Why memes is not only funny pictures from the Internet
What memes are like genes? And why can be dangerous?
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In the 2011 edition of the Time told about the study, the subject of which became an Internet meme. Work Kate Miltner dedicated to meme cat, was written for the master’s thesis protection on mediasauce. In 2017, several universities have opened entire training program for those wishing to explore Internet memes, including one of the oldest British universities — University of Cambridge.
The creators of these educational programs talk about “the meme revolution.” Today memes are all, or almost all. For observers, the development of mass culture increasing the number of memes and their popularity is obvious. Many imagine the meme as a funny picture or video. But maybe the meme is something more?
In 2016, four major European University together with the University of Harvard also created a biennial program for the study of memes. However, their program provides training to defense of a master’s degree in evolutionary biology. It would seem, and there are funny pictures on the Internet? Let’s try to understand this issue from the beginning.
The selfish meme
There is a common belief that “meme” is derived from the English word “memory”, that is “memory”, but that’s not entirely true. The Creator of the word “meme” — English scientist Richard Dawkins, the popular evolutionary biologist and ethologist. In one of the most famous of his books the Selfish gene (1976) Dawkins talks about what distinguishes man from other living beings on the Earth, and comes to the conclusion that the main difference is culture. Based on the analogy of the gene as a unit of hereditary information, Dawkins began to search for a term that would mean a unit of cultural information. Taking the Greek word “μιμητής (mimetes”) — “copycat, copycat” Dawkins for the convenience of the Bay from its derivative “mimum” the first syllable and got the word “meme”.
Defining the meme as a unit of transmission of cultural heritage, Dawkins in the first place underscores the ability of meme to replicate or replication, like a gene. Memes spread from one person to another through the process of imitation.
“Good” memes — are those that have a high survival rate in the culture medium, that is, endowed with a psychological appeal to people who are willing to copy them for many generations.
Dawkins emphasizes that memes copies should be identical or almost identical to the original — as well as genes retain their properties in the transmission of hereditary information.
In addition, among the memes there is a competition, which is expressed in the struggle for a place in human memory and attention meme, “time on radio and television, the area on billboards, on newspaper pages and on library shelves.”
What could be a meme? According to Dawkins, a meme can be tunes, ideas, catch phrases, common representations (e.g., about God), and “buzzwords, methods of cooking soup or structure of arches”. Memes can support each other and exist together in a single complex — remkompleks as coadaptive stable set of memes. As an example of metkompleks Richard Dawkins is a staunch atheist, of course, leads the Church “with its architecture, rituals, laws, music, visual art and written evidence”.
He also repeatedly emphasizes the viral nature of the meme, its “infectivity”, the ability to parasitize in the human brain of its carrier. Dawkins makes a surprising finding about the evolution of the human brain, which, in his opinion, is larger than the brain of primates, in connection with the need to “accommodate” a large number of memes. Competition genes led to the appearance of a human with a brain capable of imitation, so — called memes that use this ability.
Despite the fact that he Richard Dawkins was quite skeptical about his theory, understand its speculative and even called it “speculation”, it is, in his opinion, could solve rather ambitious tasks related to the questions of the origin and differences of cultures in different parts of the globe. Inspired by the ideas of Charles Darwin, the English scientist wanted to move the idea of a gene-Replicator with biological laws on the anthropological and even to bring some law that is universal for the entire Universe.
In the end, Dawkins came to the conclusion that all forms of life — earthly and unearthly — there should be a basic rule: all life evolyutsioniruet the result of natural selection of self-replicating units — of genes, memes, or any other, not yet known to science.
Memetics as a science
This theory took shape in the theory of consciousness and culture. The name for it in 1983 suggested by the American physicist Douglas Hofstadter — “memetics”, by analogy with genetics, and in 1988, the word “meme” was entered in the Oxford dictionary with the meaning “an element of culture or system of behaviour passed from one individual to another by imitation or other non-genetic means.”
However, this level of generalization there are many issues and problems associated with the use of memetic and its further processing in science.
The first problem is the measurement. How to measure meme and how to fix the fact of its self-reproduction, transmission, and distribution? How to describe meme and determine its content?
In trying to solve this problem scientists mimetite divided into internalists — those who followed Dickinson understand the meme as a unit of information that exists in the brain; and those who understand memes as external, observable cultural artifacts — externalists. Internality argue that with the development of technology and neuroscience direct observation of the meme will be possible and this will ensure the development memetic. Externality, in turn, come into conflict with anthropology, which considers culture as a complex of separate cultural units or artifacts.