Thursday, November 22, 2007

Mnemes, Memes, Memeplexes - Viruses of the Mind

Historically, the notion of a unit of social evolution, and a similar term (from Greek mneme , meaning "memory"), first appeared in 1904 in a work by the German evolutionary biologist Richard Semon titled Die Mnemischen Empfindungen in ihren Beziehungen zu den Originalempfindungen (loosely translated as "Memory-feelings in relation to original feelings"). According to the OED, the word mneme appears in English in 1921 in L. Simon's translation of Semon's book: The Mneme

Biologist and evolutionary theorist Richard Dawkins coined the term meme in 1976. He gave as examples tunes, catch-phrases, beliefs, clothing fashions, ways of making pots, and the technology of building arches. Much of the study of memes focuses on groups of memes called memeplexes (also known as meme complexes or as memecomplexes) — such as religious, cultural, or political doctrines and systems. Memeplexes contain mutually supportive memes that together become more evolutionarily successful. These memeplexes may also play a part in the acceptance of new memes which, if they fit with a memeplex, can "piggyback" on that success.

Meme theorists contend that memes evolve by natural selection similarly to Darwinian biological evolution through the processes of variation, mutation, competition, and inheritance influencing an organism's reproductive success. So with memes, some ideas will propagate less successfully and become extinct, while others will survive, spread, and, for better or for worse, mutate.

"Memeticists argue that the memes most beneficial to their hosts will not necessarily survive; rather, those memes that replicate the most effectively spread best, which allows for the possibility that successful memes may prove detrimental to their hosts."

When regarded as non-conscious replicators (much like viruses), individual memes lack moral goodness or badness. However, the behaviors that memes generate in individuals and groups can have definite moral implications. History furnishes many examples of the moral implications of racist ethnic class memes when they interact with politics.

Racism provides an example of a common meme: an ideology that has come to separate people, causing the deaths of many of its targets and some of its practitioners and threatening the lives of those who do not conform with racist norms. Once introduced into a culture, memes evolve and spread through society, becoming both harmful and attractive so that they spread like a virus.

The survival value of consciousness is that it allows us to recognize harmful memes and memeplexes, and with a tremendous effort of will and ingenuity, to extinguish those bad memes before they extinguish us....,