From Genes to Memes

On the 26th of March 1941, a man was born who would change the face of the internet. He would go on to create a concept so novel that no person would never look at their newsfeed the same way again. He would go on to invent the meme.

Well at least he sort of would. Clinton Richard Dawkins, an Evolutionary Biologist, released a book in 1976 called “The Selfish Gene.” Filled with all sorts of science-y goodness, this publication explored, tweaked, and extended Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. Dawkins suggested that evolution should be viewed from the perspective of genetic based natural selection, rather than from Darwin’s perspective of organism based natural selection.*


Although organism based natural selection does take into account genetic makeup, I am too stupid to understand the intimate differences between the two theories. Just trust me when I say that they are different. If anyone reading this is an expert in evolutionary biology, please feel free to contact me and explain the two differing theories.


So how did our old friend Clinton go from Evolutionary Biology to cashing people outside? Well actually he didn’t. How bow dah? Dawkins can be attributed with the creation of the actual word “meme.” Derived from the Ancient Greek word mimeme (to imitate), he defined his new term as “a unit of cultural transmission or change.”

Within his book, Dawkins drew an analogy which likened his view of evolution to the evolution of certain aspects of popular culture (for example, the way in which fashion trends evolve and change). Where natural evolution occurred through the transmission of genes, Dawkins suggested that cultural evolution occurred through the transmission of memes.

Take for example, any trend in popular culture. Somebody starts a trend. An observer views the trend. The trend is then imitated or refined by the observer. This process repeats indefinitely until the trend either disappears completely, or is reshaped into a new trend altogether.

It is clear in this example that the broader outcome is always a cultural change of some form. Hence, we can say that this change has come about due to a “meme” being continuously transferred and altered between people. The “meme” is in essence the thing that changes.

Despite what seems to be a significant change in subject matter from Dawkins’ original intent, the concept of the meme that you and I know and love still remains loyal to its roots. Today’s meme culture is changing all the time; any budding memester can tell you that. If you want proof, just scroll through your newsfeed and take the time to appreciate all the subtle variations on the same meme. It is in this way that new memes (and trends) are inevitably and eventually created.

But hold up. If Clinton Dawkins’ theory itself has changed in subject matter from it’s original intent, then doesn’t that make him the greatest meme of all time?**

**Yes. Illu-meme-nati confirmed.

Comments are closed.