Skip to content
Accessible Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter Mouton July 20, 2019

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

Ivan Fomin ORCID logo
From the journal Semiotica

Abstract

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.

Funding source: the Russian Science Foundation

Award Identifier / Grant number: 17-18-01536

Funding statement: This work was supported by the Russian Science Foundation (Grant Number: 17-18-01536).

References

Bennett, Tyler James. 2015. The semiotic life cycle and the symbolic species. Sign Systems Studies 43(4). 446–462.10.12697/SSS.2015.43.4.05Search in Google Scholar

Bezemer, Jeff, Alexandra Cope, Omar Faiz & Roger Kneebone. 2012a. Participation of surgical residents in operations: Challenging a common classification. World Journal of Surgery 36(9). 2011–2014.10.1007/s00268-012-1658-1Search in Google Scholar

Bezemer, Jeff, Sophia Diamantopoulou, Carey Jewitt, Gunther Kress & Diane Mavers. 2012b. Using a social semiotic approach to multimodality: Researching learning in schools, museums and hospitals.Working paper. NCRM. (accessed 4 March 2018).Search in Google Scholar

Blute, Marion. 2005. Memetics and evolutionary social science. Journal of Memetics 9(1). 1–5.Search in Google Scholar

Bouissac, Paul. 1992. Why do memes die? Semiotics 1992. 183–191.Search in Google Scholar

Bouissac, Paul. 2001. On signs, memes, and MEMS: Toward evolutionary ecosemiotics. Sign Systems Studies 29(2). 627–646.Search in Google Scholar

Bouissac, Paul. 2007. Semiotics as the science of memory. Sign Systems Studies 35(1–2). 71–87.Search in Google Scholar

Brodie, Richard. 2011. Virus of the mind: The new science of the meme. Carlsbad, CA: Hay House.Search in Google Scholar

Buyssens, Eric. 1942. De l’abstrait et du concret dans les faits linguistiques: La parole — le discours — la langue. Acta Linguistica 3(1). 17–23.10.1080/03740463.1942.10415390Search in Google Scholar

Cannizzaro, Sara. 2016. Internet memes as internet signs: A semiotic view of digital culture. Sign Systems Studies 44(4). 562–586.10.12697/SSS.2016.44.4.05Search in Google Scholar

Cousins, Steven. 2014. The semiotic coevolution of mind and culture. Culture & Psychology 20(2). 160–191.10.1177/1354067X14532331Search in Google Scholar

Dawkins, Richard. 1976. The selfish gene. New York: Oxford University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Dawkins, Richard. 1982. The extended phenotype: The long reach of the gene. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Dawkins, Richard. 2006. The selfish gene, 3rd edn. New York: Oxford University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Dawkins, Richard & Olivia Solon. 2013. Richard Dawkins on the Internet’s hijacking of the word meme. WIRED UK. 2013. (accessed 4 March 2018).Search in Google Scholar

Deacon, Terrence W. 1997. The symbolic species: The co-evolution of language and the brain. New York: W. W. Norton.Search in Google Scholar

Deacon, Terrence W. 1999. Editorial: Memes as signs. Semiotic Review of Books 10(3). 1–3.Search in Google Scholar

Dennett, Daniel C. 1993. Consciousness explained. London: Penguin UK.Search in Google Scholar

Dennett, Daniel C. 2001. The evolution of culture. The Monist 84(3). 305–324.10.5840/monist200184316Search in Google Scholar

Dijk, Teun A. van. (ed.). 1997. Discourse as structure and process. London: SAGE.Search in Google Scholar

Edmonds, Bruce. 2005. The revealed poverty of the gene-meme analogy – Why memetics per se has failed to produce substantive results. Journal of Memetics 9(1). 1–4.Search in Google Scholar

Grant, Glenn. 1990. Memetic lexicon. In F. Heylighen, C. Joslyn & V. Turchin (eds.), Principia Cybernetica Web. Brussels: Principia Cybernetica. . (accessed 4 March 2018).Search in Google Scholar

Henrich, Joseph, Robert Boyd & Peter J. Richerson. 2008. Five misunderstandings about cultural evolution. Human Nature 19(2). 119–137.10.1007/s12110-008-9037-1Search in Google Scholar

Hodge, Robert & Gunther Kress. 1988. Social semiotics. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Hofstadter, Douglas R. 1986. Metamagical themas: Questing for the essence of mind and pattern. New York: Bantam.Search in Google Scholar

Ilyin, Mikhail Vasil’evich. 2006. Perspektivy politicheskogo diskurs-analiza v Rossii. Diskurs-Pi 6(1). 93–96.Search in Google Scholar

Ilyin, Mikhail Vasil’evich, Vladimir Sergeevich Avdonin & Ivan Vladlenovich Fomin. 2017. Metodologicheskii vyzov. Gde granitsy primenimosti metodov? Kakovy kriterii ikh effektivnosti? METOD 7. 5–24.Search in Google Scholar

