Written By: Jakkooooo@aol.com
The science or study of memes in action has come to be called memetics.
A meme has been regarded too narrowly I believe, and I am interested in broadening the ideas of what a meme is or can do. No matter how narrow a definition you give to a meme, sooner or later you have to consider more nebulous or abstract ideas as having acquired enough cultural accretion to have become memes. It’s easy to conceive of a visual fad such as the hula-hoop as having a chartable spread through society and calling it a meme, but surely socialism, futurism or a new political idea are also memes that spread through society and are all the more interesting despite being invisible.
Memes like these, just as in any fad or fashion have a zenith before arcing into decline. There will always be a few adherents of any –ism who may be the actual carriers of the meme, but eventually they may find themselves beached upon a shore that has no tides.
When something has been described as instinctual, there seems never an explanation of how this mechanism works. Memetics also explains how instinct and innate behaviours operate.
So how do memes work? Well something done consciously builds a meme. They aren’t something you can point at, and to devolve them (or use them) happens in an unconscious way.
Like a plate resting upon a table, where there are only a few disparate molecules in direct contact. Or a brain where an idea can lodge in one of several areas, a meme could be said to lodge in some of many possible minds. It may change minds often and doesn’t have a constant localisation.
The conscious effort builds a meme so that it can be said to have a growth period, and once built, is able to be devolved, by others often unconnected to the building process. This devolvement works best by unconscious effort and is a way for knowledge to become distributed in a way once thought to be science fiction. The potential of telepathy, although fantastic, can be explained in memetic terms. Similarly, memetics does enable unconnected people to have a shared knowledge or belief system. As when scattered cultures built pyramid structures, there was a memetic diffusion of similar goals. This is exemplified by the phenomenon known as the 100th monkey effect, and to which I’ll come back to shortly.
Let’s consider a body of knowledge, a recently evolved meme such as ‘heart surgery’.
A new or trainee heart surgeon consciously learns the craft, but he/she is also memetically guided by the prior experience of others. Like acting or any trade, this memetic devolvement is best felt to be working when the subject is relaxed and have ‘let themselves go’. The examples of those that did it before us are like invisible spirit guides once we are ‘in the groove’.
Great men may be said to sit on the shoulders of others before them, but so it is with all activity whether it is carpentry, mothering, lying or fighting. No matter how harmful or mundane, others have built tramlines of the mind. In careers, apprentices or trainees can experience this as an arbitrary choice ‘fitting like a glove’. They have discovered an aptitude or just somehow ‘picked it up’ without really being able to explain how. In animals of lesser consciousness, this becomes a pure instinct so that all will eat, fight and sleep in a practically identical way.
Is there evidence that learned behaviour is carried to others? One example would be when a rat finds it’s way through a maze. A second rat seems to find its way through the maze even quicker. In experiments, the rats have been killed (to prevent telepathy) or identical new mazes substituted (to prevent scent trails), yet despite this, rats are progressively able to get through these mazes faster than the earlier ones. Where does this knowledge reside? They are able to access a meme that is being built, a meme of knowledge about the maze.
I doubt that a meme is entirely independent of living things, but the crucial thing is that it acts as if it is. A meme has an arc of existence that like the life of a living organism is a self-contained pocket of energy.
Perhaps the best analogy of memes in the world is that they are akin to numbers. The fantastic science of mathematics has enabled us to go to the moon and inspire computers. Yet we wouldn’t be able to point to a number or say, “this is a six”, we could just say there are six of something. Like memes, we use the concept of number to find linking commonalities and to make something have sense for us. To grasp that which has no real handle.
One of my favourite examples of memetics in action is that referred to as the 100th monkey effect. It’s covered in Primates 6 (1965), and was about studies of monkeys living on a string of Japanese islands 1952-1958.
What happened was that one monkey started washing the sand off sweet potatoes, and then others started doing it. At some point, a critical mass was reached and even monkeys on other islands, though there was no obvious contact, started washing their food to remove the sand. This is almost a perfect example of a meme growing and then becoming accessible to all. A way for knowledge or learning to become transmitted to others that are not in physical contact. In human affairs, this is best seen in fashion, whereby there just seems to be zeitgeist (spirit of the age) sweeping through disparate and otherwise unconnected populations.
Another form of memetics in action would be the phenomenon known as the stigmata. On my model, the conscious dwelling on Christ’s wounds say by Catholics or other Christians creates a meme that grows like a cloud that gathers moisture. When it has reached an optimum size, then like lightning, the meme devolves or is discharged upon some unwitting subject. This explains why the stigmata phenomenon can appear on people who aren’t especially religious or even Christian.
