Memes


Section One: Memes.

Memes are symbolic codes which have content or meaning. (See R. Dawkins, The Selfish Gene; D. Dennet, Consciousness Explained) They can enter a mind and remain to affect the functioning of that mind. A meme can replicate itself vertically from generation to generation or horizontally from person to person. Inoculation is done through some form of symbolic language or representation. For example, a meme may be the song "Happy Birthday." Everyone knows the tune and it is passed on from generation to generation and from friend to friend. One way to think of a meme is as a software program which can be loaded onto a hard-disk drive. The program may be downloaded (experienced) then run to produce an output, such as the singing of the "Happy Birthday." Or the program may be run and it may enhance or debilitate the functioning of another program. Singing "Happy Birthday" may relax a person so that he may attend in a non-stressful way to important matters. Whistling "Happy Birthday" while walking through a graveyard at night may serve as an example. On the other hand, the ethical meme "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you," may couple with emotions/desires associated with the concept of fairness to inhibit imprudent egoistic judgments. One may think twice before inflicting cruel ridicule when he can imagine himself the target of similar barbs.

Both "Happy Birthday" and "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" can be transmitted to other minds. In the first case, the mere hearing of the song is usually sufficient. In the latter case, the understanding of the words in conjunction with an event and conceptualization of possible outcomes are probably sufficient. These memes can evolve through generations as do their counterparts, biological genes; transmission requires that the basic contents remain intact. But, whereas genetic evolution requires a long period of time to obtain differences, a meme can evolve in a single time period transmission --we may add a new verse to "Happy Birthday" or change its individual chord structure to reflect a "blues" interpretation. The evolutionary change is immediate.

The meme "Happy Birthday" survives because it has immediate reinforcement --for the most part, it's just fun to sing and is usually sung in pleasurable circumstances-- and becomes part of a ritual practice which has a great probabliilty of widespread occurrance. The positive feedback necessary for survival in the host is immediate and strong.

More comples memes may act as enhancers to thinking and may survive according to their ability to produce outcomes in which the subject survives. Consider again the meme "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." It may modify the thought processes involved in solving a moral problem --again, the example, "Should I riddicule this person?" Suppose the person thinking about performing the riddicule is inclined to do it just out of spite. The meme, once introduced into the decision making processing, may result in an output in which behavior, which was once insensitive, is now quite different. The meme generates a more objective look at the possible outcomes of actions and their effects upon the agent. If the agent has the basic desire not to be riddiculed by other persons, then the meme has linked up with the forces necessary to change behavior ("for the better").

A rough analogy may help explain changing behavior for the better.. Suppose your computer has a word-processing software which is reasonably good. But, as good as the software is, there is a minor problem because you have to review the document to check for spelling errors. A software company sends you a "spell correctly" program which will run with the original word-processing program. You load the new software into your computer and put it to use. Now, your output is better (no misspelled words) and more efficient (completed more quickly). The original word-processing software has been enhanced in its operating capacity by the additional software. And you are more likely to continue using the software than trading it in on another version. In a similar way, the thought-processing involved with the problem, "What ought I to do now?" the meme, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you," may enhance the process to achieve a better output. By "better output," I mean an output or behavior that contributes to the agent's achieving his desired "goods" and survivability. If the end result is living in a fair world which promotes the extension of life of the person, then the meme is successful. If, however, the "fair world" extinguishes both the person and the meme in him, then the meme is unsuccessful or associated with an unsuccessful set of operational memes.

As we may see, the net meaning of "better output" for any meme itself is survival; that is, its being able to be passed on from mind to mind and increasing its inoculated population. Memes have an underground "intentional" aspect much like a biological virus; their aim, so to speak, is to survive, to be replicated and passed on to other hosts. Thus, if the Golden Rule meme enables minds which contain it to survive longer than other minds, and intrinsic to that survival is the use of the meme, then the meme is successful or better than competing memes. Not only that, as it survives, it evolves to meet new challenges its host may encounter, thus enabling the meme to continue passing along its basic information to other hosts and future generations which in turn have a higher probability of survival.

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