Thursday, 13 November 2014

The long reach of the meme

Richard Dawkins' 1982 book "The Extended Phenotype" is subtitled "The Long Reach of the Gene". Most of its example are very gene-centric. It discusses beaver dams and spider webs to illustrate the concept of genes having extended effects. However, what about memes and cultural evolution? Memes have a long reach - just as genes do - as was pointed out by Steven Jan in the year 2000.

When a pagan is stoned by Christians, the memes in the bible are exerting effects that go far beyond the bounds of the book and the minds of the Christians that form their main inheritance pathway. Memes that have spent most of their reproductive life in a camera manufacturer in Japan may deter criminal activity by humans half way around the world. Memes that only reproduce inside NASA have created meme products - such as the Voyager spacecraft - that have traveled beyond the edge of the solar system.

Overall, the long reach of the meme leaves the long reach of the gene panting far behind.

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