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Article

Memes, genes, and signs: Semiotics in the conceptual interface of evolutionary biology and memetics

Semiotica. 2019.

In 1976 Richard Dawkins coined the term meme as a way to metaphorically project bio-evolutionary principles upon the processes of cultural and social development. The works of Dawkins and of some other enthusiasts had contributed to a rise in popularity of the concept of memetics ("study of memes"), but the interest to this new field started to decline quite soon. The conceptual apparatus of memetics was based on a number of quasi-biological terms, but the emerging discipline failed to go beyond those initial metaphors. This article is an attempt to rebuild the toolkit of memetics with the help of the more fundamental concepts taken from semiotics and to propose a synthetic conceptual framework connecting genetics and memetics, in which semiotics is used as the transdisciplinary methodology for both disciplines. The concept of sign is used as the meta-lingual equivalent for both the concepts of gene and meme. In the most general understanding, sign is a thing which stands for another thing. In genetics this translates into gene that is a section of DNA that stands for the algorithm of how a particular biomolecule is built. In memetics, the similar principle works in meme that is a thing that stands for the rules of how a particular cultural practice is performed.