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June 5, 2012 | by  | in Opinion | [ssba]

Philosoraptor Mulls On Memes

We spend countless hours swapping cute photos of cats, spliced up bits of pop- culture, and infamous celebrity gaffes. These are all pretty cool. But what about the concept of a meme itself? You might be surprised, but there is a small cottage- industry in philosophy which directly investigates memes and their impact on culture. The basic notion is that memes are cultural replicators, bits of information that mutate and reproduce themselves across the population of minds. En masse, their operation is analogous to the behaviour of genes in evolution.

In biology, the three prerequisites for Darwinian natural selection are variation, heredity, and differential success. Consider an example of what might be treated as a meme on this definition: rhetoric from an Obama speech. On the campaign trail, there were endless sound-bites which captured his message of audacious hope, but all of which were expressed in slightly different words—variation. Not all of these sound-bites were equally catchy, some of the sweeping metaphors were more stirring than others—differential fitness. These catchy sound-bites were the ones that were more widely reproduced in newspapers, blogs and television the world over— heredity.

Such a method of analysing our social landscape could provide valuable new insights into the progress of cultural change in much the same way that genetics does in the biological realm. Memes could be the key to prising open the black box of human culture to quantitative analysis. Once again, philosophy proves that its cooler than just being cool. It is, in fact, ice cold.


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