Over 400,000 people visited Farnam Street last month to learn how to make better decisions, create new ideas, and avoid stupid errors. With more than 100,000 subscribers to our popular weekly digest, we've become an online intellectual hub. To learn more about what we do, start here.

Mimetic Theory

“Thinking about how disturbingly herdlike people become in so many different contexts—mimetic theory forces you to think about that, which is knowledge that's generally suppressed and hidden. As an investor—entrepreneur, I've always tried to be contrarian, to go against the crowd, to identify opportunities in places where people are not looking.”
— Peter Thiel

While at Stanford, Thiel was heavily influenced by the French philosopher René Girard, whose theory of mimetic desire—of people learning to want the same thing—attempts to explain the origin of social conflict and violence.

In the science of [humanity] and culture today there is a unilateral swerve away from anything that could be called mimicry, imitation, or mimesis. And yet there is nothing, or next to nothing, in human behavior that is not learned, and all learning is based on imitation. If human beings suddenly ceased imitating, all forms of culture would vanish. Neurologists remind us frequently that the human brain is an enormous imitating machine. To develop a science of [humanity] it is necessary to compare human imitation with animal mimicry, and to specify the properly human modalities of mimetic behavior, if they indeed exist.
–René Girard, 1978