In The Selfish Gene Dawkins puts forward the idea that "replicators" are the cause of "life" and that the principles of replicators and Natural Selection are universal, not just across space, but across concepts.

Just as genes are replicators, Dawkins described memes as replicators as well.

Now, organisms, the subject of biology, are "vehicles" for the replicator genes. With further ideas from Dawkins' Extended Phenotype, it goes to follow that memes are an extension of the vehicles (organisms), which in turn are an extension of the replicators (genes). Therefore, study of memes can be focused into biology, right?

So questions like the following might be allowed here:

  • How has [meme] affected [gene]?

Example: How has varying conceptions of beauty affected superficial attributes, like hair and eyes?

  • How has [gene] affected [meme]?

Example: What part did genetics play in determining taboos like incest and cannibalism?

  • Does [meme] have any observable effect on [gene]?

Example: Does religious objection to contraception effect genetic propensity to conceive?

  • Does [gene] have any observable effect on [meme]?

Example: Does genetic propensity to conceive influence beliefs against contraception?

Opinions? I think Dawkins' meme theory makes a tidy connection between biology and sociology, but I don't want to call it biology. This could just be because I'm used to more traditional outlooks on biology.

  • $\begingroup$ Could this have been asked on main, without solicitation for opinion? $\endgroup$
    – user3970
    Feb 8, 2019 at 2:20
  • $\begingroup$ Did you mean sociobiology? $\endgroup$
    – Andrew T.
    Feb 8, 2019 at 7:23
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @andrew That's close, but Dawkins' definition of meme is nearly synonymous with "idea". He puts forth "fear of hellfire" and "'for the sake of auld lang syne" (incorrect words to a song) as examples of self-replicating ideas. I don't know if things like greed and monogamy were in mind. He spends a lot of time discussing altruism, but that's leading up to the chapter on memes. He leaves the impression, to me, that it's an extension of biology, but never explicitly says it. If it's not, then the chapter is out of place in the book. $\endgroup$
    – user3970
    Feb 8, 2019 at 16:02
  • $\begingroup$ @fredsbend "If it's not, then the chapter is out of place in the book." - That's kind of up to the author, not you. You could make a similar argument for physics: all biology involves complex chemical reactions and interactions, which at their heart are based on physical interactions between matter, but that doesn't make a question about biological taxonomy on-topic at Physics.SE. $\endgroup$
    – Bryan Krause Mod
    Feb 8, 2019 at 17:58
  • $\begingroup$ @Bryan Right, that's my point, but I have trouble seeing that in this instance. $\endgroup$
    – user3970
    Feb 8, 2019 at 19:36
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    $\begingroup$ @fredsbend I think I was unclear in my comment. I see no reason to use the organization of someone's book to inform what questions are on or off topic at Biology.SE. $\endgroup$
    – Bryan Krause Mod
    Feb 8, 2019 at 21:16

1 Answer 1


I think some of the questions could be asked here at BioSE in a meaningful way, if it is done cautiously and focusing on the biological connections. For instance, I could see versions of #2 being relevant and biologically interesting. Answers there could e.g. use comparative methods to look at biological/evolutionary consequences of incest and cannibalism, the evolutionary processes that might influence behaviour, and draw parallels to how these processes might have affected human taboos. This is clearly bordering to evolutionary psychology. The tricky part is knowing at what point biology stops being the main driver and when "culture" becomes the driving factor. Even so, I think the question (and other similar) would be valid. BioSE allows for quite some diversity as it is.

(moved from comment to answer).


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