The origin of the meme meme

Reading Frans Johansson’s The Medici Effect I have come across an interesting explanation of the origin of the meme concept.

Apparently, meme was coined by Richard Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist, in his book The Selfish Gene, published in 1976. Johansson explains that Dawkins described ideas as capable to evolve and spread, just like genes. Dawkins called these ‘propagating ideas’ memes, and he wrote about them (as quoted by Johansson):

Examples of memes are tunes, ideas, catch-phrases, clothes fashions, ways of making pots or of building arches. Just as genes propagate themselves in the gene pool by leaping from body to body via sperm and eggs, so do memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain via a process which, in the broad sense, can be called imitation.
Johansson goes on to point out that “Ideas, or memes, compete, in a real sense, for space in our minds. Some memes persist and transform, others die out; the process is similar to that of genetic evolution”.

I find this a wonderful idea: ideas as genes, propagating like a mutation! The best idea reaches the most people, becomes ingrained in our collective mind. And of course, the blogosphere, with most of its inhabitants being compulsive linkers as myself, is the best milieu for rapid spreading/imitation of the coolest ideas.

And that was just the fifth page of the first chapter of The Medici Effect. This book reads promising!