Evolution of Culture, Memetics

Francis Heylighen, Klaas Chielens

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Cultural traits are transmitted from person to person, similarly to genes or viruses.
Cultural evolution therefore can be understood through the same basic mechanisms of
reproduction, spread, variation, and natural selection that underlie biological evolution.
This implies a shift from genes as units of biological information to a new type of units of
cultural information: memes. The concept of meme can be defined as an information
pattern, held in an individual's memory, which is capable of being copied to another
individual's memory. Memetics can then be defined as the theoretical and empirical
science that studies the replication, spread and evolution of memes. Memes differ in their
degree of fitness, i.e. adaptedness to the socio-cultural environment in which they
propagate. Fitter memes will be more successful in being communicated, "infecting"
more individuals and thus spreading over a larger population. This biological analogy
allows us to apply Darwinian concepts and theories to model cultural evolution.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEncyclopedia of Complexity and Systems Science
EditorsRobert Meyers
Number of pages10370
ISBN (Print)978-0-387-75888-6
Publication statusPublished - 2009

Bibliographical note

Robert Meyers


  • memetics


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