Memes and Mind Viruses

Richard Brodie (
Sun, 8 Jun 1997 07:57:06 -0700

From: Richard Brodie <>
To: "''" <>
Subject: Memes and Mind Viruses
Date: Sun, 8 Jun 1997 07:57:06 -0700

RK Moore wrote:
>A cousin concept to memes also intrigues me, and that is viruses.
>once defined religion as "a belief-structure virus". Do we need both
>perhaps other) concepts? Is "virus" already subsumed by "memes"?

Unlike biological replicators, which most biologists would say have a
locus of replication in the genome and only the genome, the world of
culture seems to have replicators all over the place. As most
memeticists agree on the definition of "meme," a meme is a replicator
that lives in a mind. For instance, a meme "evangelize for Jesus"
inhabits the minds of a pool of people. The very presence of this meme
in their minds CAUSES them to go out and spread that meme to other
minds. This is a very tight meme-replication loop.

A Virus of the Mind is a replicator that lives "out there"; i.e., it is
made up of cultural artifacts, not simply brain software. A parallel
example is the Bible. While few minds actually host the entire Bible,
the existence of the book and surrounding culture tend to infect people
with certain other memes -- study the Bible, the Bible is the Word of
God, save people by introducing them to the Bible, teach your children
the Bible. These infected people then go out and buy Bibles, which
causes more of them to be printed. Examples of other such viruses of the
mind that I discuss in my book are chain letters, multi-level marketing
businesses, and (my favorite) the pet industry!

Lest we forget the value of looking at things through the memetics
paradigm: just as a traditional Darwinist can predict that successfully
replicating genomes will increase their population in the future at the
expense of the less fit, the memetic Darwinist can predict that
religions, MLM's, chain letters, and animals (remember the "charismatic
megafauna" flap) with "good memes" will populate people's minds in the
future at the expense of the less fit. We should be doing experiments
right now to test this hypothesis.


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