Meme of the Week: Memes

Perhaps you don't know what a meme is. But trust me, you'd know one if you saw it.

One of the best introductions to the idea of memes is from Martin Willet's Meme Machine. I invite you to read the entire page there, but I'd like to reproduce a quote from Richard Dawkins:

I think that a new kind of replicator has recently emerged on this very planet. It is staring us in the face. It is in its infancy, still drifting clumsily about in its primeval soup, but already it is achieving evolutionary change at a rate that leaves the old gene panting far behind.

The new soup is the soup of human culture. We need a name for the new replicator, a noun that conveys the idea of a unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation. 'Mimeme' comes from a suitable Greek root, but I want a monosyllable that sounds a bit like 'gene'. I hope my classicist friends will forgive me if I abbreviate mimeme to meme. If it is any consolation, it could alternatively be thought of as being related to 'memory', or to the French word même. It should be pronounced to rhyme with 'cream.'

Examples of memes are tunes, ideas, catch-phrases, clothes fashions, ways of making pots or of building arches. Just as genes propagate themselves in the gene pool by leaping from body to body via sperms and eggs, so memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain via a process which, in the broad sense, can be called imitation. If a scientist hears, or reads about, a good idea, he passes it on to his colleagues and students. He mentions it in his articles and his lectures. If the idea catches on, it can be said to propagate itself, spreading from brain to brain.
So I can't imagine that people familiar with blogs don't know about memes as well. This new medium is designed to propagate memes throughout the internet.

Every position you hold is a meme. Every idea you reject is a meme. You weave your accepted memes together, in varying blends of dissonance and harmony, into your own personal viewpoint. People generally accept what they already believe, and discard what they don't. If a particularly challenging view fails to withdraw from the battlefield of the mind, people will seek out a champion to rid them of the troublesome view.

But is total harmony something that you want in your worldview? It's the interplay of dissonance and harmony that is so exciting in the great works of music. The total empathy with two irrevokably separated characters produces the catharsis of grief in drama. Oxygen will oxide iron if they come in contact, but hemoglobin exploits this battle to supply the requirements of life to your cells. Dissonance, well managed, is the fount of human expression - it's the quest for the Great Amen.

As humans (and hobbits!), we require a measure of continuity in our belief system, but it is in the challenge of debate and new ideas that our memetic structure is tested. I'm interested to know what strategies you use to maintain consistancy, and how well you deal with considering new ideas. Please use the comment button below to share.

(Aside: the page where I retreived the code for my comment dealie (thanks, GooberGunch!) is a very well-designed meme transmission area. Please consider it for your comment dealie needs.)