Chapter

The evolution of the meme

Kevin N. Laland and John Odling-Smee

in Darwinizing Culture

Published in print January 2001 | ISBN: 9780192632449
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191670473 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780192632449.003.0006
The evolution of the meme

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This chapter discusses the evolution of culture, and sketches how ‘memes’ help elucidate that story. It begins with a summary of evolutionary perspective, highlighting the capacity of organisms to modify their environments, which is called ‘niche construction’. It also shows that complex organisms have evolved a set of information-gaining processes that are expressed in niche construction, and that the capacity for acquiring and transmitting memes is one such process. It then argues that, as many animals are capable of learning from others, they too can be said to have memes, and reports how animal protoculture might have evolved into human culture through meme-based niche construction. Moreover, it applies the evolutionary framework to illustrate that the success of a meme depends not just on its infectiousness, but also on the susceptibility of the host, and on the social environment. Furthermore, it provides an example from gene-culture coevolutionary theory to depict how a formal theory of memetics can be of value.

Keywords: memes; memetics; niche construction; gene culture; coevolutionary theory

Chapter.  7447 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Cognitive Psychology

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