This meme devolving upon unwitting subjects concept can be added to our interdependence on others and us all being victims of circumstance to suggest that perhaps ‘moral stance’ is our only true area of free will. It’s possible that memes choose us rather than the other way round, and I would like to develop experiments or tests that investigate this hypothesis. Possibly studies of large families may shed some clues in this area, as I’ve been fascinated how large families can often contain both a crook and a cop. When we say that in life, we have to play the cards that we’re dealt, memetics may indeed show this to be truth.
Having intimated that memes may choose us, reflective and self-conscious people are able to attract certain memes. You can consciously do a simple test to show this. Think of something incongruous like a first world war soldier, something that you wouldn’t normally think about or come across. Think of this subject several times during the day. Now very shortly (usually a three day window) thereafter, I’ve personally found several references to whatever it was I thought about. Maybe it was just a magazine in the newsagents or a TV advert or someone discussing the subject. Now I know this can sound a bit like hoodoo voodoo or sympathetic magic, but it is a very simple test anyone can do that shows the fabric of memetic correspondence.
This is also the reason that a customs officer knows a smuggler without really knowing why a hunch works. This is why people who lose a wedding ring can catch the very fish that swallowed it or cook it for dinner. Or a man studying unusual weather can have a block of ice fall onto his car. Perhaps why lovers were made for each other.
Some people have a developed lightning rod that attracts phenomena. We might tag them ‘lucky’ or ‘unlucky’, or just marvel at how certain things always seem to happen to them.
Some people may even be able to create their own reality. Haven’t we all had the experience of wanting something (say a particular colour and model of a car) and just about when we’ve given up hope of finding one at a price we can afford, a friend of a friend turns up with one at a deal of a price. This potential to affect the world in ways that we wish things to be may be an evolutionary strategy. Is it only wish fulfilment or is it something else? When I see a bluebottle housefly wait patiently on a door to enter the house, is it a tactic or does it instigate what will happen? It would seem unlikely that a fly could influence the future, but memetics can be a kind of wish fulfilment that has an actual reality in time. Not always wishes. When a train crashes, ironically a year to the day after another crash, could this have been a consequence of many minds having dwelt upon the subject? A stigmata upon society? Maybe the superstitions about speaking no evil are based upon a memetic truth? Whether memes chose us more than we choose them, has got to be the most interesting area of memetic research. Memes have been regarded as evolutionary tools in their narrow sense, but their role in a broader sense can be ever so much more dramatic for evolution.
Darwin’s survival of the fittest has explained the variations within species, such as why dark butterflies may have an advantage over light ones during the industrial revolution. But there are many areas unexplained. Why for instance have all the mammals we are familiar with, reached an evolutionary plateau? A Darwinian might say that the changes are so gradual, that we can’t see them. Yet many lifeforms have remained static for millennia. Fish like the coelacanth, once thought to be an extinct ancestor of today’s fish are regularly dredged up from the deep. They have remained unchanged for thousands if not millions of years, as the fossil record shows. Also, it’s incredibly difficult to see exactly how an animal can survive and prosper if it hasn’t reached their optimum evolutionary potential. How for instance could a spider evolve it’s complex web spinning mechanism? It either had it or it didn’t, as spinning a useless web on the way to evolving an effective one, seems peculiar. In fact, evolution seems to have made sudden gigantic leaps rather than gradual ones over eons. The black obelisk of Clarke and Kubrick’s ‘2001’ that triggers a new evolutionary phase seems unlikely but may have more of a ring of truth about it than Darwin’s theory. My favourite Darwin story is that when he returned home after two years from his travels, his father marvelled and exclaimed, “The shape of his head is completely different!”
The theory of Lamarckism was subsumed by the Darwinian model, but claimed that acquired characteristics could be inherited. So for instance, the Lamarckian would say that if I were a carpenter, then my son would be better able to handle wood. Now actually, the memetic model has an affinity with Lamarckism, but the difference is that characteristics are not necessarily inherited. They can be passed through a bloodline, but they can just as easily be transferred to someone that isn’t related. This theory of memetics can explain the discrepancies that Lamarck couldn’t.
