The Selfish Meme

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When the meme began, in The Selfish Gene in 1976, the message was a negative one: genes aren't the only pebbles on the Darwinian beach. In 1998, in Unweaving the Rainbow, I could be more positive: "There is an ecology of memes, a tropical rainforest of memes, a termite mound of memes. Memes don't only leap from mind to mind by imitation, in culture. That is just the easily visible tip of the iceberg. They also thrive, multiply and compete within our minds. When we announce to the world a good idea, who knows what subconscious quasi-Darwinian selection has gone on behind the scenes inside our heads? Our minds are invaded by memes, as ancient bacteria invaded our ancestors' cells and became mitochondria. Cheshire Cat-like, memes merge into our minds, even become our minds."

Richard Dawkins is Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University. His latest book is Unweaving the Rainbow (Houghton Mifflin). This essay was adapted from his introduction to Susan Blackmore's The Meme Machine (Oxford University Press)

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