The Original Definition of "Meme" Referred To Evolution, Not LOLs

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Internet memes are all the rage these days, but it may surprise you to learn that the word "meme" predates the world wide web. It was coined by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene, where he drew a parallel between the way that genetic information propagates in the gene pool and the way that cultural information is transmitted through a culture. "Just as genes propagate themselves in the gene pool by leaping from body to body via sperms or eggs," Dawkins wrote, "so memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain via a process which, in the broad sense, can be called imitation." Everything from how to make fire or fashion an arrowhead to fashion, jokes, and pop tunes count as memes. Seen this way, memes take on much more importance: they aren't just bits of trivia passed by word of mouth; they're essential to our evolution as a species. Learn more about memes—or as the scientific field is called, memetics—in the videos below.

The Science Of Memes

Find out why memes aren't as trivial as you might think.

Genes, Memes...And Then What?

The science of memes—past, present, and future.

Why Your Favorite Internet Memes Should Never Be Forgotten

Internet memes can teach us a lot about our species.

Evidence Of Evolution

Get a primer on this basic principle of biology.

Written by Ashley Hamer October 28, 2016

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