How this could work in practice is that a species wide desire can translate into an evolutionary jump. Let’s say that we had a high level of consciousness but were restricted to the body of a fly on a door. Our self-awareness would be limited to that of our experience, but we could form a rudimentary desire for the door to open. This would create a meme that could enact a progression of events that gave us what we wanted, or alternatively it could manifest a species wide evolutionary jump that caused us to develop door opening tools like arms and legs.
These assertions are less amenable to research than some of the other aspects of memetic theory. However, I display them here to show just how radical a paradigm shift would be, once we accept the reality of memes.
This is where my developed thoughts are more controversial. The tenets I hold, or the conclusions that I’ve reached aren’t as obvious and so not part of any other memetician’s theories that I’ve come across. Maybe a gestation period of thinking about it is required or the sudden flash of inspiration whereby you ‘get it’.
1) LONGEVITY. By incorporating a little bit of its opposite into itself, a meme inoculates itself. So it can allow evil to come out of good or vice-versa. Ironically, a desired effect can be achieved by doing the exact opposite. In political terms this could be a system attuned to selfish greed giving rise to a society that has achieved the greatest good for all, whereas a society built on principles of doing things for the people can degenerate into one of dog eat dog.
In terms often applied to the holy grail, you could say that only those that don’t seek it will find it. All this seems initially contradictory, but is the key to understanding the survivability of memes. Without incorporating or inoculating itself to a bit of its opposite, a meme would grow but then burst as a bubble.
This incorporation is what allows the pendulum to swing. It agrees with the yin-yang philosophy of how things work. More mechanically than a conceptual worldview, it can school us to expect the periodic eruption of evil from good and vice-versa. No matter how perfect a society or community we can construct, we can ever expect destructive forces ripping it apart. Or from within, as in a murder in a perfect town or family. But then also, we can expect a blooming flower of goodness from the most reviled wasteland. The most horrible things can give birth to beauty or something that binds us closer than ever. It is the nature of memes that shows we should expect the unexpected, to consider the unthinkable and understand that change is ever present within a seemingly stable present.
2) THE FUTURE. It has been said that ‘coming events cast their shadows before them’. This shadow of the future that lies in the past can be understood and interpreted with the help of memetics. I’ve been successful with mundane and pithy examples, and I’m convinced that by being alert to wordplay and the potential for irony, that we can predict events on a national and global scale.
Our destinies can be seen as ironical twists of fate, but usually best in retrospect. I’ve noticed scores of times how the unconscious connotations of words can guide the reality. Life imitating art, if you like. And there have been so many bizarre coincidences involving wordplay, that memetics is the only theory that could explain it.
An example that I’ve had, is meeting someone that has an unusual name of foreign origin. Let’s say for example, they were a baker. Now being interested in words, at some later point, I come across their surname someplace else and then discover that it is greek or somesuch for ‘bread’. Next time I saw them, I’d remark on the coincidence of their surname being linked to their employment. I can’t quite recall the specifics right now, but I do recall the subjects were surprised by the linguistic linkage and said they had no idea that their name had any relation to their career.
A recent example of how wordplay can predict a future event would be the Harry Potter hype about the recent movie. If you had played around with the words, ‘Harry Potter’ as a headline, you may easily have come up with a similarity such as ‘Harry Pothead’! An astute person could have predicted that a drug scandal involving the actor or prince Harry was about to break. Now this may seem to be a ludicrous coincidence but actually is all part of the correspondence in memetics that allows us to predict the future.
Just as with astrology, it’s not a moon in Leo that causes something to happen, but an indicator of the correspondence of human affairs and destiny. All coincidence is a type of memetic correspondence.
Words are a potent unconscious linker of memes. You can change your name and thereby change your luck. Or consider the divinely stipulated name changes in the bible…of Saul to Paul or Abram to Abraham or that of Israel. Maybe it’s that words can attract or devolve certain memes better than others.
Irony is a key ingredient that can affect our future achievements. Consider someone like Canute who demonstrated to his courtiers that it was impossible for a king to turn back the tide. Ironically this demonstration has come to mean the opposite of that which he intended. He will forever be known as the king that tried to turn back the tide and got his feet wet. There’s an irony that is always twisting our messages, frustrating our desires and making ‘the best made plans of mice and men’ unmade. Memetics will never eradicate hubris or stop us being blind to our own limitations or failings, or even allow us to dam these forces. What it will do is show that irony and coincidence are warp and weft of the same fabric. It is to be hoped that this understanding can indeed lead to a more useful model of action and consequence.
