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In Gods We TrustThe Evolutionary Landscape of Religion$
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Scott Atran

Print publication date: 2005

Print ISBN-13: 9780195178036

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195178036.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (oxford.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use. date: 09 December 2021

The Trouble with Memes

The Trouble with Memes

Inference versus Imitation in Cultural Creation

(p.236) 9 The Trouble with Memes
In Gods We Trust


Oxford University Press

Memes are hypothetical cultural units, an idea or practice, passed on by imitation. Although nonbiological, they undergo Darwinian selection like genes. Cultures and religions are supposedly coalitions of memes seeking to maximize their own fitness, regardless of fitness costs for their human hosts. The concept of the meme, introduced by Richard Dawkins in 1976, is now defined as an element of culture that may be considered to be passed on by non-genetic means, especially imitation. Candidate memes include a word, a sentence, a thought, a belief, a melody, a scientific theory, an equation, a philosophical puzzle or a religious ritual. Like genes, memes can pass supposedly “vertically” from parent to child, for example, in the religious practice of circumcision. Memes can also copy themselves “horizontally” from person to person—between peers or from leaders to followers—as with the concept of the meme itself.

Keywords:   memes, Darwinian selection, genes, culture, human minds, Richard Dawkins

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