The Speed of Meme


A blogger over at Acephalous is doing a pop science experiment to measure the speed of a meme. As a student of social science, I am dutifully linking to the original article. Besides duty, there’s the interesting educational opportunity (though I’m not convinced that the ‘experiment’ will yield any usable data other than increasing Acephalous’s traffic), and the fact that “acephalous” has to be one of the funniest blog titles I’ve seen so far.

If you don’t already know, a meme is a “unit of cultural information transferable from one mind to another.” The term was coined by Richard Dawkins (the famous evolutionary biologist who recently wrote the bestseller The God Delusion, which I still haven’t read) and is intended to be analagous to the gene, which is the unit of selection in biological evolution (at least according to most evolutionary biologists- I’m currently reading Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene on this very subject).

From Wikipedia:

“Richard Dawkins introduced the term after writing that evolution depended not on the particular chemical basis of genetics, but only on the existence of a self-replicating unit of transmission — in the case of biological evolution, the gene. For Dawkins, the meme exemplifies another self-replicating unit, and most importantly, one which he thought would prove useful in explaining human behavior and cultural evolution.”

(On a side note, the picture above illustrates the linkings between webpages, and is from a page with interesting illustrations of different types of networks.)

The most prolific memes are probably the ones we don’t even notice. And of course, the concept of memes has proven to be a rather prolific meme, likely due to its flexibility and broad application. Pretty much anyone can make some sort of point using the concept of memes. Like this post.

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