The goal of this article is to introduce the idea that memes are to genes what consciousness is to the brain. The premises I use to get there fly in the face of mainstream knowledge, but my conclusions lead to practical advice for taking control of the destinies of the individual and humanity at large.
The materialist/physicalist model of the mind states that consciousness is just a pragmatic byproduct of the complexity of our brains; that it is an illusion used to facilitate the evolutionary fitness of individuals and species, which are themselves just inconsequential vessels for the survival of genes. Not only do I find these models of consciousness and evolution to be irrational, I find them to be cynical, defeatist and self-loathing. And they are also becoming obsolete as innovative new models challenge their ideological supremacy.
Independent philosopher (my favorite kind) Bernardo Kastrup has been working within the non-dualist paradigm to illustrate a new model of the brain and consciousness that does not stumble on materialist metaphysical dogmas. His general premise is that the substance of reality is primarily consciousness and that matter is a narrative device to give form to thoughts. Where mainstream science sees the brain as an engine driving our minds and bodies, Bernardo sees it more as a speedometer. The brain, in his parlance, is the second person perspective of consciousness, a phenomena which can only really be experienced internally by the individual. Therefore when neurologists see the brain reacting to external stimuli, they are viewing conscious processes from an outsider perspective in the limited context of their own beliefs about brains/minds. Here is a short excerpt explaining this in his own words:
The elegance of this view is that it dispenses entirely with the need to postulate anything other than the obvious: consciousness itself. We do not need to postulate a whole material universe outside consciousness anymore. Empirical reality is merely the outside image – the external aspect – of the mental activity of a cosmic consciousness, while body-brains are merely the outside image of dissociated segments of this cosmic consciousness. And what is a body-brain but something we can see, touch, measure; something with the qualities of experience? Indeed, the empirical world is the experience, by an alter, of the rest of the stream of consciousness outside the alter. It is dissociation that creates the duality between internal and external aspects. But this duality does not imply or require anything outside experience: the external aspects are themselves experiences; experiences of alters. As explained in Chapter 9 of Brief Peeks Beyond, ‘everything that currently motivates us to believe in a world outside consciousness can and will be understood as the effects of mental processes outside our particular alter, which we witness from a second-person perspective.’
Now hold on to that thought.
In his book Virus of the Mind, Richard Brodie takes a philosophical look at the science of memetics. That discipline is primarily concerned with understand the phenomena of memes, which Brodie describes as:
A meme is a unit of information in a mind whose existence influences events such that more copies of itself get created in other minds.
A meme, then, is a genetic unit of an mental entity that reproduces using the evolutionary strategies of viruses. The book and its ideas are brilliant, which is why it became such a critical and commercial success. I found the book enlightening throughout, with the exception of his insistence in the natural selection model of evolution. I think that my intelligent selection model actually works much better to pull the front and back ends of his book together, since what he is essentially proposing is that our observable reality is a construct of the symbols and archetypes we use to filter reality via our individual consciousness. A process which essentially creates our personal subjective realities and contributes to the illusion of an objective consensus reality where they overlap.
Essentially, he proposes that memes are the genes of consciousness, and that memetic therapy can be used to cure any malware of the mind caused by malignant, self-replicating memes that threaten the fitness of individuals and species.
When we think of genes, we think of tiny little instruction manuals that tell organisms how to form and behave. This is the materialist/physicalist model. Genes give rise to individual organisms and species in the same way that brains supposedly generate our minds. But how should we approach genes in a non-dualist model of consciousness and reality?
Earlier we explored the idea that brains were just second person perceptions of the first person experience of consciousness. Rather than the engine, the brain was an instrument panel showing the activities of an individuals consciousness. What then if we were to similarly view genes as the second person perspective of the first person experience of memes?
In this model, instead of saying that a gene caused you to have green eyes and red hair, those traits are a part of your memetic structure. A person’s genes are just physical manifestations of the memetic components of that individuals consciousness. In other words, a gene is a thumbnail image of the symbols and archetypes that you are made of. Your physical self is the image that those thumbnails represent, yet you are not the image of you. You are the thinking, feeling and creative being who can only be experienced by other thinking, feeling and creative beings in the form of the image constructed of ideas about you. Those ideas are memes.
If a meme acts like a virus, then it has two possible outcomes. It replicates itself as wholly as possible in as many hosts as possible -or- it makes innovative copies of itself that sometimes improve the fitness of itself and its host, and sometimes make it non-viable. Learning to recognize what a memes most likely outcome is, we can make conscious efforts to resist the kinds of viable memes that have no innovative qualities, and thus no benefit to their host. If we look at evolution as the march of memes through time, and we are able filter out malignant memes and accept, share and create useful ones, then we have the capability of shaping the evolution of ourselves, our species and our reality.
At the same time, memes also present an existential risk. Toxic memes can create a viral epidemic that harms our species and environment. Our culture has adopted memes that take the form of macro images and macro slogans. These meta-memes make us susceptible to absorbing and spreading memetic information compulsively without examining its properties and consequences. What we generally call a ‘meme‘ on the internet is sort of a virus that makes us consume and spread memes voraciously without any awareness. It invites the sort of apathy that turns memes from a useful tool for willfully evolving, into viruses with no other goal than to make their hosts just as blissfully ignorant of their own existence as they are.
Memes can either infect us with intellectual zombi-ism or pave a path to the stairway to heaven. The distinction will be a result of our ability to recognize them and utilize them consciously. Our pattern for validating and reinforcing the compulsive uses of memes and meta-memes is a frightening harbinger. Yet the power of memes means that beneficial memes like this article and its concepts are able to stem that tide and put us in the cockpit of our own evolutionary destiny.