RE: virus: FAQ: v1.0 (b) - What is a meme?

Richard Brodie (
Sat, 19 Jun 1999 06:17:48 -0700

Frankly, I think I know more about memes than the editors of the OED. Their definition, in line with Dawkins's original proposal which he later refined to be in line with mine, is so vague as to make the word useless for scientific purposes. It is becoming clear that there may be more than one cultural replicator. All of the book-length published works on memes that I know of use definitions similar to the one I used. Dawkins, Dennett, Blackmore, and Plotkin all agree with me on this. Meme is used to refer to a cultural replicator that "lives" in the mind. I used the term "virus of the mind" to refer to cultural replicators that are external. We may need several different words, but at this point the definition of meme is settled except to a few vocal contributors to email lists. The OED may or may not catch up with this established scientific use.

Richard Brodie
Author, "Virus of the Mind: The New Science of the Meme" Free newsletter!

-----Original Message-----
From: []On Behalf Of Tim Rhodes
Sent: Friday, June 18, 1999 11:49 PM
To: Church of Virus
Subject: Re: virus: FAQ: v1.0 (b) - What is a meme?

(b) What is a meme?

Richard provided:

>A meme is a unit of information in a mind whose presence influences
>events such that more copies of itself get created in other minds.
>Memes can be seen as the basic building blocks of culture, or as the
>software of the human mind.

I'd be much more comfortable using some variation on the Oxford English Dictionary definition:

"MEME -- An element of culture that may be considered to be passed on by non-genetic means, esp. imitation."

Rather than spreading Richard's specific (and somewhat disputable) "information in the mind" take on them.

(And, yes, I understand that Richard wasn't particularly trying to co-opt the process, but just that he was the only one to offer an answer; to provide some memes for selection.)

-Prof. Tim