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A Special Place for Blog Lovers with a Touch of Science!

Editor’s pick: Richard Dawkins

Credit: Getty images

Do you know where does the word meme originate from?

Richard Dawkins is a British evolutionary biologist and author of many scientific books. Probably the most popular one is The Selfish Gene.  One interesting fact is that in that book Dawkins coined the term meme, which is widely used today and known as those funny pictures with the text on them whirling daily around the web. The original meaning of the term though, it's quite different. Meme is a shortening (modeled on gene) of mimeme, which comes from Ancient Greek mīmēma (μίμημα), meaning 'imitated thing', itself from mimeisthai (μιμεῖσθαι, 'to imitate'), from mimos (μῖμος, 'mime'). The term was meant to represent the way culture, ideas, and behavior replicate themselves the same way our genes do. 

Below, you can enjoy excerpts from his book – The Selfish Gene


Credit: Gettyimages
The Selfish Gene (1976)

1. "Let us try to teach generosity and altruism, because we are born selfish. Let us understand what our own selfish genes are up to, because we may then at least have the chance to upset their designs, something that no other species has ever aspired to do."

2. "Individuals are not stable things, they are fleeting. Chromosomes too are shuffled into oblivion, like hands of cards soon after they are dealt. But the cards themselves survive the shuffling. The cards are the genes. The genes are not destroyed by crossing-over, they merely change partners and march on. Of course they march on. That is their business. They are the replicators and we are their survival machines. When we have served our purpose we are cast aside. But genes are denizens of geological time: genes are forever."

3. "The meme for blind faith secures its own perpetuation by the simple unconscious expedient of discouraging rational inquiry."

4. "Unfortunately, however much we may deplore something, it does not stop being true."

5. "Any altruistic system is inherently unstable, because it is open to abuse by selfish individuals, ready to exploit it."

6. "It is a simple logic truth that, short of mass emigration into space, with rockets taking off at the rate of several million per second, uncontrolled birth-rates are bound to lead to horribly increased death –rates. It is hard to believe that this simple truth is not understood by those leaders who forbid their followers to use effective contraceptive methods. They express a preference for 'natural' methods of population limitation, and a natural method is exactly what they are going to get. It is called starvation."

7. "Perhaps consciousness arises when the brain's simulation of the world becomes so complex that it must include a model of itself."

8. "Presumably there is indeed no purpose in the ultimate fate of the cosmos, but do any of us really tie our life's hopes to the ultimate fate of the cosmos anyway? Of course we don't; not if we are sane. Our lives are ruled by all sorts of closer, warmer, human ambitions and perceptions."

9. "Was there to be any end to the gradual improvement in the techniques and artifices used by the replicators to ensure their own continuation in the world? There would be plenty of time for improvement. What weird engines of self-preservation would the millennia bring forth? Four thousand million years on, what was to be the fate of the ancient replicators?
They did not die out, for they are past masters of the survival arts. But do not look for them floating loose in the sea; they gave up that cavalier freedom long ago. Now they swarm in huge colonies, safe inside gigantic lumbering robots, sealed off from the outside world, communicating with it by tortuous indirect routes, manipulating it by remote control.
They are in you and in me; they created us, body and mind; and their preservation is the ultimate rationale for our existence. They have come a long way, those replicators. Now they go by the name of genes, and we are their survival machines."

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