Memes

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Memes and genes influence the mind through means of meditation we can shape memes to work for mankind instead of against us.

Submitted: April 25, 2011

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Submitted: April 25, 2011

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Benji Crow 
English 1A
Instructor Erin Sullivan
November 19, 2004 Revised Draft #3 (1264 words)
 
Memes
 
Memes are ideas, habits, skills, stories, or any other kind of information that is copied from person to person. All our favorite songs are memes; so are all the words we know and all the habits we have picked up from someone else. Memes use our clever brains to copy themselves, and in the process build our cultures. In the words of philosopher Dan Dennet, “Humans are a special sort of ape infested with memes”. Seeing our thoughts as memes can weaken their power; understanding ourselves as ‘memeplexes’ can undermine our clinging to the fantasy of a permanent self. Using many forms of meditation, explore how the idea of memes can help us with letting go. Although meditation is most often associated with Eastern practices such as Buddhism, every spiritual practice, including Christianity, has similar techniques for the purpose of gaining insight, assessing and managing life processes (physiological, mental, emotional, spiritual), enhancing performance or to just plain relax. These techniques include specific postures and/or activities such as sitting or walking, conscious breathing, observing thoughts and emotions, in order to attain calm, contentment, resolution or realization.Meditation and mindfulness can act as ‘meme-weeding’ techniques, leaving our minds clearer and less cluttered with memes. Those strange folks in other times and other lands (Ancestors) were making decisions in the same way you do now – decisions based on the memes and genes that inhabit their minds. Memes and genes influence the mind through means of meditation we can shape memes to work for mankind instead of against us. 
While the subject of the mind and exactly how we humans control ourselves is a very complex and somewhat controversial issue. Our mind controls our body somewhat like an operating system controls a computer. While the task of genes is primarily to determine the physical characteristics of our bodies, including our brain and nervous system, they also influence decisions of the mind. For example, the fact that genes make us feel great pleasure in sexual activity certainly has a great influence on the mind. But the mind is also strongly influenced by beliefs – and that is where memes come in. In his book, The Selfish Gene, Dawkins defines a, “Meme as a replicating information pattern that uses minds to make copies into other minds. Memes are thoughts, ideas, beliefs, prejudices, etc, that replicate”. Here is a sample of Dawkins writings;
Examples of memes are tunes, ideas, catch-phrases, clothes fashions, ways of making pots or of building arches. Just as genes propagate themselves in the gene pool by leading from body to body via sperm or eggs, so memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain via a process which, in the broad sense, can be called imitation. (DAWK1)
The memes associated with morals are often referred to by the term “mores” which my dictionary at home defines as, “folkways of central importance accepted without question and embodying the fundamental moral views of a group”.
Memes are comparable to genes in the fact that they go through a natural select then replicate and influence our behavior. But how memes influence the mind is quite different from the way genes do. Let’s look at each approach.
Our genetic psychological factors are powerful forces that tell us what to do, unfortunately, are slow to adapt to a changing world. We are struggling today with emotions – provided by our genes – appropriate for the caveman.
Genes cause problems because they provide psychological directions for a particular situation that is no longer appropriate. Unfortunately, it takes thousands of years for the genes to be modified.
The “Concern for the environment” meme is very interesting, because our genes promote selfishness, without restraint, the genes would likely have us trash the environment. But let us not be too hard on the genes.Their selfishness was established in ancient times before we had the power to lay waste to thousands of acres in a day. Again, the genes are not up for handling a modern situation. But there is some good in the right meme, such as parenting a child to do what is right. Even opening a door for someone could be considered a good meme. Here is a bad meme, teens that smoke cigarettes because every one is doing it. I hope that paints a picture of what meme’s are.
So, the solution is to establish memes through meditation that tell us that trashing the environment is wrong. Meditation allows us to focus on the memes at hand, and then cultivate the proper mindset that can be perpetuated through our genes as well.
Memes, like gene’s, by necessity are simplistic so as not to take up too much space in our limited brain capacity. We see people making sure their own trash is picked up at campsites even though there is a huge pile already there! We see people using vast quantities of water for bathing and electricity for air conditioning while religiously making sure that their old newspapers are carried to the recycle depot.
With out compassion, (which is also learned with meditation) civilization, or at least a decent society, would probably collapse. On the other hand, we know that humans have the capability and the tools to be incredibly cruel to each other – especially if they are not held accountable. How can this be if we are compassionate?
The answer is that compassion is most likely not genetic. No, compassion is a meme that is grilled into our heads from childhood. Thank goodness for this one! 
Humans as a whole can create a positive mindset and install the foundation for the right memes to be past on and none of the wrong, as evolution would have it.
Switching gears on you, companies know that getting the right memes established can result in profits of millions of dollars! Trademarks and trade-names recognition along with the associated belief in superior value is a common and profitable type of meme.
Brand name acceptance is a powerful meme that the majority of the people unhesitatingly follow. However, there are recent trends that indicate that people are beginning to drift away from that bias and to try products that have generic labels or that don’t cost as much. This is a real tragedy here.
Essentially all varieties of music have at least some examples that are enjoyable and some that are quiet outstanding. Yet memes dictate, particularly to the young, what “brand” of music they should enjoy. And they seem to only enjoy that designated music! I’m sure by now you have been a victim of some homogenized music that was surprisingly popular and in the top forties. Amazing the power of memes.
Memes are contagious ideas, all competing for a share of our mind in a kind of Darwinian selection. We can do more than only hope, meditating and tuning ourselves to select, and strengthen the right memes. As memes evolve, they become better and better at distracting and diverting us from whatever we’d really like to be doing with our lives. They are a kind of drug of the mind. Confused? Blame it on memes.
 
 
 
 
References
 
[DENN]
 
Dennett, Daniel C. (1991). Consciousness Explained. Boston: Little< Brown and Co.
 
[DAWK1]
 
Dawkins, Richard. (1989). The Selfish Gene. New York: Oxford University Press. Second edition
 
[DAWK2]
 
Dawkins, R. (19930 “Viruses of the Mind” in: Free Inquiry, summer 1993, (On the Internet at http://phenom.physics.wisc.edu/`shalizi/Dawkins/viruses-of-the-mind.html)
 
 
 
 
 


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