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  2. PROFESSOR RICHARD DAWKINS • Richard Dawkins is a biologist and formerly Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University • He has written extensively about genetics, most famously in his book ‘The Selfish Gene’ • BUT he has also been interested in why some social behaviour such as ‘fashions’ get passed on when others do not

  3. Student Activity • One example of a fashion is people wearing their baseball caps backwards? • Think of FIVE other current fashions.

  4. Why did people start wearing their baseball caps backwards? Why do they now wear them the right way round or sideways? Why do terms such as ‘wannabee’, ‘spin-doctor’ or ‘dumbing down’ suddenly enter the language? Why do people speak like their parents? Why do tunes or catch phrases ‘catch on’? Why does religion get accepted by so many people? Why do these things survive and other ideas drop by the wayside? FASHIONS AND FADS

  5. Dawkins says that the genes which shape what we inherit are ‘selfish’ in the sense that their only interest is their own replication. They want to be passed on to the next generation Some genes do not get replicated, hence evolution It is not so much that ‘genes want x’ but ‘genes that do x are more likely to be passed on’ Dawkins applies this to elements of culture and asks why some ideas get passed on and others don’t GENES AND MEMES

  6. A meme is: ‘A self-replicating element of culture, passed on by imitation’ eg ideas, behaviour, stories, fashions, songs, customs, beliefs Memes, like genes, compete for space in brains, books, TV and the internet for their own selfish survival Because humans have the ability to imitate behaviour, memes travel down generations but also between people at a particular time Our culture is based on competition between ideas: some survive some do not HOW DO MEMES WORK? ...1

  7. Ideas spread if they are effective memes. Perhaps they appeal to our sense of danger, or to our appetites: food or hunger, and to what is ‘cool’ at the time Copying of memes is imperfect and there are far more mutations than you would get with genes eg forgetting the words of a song Our ideas are not our own creation. We are hosts for memes which survive in the competition to catch our attention HOW DO MEMES WORK? ...2

  8. Helps us understand the evolution of the brain and the ideas in it Helps understand origins of language Helps us understand how cultures and lifestyles develop Helps us understand specific things like the evolution of the internet in terms of which bits of it ‘take off’ and which bits do not Raises big questions about how our identity is formed IMPLICATIONS

  9. Difficult to pin down exactly what a meme is It is a rather vague concept Memes are transmitted at a very weak level compared to genetic inheritance We do not know what memes are made of or where they reside How ‘big’ is a meme? Is a whole religion a meme or are we mean smaller ideas and concepts? What ARE the factors which get some memes passed on and not others? Needs more investigation Not yet a fully worked out theory CRITICISMS

  10. Try reading more about Dawkins and his book ‘The Selfish Gene’ Richard Dawkins