DNA. These ideas according to Richard Dawkins are able to replicate themselves and become a part of the cultural collective unconscious. Much in the same way that we have gene pools, the philosophy suggests that there are also idea pools. The way that the ideas replicate themselves is not something that is physical, but is instead something that is based on whether the idea is popular.

The History of the Philosophy of Memetics

The idea was based on the book that was published in 1976 that was called the Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins. The idea was very controversial as it was hard to imagine that it was in fact possible for an idea to spread in the same way that physical DNA could. In addition to this, many scientists had a hard time imagining that it was possible to compare a philosophy to a science.

It was in 1983 that there was a column published by Douglas Hofstadter that showed that there was a parallel to genetics. Dawkins continued with this idea with a new book called Viruses of the Mind in 1991 when he explained that ideas are like viruses and they have the ability to spread. Dawkins used the example of extreme religions and fundamentalism. Dawkins did not realize it at the time but he was defining the language that we currently use to discuss when there is an idea or a topic that is trending that goes viral.

Much in the same way that Dawkins was discussing the collective unconscious, today we would consider this to be a parallel to the internet. What is the internet, if it is not an international connected portal of ideas that allows you to learn, experience, and have access to anything at any time? Although the internet was in existence at the time that Dawkins was penning the book, it was still the property of the U.S. government and was not yet available to the people. The idea of the internet was not available to the public until 2002 and for that reason there is no way that it could have played a part in the current idea. However, a meme now is known as a photo or an idea that goes viral, and that viral quality comes from the worldwide web. Dawkins was acting as a predictive force whether he realized it or not.

Today an idea can go all over the world in a matter of seconds and we are more connected than we have ever been in the past, what that means is that it is possible to share new ideas as well as to share a funny post in seconds, the world is now connected in the blink of an eye.

Pretty cool? Or is it just an attempt to deny a creator?


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