February 2, 2013 |  by

It’s clear now that the view of “memes in the brain” put forward by Richard Dawkins, Susan Blackmore and others was an attempt to describe the workings of mirror neurons.

Rather than saying that “memes are located in the brain” (as they did), we can say that the transmission of memes occurs in the brain, through our mirror neurons. That’s how memes pass from one person to another, or “replicate” as Dawkins and Blackmore would say. Word choice matters, however. Technically, say our neuroscientists, there is no copying or replication. Mirror neurons re-create the emotions, ideas and experiences of others, inside of us.

We feel what others feel. There’s a resonance.

We resonate with them.

Memes aren’t “located” anywhere. Memes are ideas (whether a way of making pots, a fashion trend or a way of life like democracy). People who come into contact with an idea may pass the idea to others, but we wouldn’t say the idea is located only within their brains.

The basic question here is: Do ideas exist outside of the human brain?

Well, of course! E = mc2 existed before Einstein’s brain discovered it. The hypotenuse was around long before Pythagoras.

As a model, the gene was a great starting point for the meme. It brought some wonderful insights to the table. Now our understanding of memes has grown beyond the confines of the gene.


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