TD02 – Dawkins on Memes

Former Oxford Professor, Richard Dawkins, is well known for his witty and elegant explanations of how Darwin’s Theory works in genetic detail. It’s all about replicator power!

Fitness survives!

In Dawkin’s acclaimed book on Darwin’s Theory, The Selfish Gene, he showed how fitness survives not only in biology but wherever we can find replicators at work.

As another example he coined the word meme as a unit of culture which gets passed on from person to person. A meme is a replicator like a gene. Successful genes replicate from DNA to DNA and successful memes replicate from brain to brain via word-of-mouth (WOM).

(An internet usage of the word meme has mutated to refer to pics of cats and other catchy but unimportant things to spread around to pass away idle time).

“Memes can be good ideas, good tunes, good poems, as well as drivelling mantras.” says Richard Dawkins in Unweaving the Rainbow. “Anything that spreads by imitation, as genes spread by bodily reproduction or by viral infection, is a meme … As with genes, we can expect the world to become filled with memes that are good at the art of getting themselves copied from brain to brain … It is enough that memes vary in their infectivity for darwinian selection to get going … We may think this spreading for the sake of spreading rather futile, but nature is not interested in our judgements, of futility or anything else. If a piece of code has what it takes, it spreads and that’s that … In Climbing Mount Improbable I explained that an elephant’s DNA and a virus are both ‘Copy Me’ programmes. The difference is that one of them has an almost fantastically large digression: ‘Copy me by building an elephant first’. But both kinds of programmes spread because, in their different ways, they are good at spreading.

The meme is a very useful tool for understanding how WOM in marketing works because it allows us to harness much of the power of Darwin’s Theory. Today, memetics is one of the fastest growing ideas in science. Memetics allows us to understand not only how people get ideas but, more importantly, how ideas acquire people or how minds become memed.

NOTE: Just a note on repetition. As you’ll see, repetition is a very powerful tool when we’re establishing new brain patterns. For example, you’ll notice repetition in this training course and the main point is that it is deliberately put there for your benefit. It’s to help your brain acquire these ideas more easily, or, to put it another way, to help these ideas acquire your brain more easily. The most important memes are the ones that are invested with the most repetition.

Susan Blackmore in her enlightening book The Meme Machine explains, “We do copy each other all the time and we underestimate what is involved because imitation comes so easily to us. When we copy each other, something, however intangible, is passed on. That something is the meme. And taking a meme’s eye view is the foundation of memetics.”


— Click through here to Susan’s delightful TED talk

In marketing, nothing is more important than taking the meme’s eye-view because nothing is more important than WOM.

WOM is the meme that gets itself passed on from one customer to another. Or, a meme is the WOM that allows one customer’s brain to become ‘infected’ by another brain.

Memes reside in the brain (like genes reside in DNA) and how they get from one brain to another is what memetics is all about. Only the fittest memes survive.

Think of the marketplace as the meme pool. There are vastly more memes than there are brains to shelter them.

Which ones will survive? Why? Which ones will fail? Why?


DFQ TD02 Feedback Question:

What is a meme?

Give an example of a meme that has been good at getting inside and surviving in your brain …

281 thoughts on “TD02 – Dawkins on Memes

  1. Meme is a unit of culture that gets passed on from one brain to another. I think the meme of gratitude got into my head and I use it all the time to uplift mood , to get a perspective , to be happy , to distract , to pray !

  2. I’ve trained my brain to answer the question: “who would like to see that” every time I see something interesting and relevant. I then pass them own via direct messages or online. Examples are:

    – Cat memes for my daughter,
    – Self-help to people who are starting a business or going through a rough time,
    – Marketing & sales ideas to marketing & sales contacts,
    – Silly videos to people I know would appreciate them,
    – Strategic ideas to CEOs.
    – etc.

    This has allowed me to keep in touch with many people and exchange ideas and a laugh around the globe.

  3. A meme is a unit of idea, concept that is replicated. It gets transferred from one host to another. The meme that there is a god is good in getting into one’s head.

  4. According to Wikipedia “a meme is an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture—often with the aim of conveying a particular phenomenon, theme, or meaning represented by the meme. A meme acts as a unit for carrying cultural ideas, symbols, or practices, that can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals, or other imitable phenomena with a mimicked theme. Supporters of the concept regard memes as cultural analogues to genes in that they self-replicate, mutate, and respond to selective pressures.”

    In our current lesson, the word meme has defined a unit of culture which gets passed on from person to person. A meme is a replicator like a gene. Successful genes replicate from DNA to DNA and successful memes replicate from brain to brain via word-of-mouth (WOM).

    A good example of a meme is an idea of patriotism. The idea that one must vigorously defend one’s country no matter what. The idea that a person should sacrifice him or herself for the good of the country. Obviously, this is good if it can harness and channel the public’s energy toward a worthwhile purpose such as in a time of war or economic distress. It can be quite useful to make certain that most people in the country will subscribe and follow the tenants of this belief.
    It could also be dangerous to blindly follow the leaders of the country that are trying to use people’s emotions to further their own agenda.

  5. I can see that meme is a conceptual carrier, with variable energy and variable half life, transmitted from one mind to another through particular media. An example of a meme that has been good at getting inside and surviving in my brain is…
    ” The struggle you are in today is developing the strength you need for tomorrow”.

  6. A meme is something that you receive from outside and lodges in the mind. With me a saying “A moment’s insight is sometimes worth a lifetime’s experience”

  7. Memes can be anything that is replicated by another once they have seen/heard it from someone else.

    The memes that survive the longest in my brain involve courtesy and respect.

  8. A meme is something that is replicated by one person to another.

    There is always opportunity you just need to work hard to find it sometimes no matter how bad the climate.

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