A meme is a basic unit of cultural information that is passed on by imitation. The term was coined by the biologist Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book, The Selfish Gene. It is a replicator that is in some respects analogous to the biological unit called the gene, thus the similar-sounding name.
Like genes, memes attempt to get themselves replicated. They do this by getting their human hosts to pass them on to other people, or to a transmission medium such as the internet. (Note that it is common to speak of memes and genes as if they act with intent, but of course this is merely a linguistic convenience.)
Examples of memes
One example of a meme is a catchy song: people are likely to remember it long after they hear it, humming the tune to themselves, for example, and telling their friends about it. They might place links to an online version of the song on a blog or other website. As the song becomes more popular, radio play may increase, enabling the song to more quickly permeate the culture.
Another good example might be a funny joke or slogan that people are likely to imitate and pass on to others.
Memes for religion and faith
Some memeticists (studiers of memes) have described religion as a complex set of memes that are complementary, otherwise known as a memeplex. (Other memeplexes might include, for example, political beliefs or ideologies.)
Religion is a highly successful memeplex, as many people believe in religious ideas and spread them. The idea of faith is a particularly effective meme, because it prevents questioning of other memes within the memeplex.
- "Patterns of morality are easily reversed or erased, especially in ages of revolutionary fervor, war, anarchy, fear, social decline and despotism. Those who are schooled in identical religious texts, even within the same communities, have different views of morality and ethics. It is possible to transfer literal meaning. It is possible to transfer genetic information. It is possible to pass on heritable characteristics mediated by hard-and-fast rules of chemistry and physics. These rules, however, have no counterpart in the dissemination of ideas. Ideas do not replicate like genes. Ideas are snuffed out or forgotten, often for centuries. Ideas that prevail are often not the best ideas but more often ideas backed by power."
- Viruses of the Mind by Richard Dawkins — an essay on religions as viral memes