3) BLOOD SACRIFICE. I’ve noticed that the establishment of memes seem intertwined with the demise of certain people. The development of new ways of thinking seems to have a type of blood sacrifice associated with its gestation. Whether the meme is of Christianity, air travel or a new nation, blood seems to be inevitably spilled on the road to establishment.
A new meme is ever fragile but as accidental, ritual or combative deaths rise, the meme seems to strengthen. The first rat to run through a maze cautiously senses the danger more than the thousandth to do so. Same for us with air or space travel.
All new activity is dangerous and breaking the mould. It is only when established that we can treat it as routine.
It’s probable that our ancestors instinctively felt this memetic truth, which prompted animal and human sacrifice. This never ensured the desired results and was always a religion that was usurped. Nevertheless, some memes do seem to become much more cemented into our psyche by body count (think martyrs) and some memes seem to generate a steady toll. An example could be said to be a river, one that had a personality attributed to it. Once upon a time, a water sprite may have been blamed for a steady harvest of drownings, but now we could view it as a meme. Memes like those for nations or political viewpoints almost require a certain amount of conflict to persevere.
4) GOD. I thought I could explain everything via memetics and believed that the meme pools of good and evil were vast memes that could also explain God and the Devil. Surely I had cracked the cosmic puzzle and found the universal key.
In my desert cabin where I developed the more advanced parts of my memetic theory, I was surprised by a vision or divine manifestation thereby demonstrating an independently vigorously real existence. This was a devolvement of a sort I hadn’t anticipated and my jaw was paralysed for three hours following. There was a telepathic communication of approval, of some incongruous foreknowledge and in response to a specific question from me, I was referred to a piece of scripture not part of the current bible. From this experience, I became convinced that this memetics is God’s governing system in place so that he isn’t required to constantly tinker with our lives. Everything that will transpire and all of destiny is a memetically governed phenomenon. Just as a universe can be said to be contained in a grain of sand, so all of human affairs are known to Him by the least.
Prayer could be viewed as a type of memetic mechanism. It rarely operates as a simple wish fulfilment, and there seems to be a kind of fail-safe system whereby praying for bad things to happen seems to backfire. Praying for others also seems more effective than simply for ourselves, and prayers do seem to create a meme that can affect an actuality.
Praying to a false god would seem to bolster the memetic construct that is that god. Unfortunately for the believers, when the prayers stop, the construct must wane. Despite propping the construct with constant prayer, this god will only ever be a shadow to the real one.
Memetics can explain the ironies in our lives. It can explain why the good can die young or why evil people can prosper. These aren’t rigorous rules, but are examples of the exception proving a rule. The opposite of what we might expect or hope for, is the inoculation that preserves the rest.
There are many minority or deviant behaviours that provide counter examples to the norm. Seemingly paradoxically, it is these examples that strengthen the rest. One could for instance suggest that homosexuality is the example that inoculates heterosexuality and the existence of one, gives robustness to the other’s survival. The lesser end of a plank can help balance the whole.
Good and evil are similarly portrayed as opposite ends of a sliding scale or plank, with gradations of good and depths of evil. On the memetic model, these are often coexistent and the greatest good is sometimes surrounded by the worst evil or can be the source of such. Similarly a sink of iniquity can throw up an example of goodness. Happy families driven asunder or murders bringing communities together would be examples of good turning bad, or bad giving rise to good.
All such situations can be rendered as part of a moral grid where intention, action and consequence are weighted. The necessary evil of visiting the dentist would normally have good intentions and consequences but a bad action, and you can ascribe everything from the most mundane to the most heroic to a moral table. This may help our understanding of moral situations and thereby allow us to juggle the bigger concept of interconnectedness.
I had tried to build a memetic philosophy that explained everything, even God, but was forced to consider that God created memetics.
When a meme devolves, it changes our worldview and thereby our rationality. It is a common assumption that our rationality is constant, but if you look at how people talk or act, you see that consciousness is a major player.
Differing levels of consciousness are more or less varied when it comes to grasping memes. Like a mild form of schizophrenia, our beliefs vary according to our mental state. Many of us may have had the experience of knowing or intending to do something when we are in a particular state such as in love or drunk or otherwise intoxicated. Back to normal, we forget all about it, but when the state is again repeated, we re-remember that which had been closed to us until then. The more time we spend in a particular state, we are constructing another memetic reality of ourselves. Eventually, this new personality can supplant our normal self.
