Tuesday, May 19, 2009

some thoughts on meme theory


          Dawkins invented the word memes to refer to gene-like memories. They ultimately survive by a mind communicating them to other minds. Hitting a nail with a hammer is a meme; it works, we feel it is useful, we repeat it. There are billions of such memes alive in each of our heads.

          I have heard this meme-theory criticized as a psuedo-scientific metaphor; but since it refers to mental activity, and we don’t know exactly what ideas are, it must necessarily be a metaphor for now, in the sense that we can’t look at it under a microscope. And so is all psychology.

          A meme, then, is merely an idea. By christening ideas as “memes” he wishes to show they’re reproductive qualities. It is a fresh outlook. But ultimately, the meme “memes” itseslf must die. We already have a name for it, and it is “idea.”

          Human ideas are the progeny of man. Focus, purpose, activity. Focus must be a need of the group; purpose is an interpretation of that need, and activity a planned movement from that purpose. All of these are recognized, communicated, and allowed by ideas.

          “Necessity is the mother of invention,” the saying goes. The depths of this saying are yet to be plumbed. Indeed, the mind, when it emanates its needs or is inspired by external obstacles, invents. Inventing is what needs do.

          But creativity requires large excesses of mental energy. The innovators of mankind are always men flowing with vitality, or charged with pain. Nothing emenates like a denied need, nothing inspires like a tough world. Since creativity requires much energy, most of us invent by adapting the old. By calling Christianity “an inspiring set of stories that, though not literally true, are useful for helping us relate to God,” we save ourselves the effort of inventing a new religious outlook. We are able to address the need of honesty regarding the past, and yet face the future with our comfortable traditions at hand.

          Ideas evolve by constant revision of what went before. The needs of myths and religions addressed issues that matter nothing to pious persons nowadays. What Moses or Paul were really up to  matters little to the devout Jew and Christian. How we can pretend the words are as relevant today as they were then?—this is the imaginitive projects of the rabbis and pastors.

          This is like how the eyeball evolved. It was not an eyeball at first, possibly not a “seeing thing” at all. But as every generation of organisms had to interpret it through his lust for life, those who used it best spread it further, until it became the negation of its inception: a new thing, a seeing thing.

          In the same way, marriage, funerals, confessions, jail-houses are ancient born, and utterly different now than at their beginning. Our need for group solidarity often demands that we patronize old traditions. So we give them a modern spin. The US government changes year by year. The constitution is interpreted beyond itself.

          The greatest changes happen at the circumference. Cults, innovaters, inventors, are always eccentrics, weirdos, those kicked out of the wedding, forsaken by God, despised by men. Of course. They are the saints of tomorrow. No great man is timely. This Nietzsche knew more then anybody. He was able to recognize himself despite an entire world that disagreed with him. Every world religion began as a cult—often a cult too ridiculous to be shouted down, ignored because it appeared harmless. The early Mormons had much more difficulty than the early Christians.

          New ideas require incubation. The greater the idea, the more it must incubate. A new idea always begins as a lie, and if it were presented too soon, would be cut down and killed immediately. An innovator knows how to keep quiet. Or if he must talk, he talks over people—he disdains them too much to care what they say. He has an ear for echoes, and takes every good word. But his invention, his new idea, his new policy, it must always be gestated in silence. Thus us Creators eat weird diets, keep weird friends, stay up all hours of the night, and ultimately despise anybody who demands an ounce of our strength away from our goal.

          Which is to say, that Aristotle was right: there are two types in this world: nobles and slaves. In a Democracy, do not think we have forgotten this. Racial slavery looked bad in front of our enlightened Europeans. Well then, we have outgrown it. Are we any less a nation of slaves? But of course: people still work their lives away. Only now you have willing slaves.

          Forty hours of my attention to something I care nothing for is slavery. I don’t care the wages. If you pay more, I spend my money on not working. Freedom is freedom to create. A full time job is slavery, and antithetical to my spirit.

          But many of us work more than forty hours a week. Many of us work demanding jobs in factories, in industry, even in customer service. These people look at it as natural, dignified, and duty. As is right. That is what the slaves have to believe. Is work noble? That is the wrong word—they are not noble. The rich? Not them, they work hard too, but are business smart; they are born to control.

          The rich in this world are not the inventors of ideas and their memetic charm, but those who are clever at exploiting those who do, whose with a business sense, with the canniness for legal bindings. On the other hand, I find around me in the brightest eyes, in the sharpest students, highschool graduates and PhDs alike (and they are often equally educated in life, if not in techinical traditions), is that we are surrounded by repeaters. Man the ape! Man who does not understand his experiences, but presumes them and adapts them wholesale, so that, he may be a business man, he may be a scholar, he may be any worker of praiseworthy skill, but he has created none of it. He is a master of adapting it, and applying it directly to making a living.

          Impressive, these people; I myself am a slow learner, gasping with breath to keep up with the class. How do they do it? They do not even need rote: the ideas stick right in their heads, like grapes to a vine. I think mankind could survive indefinitely under the control of such men.

