13. "Replicators" : genes and memes ------------------------------------------ Previous - Next - Contents

In short, genes (assembled in strings of DNA) are the building instructions of all life on earth. So without genes there can be no life. But likewise without life forms to carry and protect genes, there can be no genes either. For most of the past however life has been all about the replication and propagation of genes with the life forms simply being convenient protective carriers which could be discarded (die) after they had completed their task of reproduction.

With the emergance and evolvement of the human species on earth however a dramatic change in the process of evolution may be about to commence. We are continuously increasing our consciousness of the world around us. We also have an ability to think ahead, and develope culture (in the broadest sense of the word).

Mona Lisa, by Leonardo Da Vinci As a consequence of this "awakening" a new replicator has emerged. Dawkins calls this the meme. A meme is an idea, thought, concept, image, even song, born in the human mind and passed on ("copied" or "imitated") to other minds through many generations even thousands of years (just like genes).
The image in your mind of the Mona Lisa for example, is a strong meme, so are the concepts of "God", "Heaven" and "Hell".

The Greek culture produced an avalanche of most valuable memes, produced by Socratus, Plato, Pythagoras, Archimedes, etc. which are still around and being used and copied today.
After the Greeks, there was a long period of little meme development, but since the Renaissance meme creation has increased again, and these last 200 years or so is going through the roof. New memes are being created but also built on or extended from older versions.

Like genes, some memes are good for us and contribute to a positive evolvement of our species. Others are bad, forms of indoctrination (like some politics and most religions, I believe) which are holding us back, even intent on destroying us. So there is (like in the "gene pool") fierce competion amongst memes in the "meme pool". Which ones will survive and which ones won't ? Therefore a form of natural selection exists too amongst our memes, the survival of the fittest, the stable.

We as humans have the ability to think ahead into the future, what is best for us in the long term, raher than the short term. This fills Dawkins with hope that we can turn the selfish process of present evolution around to a more unselfish, "altruistic" process, which in the long term will benefit the human race as a whole.
At present the human species is still very much the servant to the master replicators, genes and memes alike. I believe that in due course this relations ship can reverse, so that we are in control of our genes and memes, rather than the other way around.

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Copyright © 2010 Michael Furstner