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A gene is a replicator made out of DNA. A meme is a replicator which is an idea. The properties of replicators are discussed by the theory of evolution.

Memes have been used as an idea in social commentary. There have been a number of attempts to do philosophy using the idea of memes. Below I'll briefly comment on the approach to memes I think is best, but I don't want to limit replies to one particular approach to memes.

In The Beginning of Infinity, David Deutsch presents a theory of two types of memes: static (aka anti-rational) and dynamic (aka rational). The difference is in their replication strategies. Dynamic memes are spread because people think they are a good idea, so they find it useful, use it, and share it. Static memes evolve to (partially) disable the holder's creativity and spread because he is unable to think critically about it. The meme evolved to have some control over people.

What does Objectivism say about memes?

asked Dec 05 '14 at 16:05

Curi's gravatar image


edited Dec 06 '14 at 13:51

Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

Greg Perkins ♦♦

I am not aware of any discussion or mention of "meme" anywhere in the literature of Objectivism. Those who want to learn more about memes will need to look elsewhere.

I found a substantial, apparently well documented article on "Meme" on Wikipedia, which appears to agree with the meaning of "meme" presented in the question, but with considerable additional background context. I see two main issues in Objectivism applicable to memes:

  • Value of the social form of existence for man -- knowledge and trade. VOS Chap. 1 explains: "Man is the only species that can transmit and expand his store of knowledge from generation to generation; the knowledge potentially available to man is greater than any one man could begin to acquire in his own lifespan; every man gains an incalculable benefit from the knowledge discovered by others." "Meme" apparently is just an idea that spreads in certain ways, which would be entirely consistent with the social form of human existence and its value to man.

  • When a person encounters an idea from others, he chooses whether to act on it or not, modify it or not, and pass it on to others or not. Memes do not spread by themselves; human consciousness and choice are inescapably involved. If meme theorists are tempted to suggest that the process of meme spread and/or "evolution" happens automatically somehow, without human choice, Objectivism would classify any such suggestion as false. The human element can often be subtle, however, because (a) man needs ideas in order to live, and (b) individuals often do not have the ability to originate their own ideas for living independently of others; and (c) there is a certain logic in ideas that are capable of guiding human action; ideas have specific meanings. The result is that one can often predict the way fundamental ideas are likely to spread and evolve over time, not because there is no element of human choice involved, but because of man's needs and the role of ideas in guiding human action.

answered Dec 05 '14 at 22:11

Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

Ideas for Life ♦

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Asked: Dec 05 '14 at 16:05

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Last updated: Dec 06 '14 at 13:51