What is the Definition of a Meme?
Why should there be Memes?
Propagation and Mutation of Memes
What are the advantages of using the Memetics Model?
What are the disadvantages of using the Memetics Model?
How far can the Memetics Model reach?
Of Memes and You ...
Meme Sigil, or Time-Chain

What is the definition of a Meme?

A meme is a piece of information that exists inside the minds of individuals. It can be a single word, a string of words, or even an image or an action. It has an effect by residing in the brain of it's host, and causing its behaviour to alter both to accomodate the meme, and to further propagate it. For example, if the meme were to say (in an extreme case), "Shoot all people with green eyes", then the host would have to shoot all people with green eyes because it is carrying that meme, but also, the host would strive to make other people do the same thing. Of course, that meme is unlikely to exist in any great quantity, and as we shall see, it probably doesn't even exist in that form.

Why should there be Memes?

Memes are best used as a modelling tool. It may or may not be correct to think of Memes as a "thing", but that doesn't really matter since the model seems to work. It's better to look at them as ways of interpreting and predicting the actions of individuals. When applied correctly, they can also be used to build up a scenario where an individual will be compelled to follow the will of another individual, through memetic programming.

This kind of technique is evident in advertising, where companies can attempt to set off reactions in potential clients by using memetic programming to make the target want to buy their product.

Propagation and Mutation of Memes.

The power of the use of Memes is that it allows for Memes to be passed between hosts. For example: peer pressure. If a person, or group of persons begin to follow or create some kind of trend, then others are bound to follow. This is propagation of Memes. This is the kind of method used by advertising companies to sell their product. It would be incorrect to say that Memes are "Transmitted", though, because transmission suggests that the information has passed, unchanged, between hosts. This is highly unlikely to be the case. When a meme manifests itself, it opens itself up to interpretation and aquisition by others, but the Meme itself never becomes evident. Only its effects can be observed. This means that a new host never sees the original meme, and can only reconstruct it from the exposure it has had to the manifestation. In this way, Memes can mutate, creating more infectious and efficient strains, or reversely, dying out, and ceasing to propagate.


A MemeSphere is the virtual space within the mind where Memes reside. It is here that they interact, mutate, propogate from and to, and interlink to produce larger and more complex memes. It could be argued that all behaviour is controlled by the MemeSphere, with the possible exception of inbuilt actions such as breathing or seeing, etc... Again, we shall come onto that a little further down.


A Meme-Complex is a web-like array of individual memes that have become linked in a way that they produce a new action/reaction. Theoretically, nearly all Memes can be broken down into smaller ones, so the term Meme-Complex should describe almost every Meme. Nonetheless, I shall use it to describe a Meme that is obviously broken down into smaller Memes very easily.

Returning to my earlier example of the possible Meme: "Shoot all people with green eyes", it would be possible to break it down thus:

Shoot all people with green eyes


Hate people with green eyes + Shoot people you hate

Then each of those may break down further:

Hate people with green eyes


Green eyes are bad + Hate things that are bad


Shoot people you hate


People you hate should die + People should die by being shot

This is, of course, a highly simplified view of a Meme-Complex, and the above products may break down even further, to produce even more simple Memes.

So Meme-Complexes make up the majority of all Memes that exist in the Memesphere, and it's because of the multitude of Memes that mutation during propagation occurs. But that is not the only way that mutations can happen.

Once a Meme has been aquired, it has to interact with those already inhabiting the MemeSphere. This means that it has to fit in with what's already there. If it doesn't, then it has the opportunity to either be rejected, or to attempt to change the MemeSphere. If it fails to change the MemeSphere, it may still reside, dormant, until a place opens up for it. On the other hand, it could fit immediately, and thus join an existing Meme-Complex, or exist as it is. Or it could find "like" Memes, which would form a good Meme-Complex if they were all to alter slightly in their constitution. This is how Memes can, therefore, mutate inside the MemeSphere. They change the way they are slightly to form a much better whole. Finally, when a Meme enters the MemeSphere, it may displace another meme, and thus alter the whole of the hosts MemeSphere, and the Complexes therein!

What are the advantages of using the Memetics Model?

