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

Robin Faichney (
Sat, 19 Jun 1999 14:48:36 +0100

In message <000001beba56$202063e0$c1243fce@rb4010>, Richard Brodie <> writes
>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.

"Established scientific use", eh?

Quote from Controversies in Meme Theory, N Rose, Journal of Memetics, 2, 1998,

The definition of a meme is currently ambiguous. A meme can be found variously described as; a unit of imitation (Dawkins [15]), a unit of information residing in a brain (Dawkins [16]), culturally transmitted instructions (Dennett [19, 20]), any permanent pattern of matter or information produced by an act of human intentionality (Csikszentmihalyi [14]), roughly equivalent to ideas or representations (Plotting [32]), a unit of information in a mind whose existence influences events such that copies of itself get created in other minds (Brodie [9]), actively contagious ideas (Lynch [28]), a mental representation (Gabora [23]), a self-replicating element of culture passed on by imitation (Oxford English Dictionary), etc. Without some kind of firm definition the word `meme' becomes almost meaningless (c.f. Wilkins [35]) applied to instructions in brains, information, behaviour, words, mental states, books and all kinds of cultural artefacts without consistency.
Robin Faichney
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