The point I’m making is that rationality is just not the static benchmark that we can refer to. All belief systems can be coherent and all can seem true at certain times. This is why a meme can devolve and not cause a conflict with someone’s belief system. You only have to see two antagonists arguing vehemently to realise that there is no time for considered and reasoned responses. Both are aware of the other’s mutually exclusive viewpoint, and instinctively shoot from the lip.
Hypnotism also demonstrates the myth of objective rationality. When a hypnotised subject explains why they did something upon a prompt, there is no shortage of inventive rationales that would usually be acceptable, were we not already aware of the speaker’s hypnotised state. In a similar manner, we could claim that anyone is hypnotised by the beliefs that they have adopted. The phrases of rational justification can colourfully reflect a worldview. Many turns of phrase today, have derived from the rural norms of yesteryear. We could be described as ‘sitting on a fence’, or be ‘closing the door after the horse has bolted’ and the like. All this indicates that we are being used by a rationale rather more than we are using it. And one day we may even be able to claim that people have been hypnotised by the memes that have devolved upon them.
MEMETICS FOR TODAY
This system of memetics, regardless of its origins and outer limits, can be used to explicate all kinds of esoteric phenomena like nothing else. It can also make sense of some of today’s baffling events. For instance, the spectacular terrorist success in destroying the world trade towers can be explained by operating on an auspicious date (for them) of 9/11. The meme of calling 911 emergency created an empowerment to their goals. I’m sure they hadn’t picked the date for any numeric quality, but just because a Tuesday flight would have less passengers to subdue than a Monday or a Friday. Their bold plan was correspondingly enabled by memetic forces, which they weren’t conscious of. Another date may have had more stumbling progress towards their goals. The unconscious energy in the meme of 911 empowered them, but now that everyone is conscious of the date, it won’t work again.
Memetics does suggest that there are auspicious and inauspicious dates or days for various activities.
Cloning seems to have run into some problems such as producing animals that age prematurely and/or are more prone to disease such as Dolly the sheep’s arthritis. I would explain this memetically as the biological organism ‘tapping into’ an already existing meme for itself. Normally an animal generates a meme of itself with a fresh arc of existence, that grows as does its own life. A clone doesn’t need to do this so joins with a readymade meme, where the groove has already been trammelled. So it joins the meme already into an arc of existence and travels faster along it for not having to blaze a new path.
Although I predicted clones would have problems in advance of the fact, without a platform to broadcast my beliefs, I am stymied as to how to get my views out there. For several years, I considered a website and am currently contacting academics, to let them know my developing philosophy. Any help with research ideas or publicity would be welcomed. An early paper of mine is on the internet at www.soli.com/jhardy/memetics.txt and I can usually be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org
Probably the best demonstration of memetics would be to predict something startling, and then have it unfold. However, memetics may be fantastic at alerting us to trends or possible ironies, but it can hardly guarantee them. It may be it’s very essence that something seized upon as a possibility is automatically ensured that it will not become the case. Specific events may ever slip from our predictive grasp.
Trends are much more amenable to a memetic rationality. By considering what could be a factor in making one culture’s memes more acceptable to another, as in the case of immigration where the memes of one culture have to exist alongside another, I suspected that females would facilitate integration. More aggressive males could rapidly escalate conflict between cultural memes, although both approaches have merit. I guessed that immigrant families would have more female than male children in the host country. A cursory telephone poll of maternity nurses seemed to confirm this hypothesis. This isn’t especially an axe that I wish to grind, but it is suggestive of how memes can be researched and used in the future.
One of the most difficult concepts in my work for others to accept is that of memetic word play. It seems trivial to look for realistic truths in games that are akin to the ‘sounds like’ games of infant school. However, the interstices of truth are borne out by a theory that can encompass the ordinary, the seemingly unimportant as well as the grand. It is the little things glimpsed out of the corner of our eye that can prove ultimately the most significant. It can be the discarded evidence that proves the reality. Tracking memes is akin to the skill of the bush tracker. The broken twig or small depression, are all small clues to the wider reality of whom, what, how, when and the why.
I started this work with the name of R. Dawkins who popularised the idea of memes. The meme of memes has snowballed since then, though the theorists have not really developed the outer reaches of it. This work is designed to bust open the strait jacket that unimaginative technicians would confine this meme into.
The above points show that memetics is a unique and universal theory of explanation. Surely more research can develop this potential and make all phenomena, even that once considered esoteric and occult into an understandable paradigm.
Memetics holds the promise of the philosopher’s stone. By explaining all things, it can be the key to the secrets of the universe.