Wednesday, August 12, 2009


I have been told by someone that not only am I the only person that they know who has ever used the word "meme" but that I tend to use it in a sentence at least once a day.

Today I am going to run with that.

By way of definition I will call a meme a self-replicating unit of information stored in the brain.

Richard Dawkins put forth an idea that "Selfish Genes" use living bodies as vehicles and factories for self-replication.

If you want to be a goofy sci-fi nerd about it - think of it like the damned Midichlorians using us for raw material.

But if you want to look at it another way - you might say that it is more accurate to say that in fact we are far more condusive to be vehicles for memes. In fact, Dawkins put this idea forth himself since he is credited for coining the term.

There is an additional way to look at this however that he did not touch on. While you can apply the concept of selective pressure and evolution to ideas and meme also, there are things that memes are capable of that genes are not. Everyone knows that ideas spread from person to person. But there is another far more profound ability - Memes can jump species.

A person can watch animals hunt for food and can learn how to do the same thing. A chimp or a gorilla can be taught things like sign-language and the concept of zero. A dog can respond to voice commands. Wild dogs in Russia have learned to commute by train.

Memes also seem to have wars. It might be argued that all organized human warfare is in fact a product of memes. But what I mean by saying that memes have wars is that one can evolve that as a condition for it's existence is mutually exclusive of another. "Religious Wars" are a prime example of this type of memocide - where a set of ideas inherent in one set of individuals is forcibly purged by another set of individuals holding a different set of ideas.

How much more deeply are we enslaved by our own ideas than we are by our genetic makeup? The only real upside is that memes evolve several orders of magnitude faster than genes. You are 'free' to change your mind as you will. But will you? Can you? Do you ever go out of your way to 'change' your mind? Why are we all so inclined to "believe" rather than to "think"?

Is it because it is safer for us or for our memes?

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