Memetics provides us with an extremely useful method to study behavioural patterns, and also to alter them. It's a powerful tool, because Memes are totally compelling once you have been infected, and there are many methods to introduce a Meme into the MemeSphere without the host even realising it. This is done either using body language, repetitve actions, or moving the meme in it's component parts into the MemeSphere, separately. It also allows us to predict behavioural patterns, and thus alter our own reactions to stimuli for the better. A full understanding of memetics can make your understanding of the world around you, and the actions of other people mean far more than it used to. It allows you to detach yourself from the world of what is real and what is unreal by the understanding that what is real to one person is not necessarily so to another. It can make one far more objective in ones approach to life, which has got to be a good thing.

What are the disadvantages of using the Memetics Model?

Memetics runs the risk of becoming viewed as an actual entity, if not fully understood. It would be dangerous to view Memes as being "actual" since that would make the whole theory self-supporting, and thus be judged irrelevant by an external observer. That is, that if the "Memetics" Meme were to be deemed "real" by Memetics, then the "Memetics" Meme says that Memetics is a "real" thing. So they support eachother, which is an unfavourable philosophical standpoint. The other problem at the moment is that Memetics is a new science, and as such it's not fully understood or documented. The extent that Memetics can be used is unsure, and the limits to Meme propagation are unknown. For example, when a new-born baby learns how to use its motor functions, is it a Meme that tells it to try different combinations of neurones firing to see what evokes what response, or does that transcend Memetics? Most people would think that these primary functions are not Memes, but there's always that element of doubt.

When Memetics becomes a widespread and exact science, then most of the disadvantages of using it will disperse, and it will be a very useful psychological modelling tool. A status which it is fast attaining.

How far can the Memetics Model reach?

It is important to understand that Memes are not a solely Human characteristic. Most, if not all, animal life is in possession of a MemeSphere, and the ability to build Meme-Complexes, by which to control their behaviour. But Meme propagation doesn't even have to be within one species alone. A posting to the
Church of Virus mailing list in July 1997 indicated that one person had observed the propagation of the "Picking Berries" Meme to their Airedale Terrier, demonstrating interspecies infection by Memes. The owner feels that the dog is capable of learning, but "the lack of opposable thumbs presents a handicap". It has also been observed that the same dog, by observation, has learned to drink from drinking fountains! Presumably, therefore, Memes can be transmitted between animal species, excluding Humans from the equation all together. Meme propogation, therefore, does not require human intelligence.

To what level can Memes be used to describe behaviour, then? As I mentioned earlier, there is some debate as to whether it could describe the early motor functions of babies, and also functions such as breathing, seeing, etc... It would seem most logical that there are two levels on which the human mind conducts its behaviour: The Memetic Level and the Genetic Level. Genes are the ones that allow the use of muscle functions, etc... so I'd go with the side of the argument that says that inherant functions are not Memes. I doubt it would work if you were to apply Memetic theory to a Genetic Level!

Hence, Memetics can be applied to all forms of life, both interspecies and within a species, but only to a level where Genes do not take over.

Of Memes and You ...

Now doesn't that all make sense? To take Memetics on board as part of your conceptual tool kit means that you can reap so many advantages over those around you who have no idea. It can model any kind of reasoned behaviour, in both animals and humans, and you can even pass them between species. At first, just try observing the way that memes appear in written text. That way you can take your time to re-read and observe the kind of Meme that're contained in the words. After that, try watching adverts on TV and bill-boards, and see how concise phrases and slogans make it easy for the object of the ad to be remembered. Then you might start noticing Memes that exist in your own MemeSphere, and may even be able to tell how they got there. Next, look out for it in everyday life - the things people say and do, and the way that you and others react to them. Then it's time for you to start constructing your own Memes. Try getting people to become new hosts for them, and observe the effects. In time you could even consider yourself a Memetic Engineer. Just think of the possibilities ...

If you want to discuss the subject further, then you can either
mail me or subscribe to the Church of Virus Mailing List for Memetic discussion.

Have a look at the "Sigil" or "Time-Chain" that can be used to describe/study Memes.

Important Memes || Memes Image Map || Essential Reading || Memetic Links

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