Jablonka, Eva, Marion J. Lamb & Eytan Avital. 1998. “Lamarckian” mechanisms in Darwinian evolution. Trends in Ecology & Evolution 13(5). 206–210.10.1016/S0169-5347(98)01344-5Search in Google Scholar

Jahoda, Gustav. 2002. The ghosts in the meme machine. History of the Human Sciences 15(2). 55–68.10.1177/0952695102015002126Search in Google Scholar

James, William. 1880. Great men, great thoughts, and the environment (lecture delivered before the Harvard Natural History Society). Atlantic Monthly 46. 441–459.Search in Google Scholar

Jiazu, Gu. 2009. The theoretical foundation of dynamic semiotics. Chinese Semiotic Studies 1(1). 223–227.Search in Google Scholar

Kilpinen, Erkki. 2008. Memes versus signs: On the use of meaning concepts about nature and culture. Semiotica 171(1/4). 215–237.Search in Google Scholar

Knudsen, Thorbjørn & Geoffrey M. Hodgson. 2006. Cultural evolution is more than neurological evolution. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 29(4). 356–357.10.1017/S0140525X06339088Search in Google Scholar

Kull, Kalevi. 2000. Copy versus translate, meme versus sign: Development of biological textuality. European Journal for Semiotic Studies 12(1). 101–120.Search in Google Scholar

Laurent, John. 1999. A note on the origin of memes/mnemes. Journal of Memetics 3(1). 50–51.Search in Google Scholar

Lynch, Aaron. 1998. Thought contagion. New York: Basic.Search in Google Scholar

Maran, Timo. 2003. Mimesis as a phenomenon of semiotic communication. Sign Systems Studies 31(1). 191–215.Search in Google Scholar

Maran, Timo & Karel Kleisner. 2010. Towards an evolutionary biosemiotics: Semiotic selection and semiotic co-option. Biosemiotics 3(2). 189–200.10.1007/s12304-010-9087-8Search in Google Scholar

Mesoudi, Alex, Andrew Whiten & Kevin N. Laland. 2006. Towards a unified science of cultural evolution. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 29(4). 329–347.10.1017/S0140525X06009083Search in Google Scholar

Morris, Charles. 1938. Foundations of the theory of signs. International Encyclopedia of Unified Science 1(2). 1–59.Search in Google Scholar

Patzelt, Werner. 2007. Evolutorischer Institutionalismus: Theorie und exemplarische Studien zu Evolution, Institutionalität und Geschichtlichkeit. Würzburg: Ergon.Search in Google Scholar

Peirce, Charles S. 1931–1966. The collected papers of Charles S. Peirce, 8 vols., C. Hartshorne, P. Weiss & A. W. Burks (eds.). Cambridge: Harvard University Press. [Reference to Peirce’s papers will be designated CP followed by volume and paragraph number.].Search in Google Scholar

Peirce, Charles S. 1967. Manuscripts in the Houghton Library of Harvard University, as identified by Richard Robin. Annotated catalogue of the Papers of Charles S. Peirce. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press. [Reference to Peirce’s manuscripts will be designated MS or L.]Search in Google Scholar

Peirce, Charles S. 1982–. Writings of Charles S. Peirce, 8 vols., M. Fisch, E. Moore & C. Kloesel (eds.). Bloomington: Indiana University Press. [Reference to Peirce’s writings will be designated W followed by volume and page number.].Search in Google Scholar

Sasaki, Joni. 2013. Promise and challenges surrounding culture–Gene coevolution and gene–Culture interactions. Psychological Inquiry 24(1). 64–70.10.1080/1047840X.2013.764814Search in Google Scholar

Saussure, Ferdinand de. 1995. Cours de linguistique générale. Paris: Payot.Search in Google Scholar

Schaden, Gerhard & Cédric Patin. 2017. Semiotic systems with duality of patterning and the issue of cultural replicators. History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences 40(1). 4.Search in Google Scholar

Sebeok, Thomas Albert. 1979. The sign and its masters. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.Search in Google Scholar

Sebeok, Thomas Albert & Marcel Danesi. 2000. The forms of meaning: Modeling systems theory and semiotic analysis. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter.Search in Google Scholar

Semon, Richard Wolfgang. 1904. Die Mneme als erhaltendes Prinzip im Wechsel des organischen Geschehens. Leipzig: Engelmann.Search in Google Scholar

Semon, Richard Wolfgang. 1921. The mneme. London: Allen & Unwin.Search in Google Scholar

Shifman, Limor. 2014. Memes. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Search in Google Scholar

Tønnessen, Morten. 2012. Introducing semetics. In Morten Tønnessen, Kati Lindström, Riin Magnus & Timo Maran (eds.), Semiotics in the wild, 47–54. Tartu: Tartu University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Vada, Øyvind. 2015. What happened to memetics? Emergence: Complexity & Organization 17(2). 1–5.Search in Google Scholar

Zolyan, Suren T. & Renad I. Zhdanov. 2018. Genome as (hyper)text: From metaphor to theory. Semiotica 2018(225). 1–18.10.1515/sem-2016-0214Search in Google Scholar

Published Online: 2019-07-20
Published in Print: 2019-10-25

© 2019 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston