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

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On the Origin of Tepees

The Evolution of Ideas (and Ourselves)

by Jonnie Hughes

On the Origin of Tepees
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  • First Published:
    Aug 2011, 320 pages
    Jun 2012, 320 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Jennifer G Wilder

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About this Book

Beyond the Book:
What Is a Meme?

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...

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