          But they are not plus men. They are not creators. They are the majority, they get the vote, but they will never know the sheer joy of creative ecstasy.

          This is the world of fear, the world of power, the world of work. This is a glorious world, a needed world, a good world, and a world us artists take no part in. We do not force or enforce. We do not tell others what to do. We freely create. We are the third class. It is our arrogance to mock at the others, because, after all, we are the Gods. The memes of the many are the ideas from us. What is mere meme in their minds (repeating without addition), is created from our very soul (original without borrow). We are the giants of the world. The sun shines only for us, though it sheds light on you too. We are like vines who enjoy the first of the sun. The universe blossomed wide so that we may exist, though she kisses also you.

          All peoples that make themselves distinct under a name also size to fit certain ideas for themselves. They grow into thsse memes. These complex masks fit over them like a skin, and in the meantime, they start reproducing in accordance with them.

          In the same way, every people grows alongside its mask.

          The human cell never helps the human organisms by sacrificing itself for the organims. The cell selfishly insists on doing what is in its own best interest. This is why the cell allows the organism to flourish. In the same way, the idea creators are the selfish creators of the world.

          In a holistic view, mankind is a symbioses. There is Man, and there is Culture. Culture, as the meme metaphor makes clear, is one great ecosystem. And mankind is the symbiant one who lives within the culture. As a culture culturates, it grows deeper, wider, shallower, thicker. To live in the modern world takes a certain sort of person; to survive, to flourish in the modern world—and this necessarily means above all modern culture—this naturally selects who the new mankind will be. The atom bomb may have killed a couple cities, but it has killed off many more people than that, by mere implication. Who makes money, who reproduces, who avoids suicide, all these are indirectly related to the atom bomb, the cell phone, the writings of Hemingway, the American economy this year, etc. Culture kills off many of us, as surely as it allows others of us.

          For ideas influence all our choices: what risks to take, whom would be a fit husband or wife, how to balance family and employment, how to handle illness, where to live, how to raise our children, how to handle their health, whether to let a kid come to term, whether to adopt out or adopt in, what religion or secular worldview to cherish, and to punish others, pay taxes, charge taxes, fire and hire, have children and raise them, according to these ideologies. We are partially conditioned by the logosphere, by all the ideas we take in from the world.

          This is not to say that it allows the best of us, or that it kills off the weakest. As we all know, modern medicine allows bad genes to proliferate. The eugenecists and social darwinists scare us because in principle they are right: our long term happiness is not to enable the sickest human beings, that our heart-warming charities are bringing in more suffering then they are curing, that, in short, we are selling our sells to get into heaven.

          Perhaps this cannot be escaped. Men do not want to really help the world, they want to seem to the others they love and seek admiration from, to have helped the world. Who every accused a missionary of ever doing real good? Who ever considered a charity a real blessing of humanity? These are always forms of therapy for the charities themselves, and those who support them. People commit acts of charity in order to assuage their own guilt, their own evasions from themselves. And in this, they have served their purpose. The means justify the ends.

          Lamarkianism survives in meme theory. For while the deeds of a man do not pass into his genes, they do pass into his children, their children, and their children, by conscious, unconscious, mental, and physical encoding, if not more directly in the choice of partner and nature of child-rearing philosophy.

          Life evolves by three factors: genes, memes, and will. From birth we are educated, which determines how our instincts will express themselves. Identical twins in unidentical families may be very different. Will itself, the conscious choice of the person, by which I mean the aspect that is not from education nor genes, acts as the interpreter of both instinct and culture, and thus the creator of both.

          Ideas themselves can convince us not to reproduce, or to reproduce chaste or suicidal children. Our culture of ideas—and a meme is merely another name for an idea—determine where we move, what we do for a living, how we have sex, when we have sex, how we raise our children.

          In this way, both genes and memes are alive: they reproduce, they grow, they develop. A will however, cannot be said to be “alive” per se, but merely active and conscious. It cannot reproduce itself. A will is a differentiation of energy grown from a system of information (brain). It is initially created by the genes, but is genetic. There is no heridity of will.

          With memes, we have again the return of Lamarckianism. Lamarck believed that habits and actions changed our heriditary material. Indeed, he was right, in our choices and actions, we will influence—

our choice in sexual partner

our children’s attitudes, beliefs, personality, and character, and therefore

our children’s choice in sexual partner

and also the group we choose to live among, and subtley

how the entire group reproduces

Therefore, our choices can be encoded into memes, which themselves are a selecting force for what genes flourish and which do not.

          Culture is an ecosystem that grows along with us, a part of which we take in and join to ourselves. A meme is a bit of culture, a bit ofencoding of will, that can be communicated. Will itself can be communicated and implanted, but since it is not our will, we call it habit, or influence. A strong will, or generations of will, can be communicated into a person or people as a sort of second will.

          What is difficult for the father is easy for the son. Buddha’s could be beaten in his own game by his astute students, who can go further, faster, deeper, but always as disciples, not with the glorious experience of having created the original.

          Thus we have three: genes, memes, and will.




Perfection Is Easy



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