What Is a Meme?: Background information when reading On the Origin of Tepees

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

On the Origin of Tepees

The Evolution of Ideas (and Ourselves)

by Jonnie Hughes

On the Origin of Tepees by Jonnie Hughes
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Aug 2011, 320 pages
    Paperback:
    Jun 2012, 320 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Jennifer G Wilder

Buy This Book

About this Book

Beyond the Book:
What Is a Meme?

Print Review

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a meme (pronounced meem) is, "n. An element of a culture that may be considered to be passed on by non-genetic means, esp. imitation". A meme is a nugget of meaning, the smallest building block of an idea, the basic unit of culture. What a gene is to biology, some say, the meme is to anthropology. Just as an advanced organism, like an elephant, has a complex genetic code built up over millennia, so too does a cultural production such as Darwin's On the Origin of Species. In this case, an accretion of small ideas evolved over time and combined in new ways. In Jonnie Hughes's On the Origin of Tepees, memes are the building blocks of all human skill and knowledge. Like genes, they want to replicate. They want to be passed down, and it's the drive of memes that motivates cultural change.

The word "meme" was coined in Richard Dawkins's 1976 book, The Selfish Gene. He extracted it from the Greek word mimeme, "something imitated" (as in the English word "mimesis"). He made it short and catchy (on purpose) so it would sound like "gene." A meme, he wrote, is a cultural replicator in the way a gene is a biological one.

There is nothing settled about memes. Since the appearance of Dawkins's book, evolutionary scientists and linguists and psychologists, and even evolutionary psychologists (who, according to Hughes, are new since the 1990s) have wrangled the idea of the meme into different schemas. Is it ridiculous to imagine that the meme drives human choice in an effort to get itself passed down, as a gene does? Is creativity an illusion? And what about genius, and free will? Hughes's arguments raise many (controversial) questions. The thinkers that most influence his understanding of the meme are Daniel Dennett (author of Darwin's Dangerous Idea, 1995), R. Aunger (author of Darwinizing Culture: The Status of Memetics as a Science, 2000), and S. Blackmore (author of The Meme Machine, 1999).

But how do we isolate memes in order to study them? There is no deoxyribonucleic acid here. Hughes struggles with this himself - is the tepee itself a meme, or are the memes found in the smaller components, like the design of smoke flaps? The precise point at which a meme breaks down seems to be a fluid concept. The word tepee itself is a meme, and so is the ancient idea of building a shelter to live in instead of relying on trees and caves.

And of course the word meme has developed a life of its own on the internet. On the web, a meme is a viral cultural tchotchke - a funny YouTube video, a phrase like “honey badger”, a joke involving a picture of Ryan Gosling saying something that begins with “Hey girl.” So while every internet catchphrase and lolcat is, technically, one of the nuggets of cultural information that can be called a meme, not every meme leads to ROFL.

lolcat

For more information on memes, click on the fascinating TED talk below in which Susan Blackmore discusses how ideas replicate themselves from brain to brain.

This article is from the August 22, 2012 issue of BookBrowse Recommends. Click here to go to this issue.

This article is available to non-members for a limited time. You can also read these articles for free. For full access become a member today.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Support BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten!

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Hunger
    Hunger
    by Roxane Gay
    In this penetrating and fearless memoir, author Roxane Gay discusses her battle with body acceptance...
  • Book Jacket: The Black Witch
    The Black Witch
    by Laurie Forest
    In The Black Witch, Laurie Forest introduces her readers to an immersive fantasy world where ...
  • Book Jacket: See What I Have Done
    See What I Have Done
    by Sarah Schmidt
    Sarah Schmidt's historical fictionalization of the Lizzie Borden story is a tsunami. From the ...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
Cruel Beautiful World by Caroline Leavitt

Cruel Beautiful World examines the intricate, infinitesimal distance between seduction and love, loyalty and duty.

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    The Heart's Invisible Furies
    by John Boyne

    A sweeping, heartfelt saga set in Ireland from the author of The Boy In the Striped Pajamas.
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win Hame

Hame by Annalena McAfee

A rich, sultry novel about a young American fleeing a crumbling marriage for a remote Scottish island.

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

A F Out O W

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.