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 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. The memes are similar to genes in that they self-replicate, mutate, and respond to selective pressures.

The memes are a viral phenomenon that may evolve by natural selection in a manner similar to that of biological evolution through the processes of variation, mutation, competition, and inheritance, each of which influences a meme’s reproductive success.

Memes spread through the behavior that they generate in their hosts. Memes that propagate less prolifically may become extinct, while others may survive, spread, and (for better or for worse) mutate. Memes that replicate most effectively enjoy more success and some may replicate effectively even when they prove to be detrimental to the welfare of their hosts.

Developments in neuroimaging may make the empirical study possible. The memes should be considered as living structures, not just metaphorically, they are physically residing in the brain. The word meme originated with Richard Dawkins 1976 book The Selfish Gene, inspired by the work of geneticist L. L. Cavalli-Sforza, anthropologist F. T. Cloak, and ethologist J. M. Cullen.

The evolution depended not on the particular chemical basis of genetics, but only on the existence of a self-replicating unit of transmission—in the case of biological evolution, the gene. The meme exemplified another self-replicating unit with potential significance in explaining human behavior and cultural evolution.

The possibility that ideas were subject to the same pressures of evolution as were biological attributes was discussed already in Darwin’s time. T. H. Huxley claimed that ‘The struggle for existence holds as much in the intellectual as in the physical world. A theory is a species of thinking, and its right to exist is coextensive with its power of resisting extinction by its rivals.

Memes generally replicate through exposure to humans, who have evolved as efficient copiers of information and behavior. Because humans do not always copy memes perfectly, and because they may refine, combine or otherwise modify them with other memes to create new memes, they can change over time. 

Meme transmission requires a physical medium, such as photons, sound waves, touch, taste, or smell. In a civilization that can register and transmit the information across space and time, a host (person) need not have descendants to remain influential in the actions of individuals thousands of years after their death.

Memes, analogously to genes, vary in their aptitude to replicate; successful memes remain and spread, whereas unfit ones stall and are forgotten. Thus memes that prove more effective at replicating and surviving are selected in the meme pool.

Memes first need retention. The longer a meme stays in its hosts, the higher its chances of propagation are. When a host uses a meme, the meme’s life is extended. The reuse of the neural space hosting a certain meme’s copy to host different memes is the greatest threat to that meme’s copy.

Life-forms can transmit information both vertically (from parent to child, via replication of genes) and horizontally (through viruses and other means). Memes can replicate vertically or horizontally within a single generation. They may also lie dormant for long periods of time.

Memes reproduce by copying from a nervous system to another one, either by communication or imitation. Imitation often involves the copying of an observed behavior of another individual. Communication may be direct or indirect, where memes transmit from one individual to another through a copy recorded in a source.

The transmission of memes is similar to the spread of contagions. Social contagions induced by A.I. through internet and smartphones are fads, hysteria, copycat crime, and copycat suicide exemplify contagious imitation of ideas.

Patterns of meme transmission of homo sapiens, that are being morphed by A.I. :

  1. The quantity of parenthood: an idea that influences the number of children one has. Children respond particularly receptively to the ideas of their parents, and thus ideas that directly or indirectly encourage a higher birthrate will replicate themselves at a higher rate than those that discourage higher birthrates.
  2. The efficiency of parenthood: an idea that increases the proportion of children who will adopt ideas of their parents. Cultural separatism exemplifies one practice in which one can expect a higher rate of meme-replication—because the meme for separation creates a barrier from exposure to competing ideas.
  3. Proselytic: ideas generally passed to others beyond one’s own children. Ideas that encourage the proselytism of a meme, as seen in many religious or political movements, can replicate memes horizontally through a given generation, spreading more rapidly than parent-to-child meme-transmissions do.
  4. Preservational: ideas that influence those that hold them to continue to hold them for a long time. Ideas that encourage longevity in their hosts, or leave their hosts particularly resistant to abandoning or replacing these ideas, enhance the preservability of memes and afford protection from the competition or proselytism of other memes.
  5. Adversative: ideas that influence those that hold them to attack or sabotage competing for ideas and/or those that hold them. Adversative replication can give an advantage in meme transmission when the meme itself encourages aggression against other memes.
  6. Cognitive: ideas perceived as cogent by most in the population who encounter them. Cognitively transmitted memes depend heavily on a cluster of other ideas and cognitive traits already widely held in the population, and thus usually spread more passively than other forms of meme transmission. Memes spread in cognitive transmission do not count as self-replicating.
  7. Motivational: ideas that people adopt because they perceive some self-interest in adopting them. Strictly speaking, motivationally transmitted memes do not self-propagate, but this mode of transmission often occurs in association with memes self-replicated in the efficiency parental, proselytic and preservational modes.

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