“The meme for blind faith secures its own perpetuation by the simple unconscious expedient of discouraging rational Inquiry” - Richard Dawkins

Memetics is an outgrowth of evolutionary psychology that was introduced as a mental content theory by Dr. Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book, “The Selfish Gene.” It is directly connected to Darwinian evolution and, in a nutshell, it has to do with how information, called “units,” are replicated and transferred within a given culture. There is a debate among scientists regarding how the replication of these units of information control human behavior and culture and when Dawkins coined the term, he did so in a speculative spirit. However, memes and their connection to human carriers with respect to the phenomenon of religious belief is also supported by other prominent scientists, as well as the renowned philosopher, Daniel Dennett.

 

A Virus Of The Mind…

In 1991, Richard Dawkins wrote an essay titled “Viruses of the Mind” which used memetics to explain the various characteristics of organised religions. Susan Blackmore, a physiologist who also studies memetics, agrees with Dawkins and Dennett with the definition of a meme being whatever is transferred from one person to another. Memes are replicators with variations within, they compete in our memories for space and for the opportunity to be recopied, but they are not carbon copies. As is with Darwinian evolution, not all of the variants are able to survive because nobody learns exactly the same way as the next person, so they are actually imitations, not copies. The ideas might be the same or similar, but the expression will change and there will be variants of different memes added. This is akin to mutation in Darwinian evolution.

However, mutations in the evolution of certain memes are very high, and are possible even in first generation imitations. In his book, “A Devil’s Chaplain, Dawkins identifies and explains the differences between the informative memetic process and the controversial memetic process. The cultural process is based on an idea, action or expression with high variances and the informative is more of a self-correcting memetic process, which is highly resistant to evolutionary mutation.