Though the term Meme was originally coined by Richard Dawkins, it is the evolutionary psychologist and consciousness expert Susan Blackmore that has taken much of his work forward. In short meme indicates our ability to copy others or to learn from others. It has been studied in quite some depth and is believed to be one of the themes that drives evolution of human beings.

However it also means that we humans, may believe many things just because others do so or have been doing so for generations. It gets codified in our genes and produces appropriate responses / thoughts when required to do so. In other words, just because our ancestors for several generations believed in something, we are likely to continue believing in the same. Thoughts contrary to those beliefs may not be generated in our minds at all.

We are prisoners of our own memes, in short.

Yet, our history is not short of people who thought differently from established beliefs and helped change the course of cultural, social or scientific development. Plato, Galileo, Newton, Einstein, Buddha, Gandhi amongst countless others. It would seem that somehow their genetic make-up defied common meme.

So, I would like to ponder over how to get out of this prison? For example, the three very common meme that often come up for discussion here are:

1. That the ancient texts of various traditions depict truth, though not easily decipherable.

2. That there is consciousness operating outside of normal human understanding.

3. That by having special subjective experience, one can know or understand reality.

How does one begin?

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     I had liked when he had used the example on how our religious ideas are spread about like famous songs and what have you. His idea of religious concepts be spread about in such a way as natural selection is something that seems very interesting (I maight want to read more on this then, too).

      So thank you for posting this video, because I was not aware of the actual name for the reason each of us have a certain viewpoint in terms of the many ways in which we think, however, now I do! I had just not known of the impact of how our ancestors have a way to aid in many of the ways in which each of view things.


     Genectically is makes sense because not only would we share our ancestors phyical apperance (because of the genese themselves), but also traditional and cultural ideas and/or character traits would play a huge role in that. Cool. Very nice. 

Hi - This is my first posted reply to a thread on this forum - thanks for the opportunity to participate!

I do think there is good reason to believe that some people in the past have been able to get their minds clear of the prejudices of their time and place (and I think Capt. Anand Kumar's list was a perfectly good one including Plato, Galileo, etc).  It gives me hope to imaging that there have been many many more than these.  I also agree with the negative effect that all kinds of superstitions (whether religious ones, new age ones, or scientific one) have on many people's ability to think clearly.  I think it's also true that people who knew better or know better often kept/keep quiet because of prudence (is that prudence misguided or wise, who knows?).  I am not thrilled with the elitism of this line of analysis i.e. the many foolish versus the wise few, but there seem always to have been far fewer reflective people in any given population than reflective people. Unfortunately I don't think that's really disputable.  So far so good.

I am not familiar enough with evolutionary biology to grapple with the idea of a meme in any very productive way, but one thing it reminds me of is the post-modern literary criticism I read when I was in college. Instead of supposing that people's minds were active agents thinking thoughts, the PoMo critique said that my mind was in fact without essence, that there was no agency in thinking, and that thought, despite appearances to the contrary, was only discourse reproducing discourse (that sounded to me like memes).  The problem I had with this kind of thinking was that it flew in the face of common sense.  I really do experience thought as though I have a mind and the power to direct my thoughts. I have the power to put my mind to this problem or to that problem, to make observations, judge their relevance and cogency and to draw out inferences.  The postmodern line seemed to say that I had nothing to do with any of these activities. That the "I" was a fiction created by discourse.  Of course back in the real world, the postmodern writers all signed their works and collected royalties from their publishers. What did this mean? Well, it doesn't take a genius. It means that, whatever the truth of things may be, something like the common sense view of things is an irreducibly pre-scientific, pre-philosophical, pre-theosophical part of our experience - in most ways it's the most important part.

Memes are similar to this and different. Similar because the theory seems to propose that all thought is agentless just because some thought appears agentless. Agentless? Yes, because as Susan Blackmore said, it MUST reproduce itself. I am just the meme's vehicle. There's more to the comparison - but that's enough maybe for my present level of understanding (which is minute). The difference from the PoMo critique of authorship is that there is presumably a scientific model underlying the idea of the meme (which was absent with the PoMo authors) with operative definitions of "meme" (generated from but not identical to the common sense experience of things) for specific circumstances of observation and then careful generalization on the basis of factual results.  All of this is beyond my ken. 

The question that arises for me in all of this is What debt do we owe to the common sense understanding of things when we are judging exotic theories? For instance a theoretical model of things that tells me that I have no free will or that cannibalism (even consensual cannibalism) isn't wrong, or that some particular society that I know from experience is not so bad in historical perspective is actually racist or imperialist or totalitarian... etc.  On the other hand, if you spend your entire life and never question the common sense understanding of things, it kind of leaves you a slave to any or all of the memes/prejudices of your age, no?


Welcome Baxter. We do look forward to your greater participation and sharing of thoughts.

Common sense is a fluid set of concepts not always consistent with rationality. While it is extremely useful in our day to day lives, it can hardly be used as a tool to explore 'exotic theories'. In a way, common sense itself qualifies as a meme.

And I agree with you it is yet to be decided whether all thoughts are agentless. This is a very important point in this discussion. The clue may lie when the link with specific thoughts and the related proteins that DNA manufactures is found. We already know the link between certain hormones and emotions.

While we may be the vehicles of various memes, historical evidence suggests that we also retain the ability to alter the route of that vehicle. Free Will?

Indeed asking the right questions is of paramount importance. And the question here is if memes are what those are proposed to be then how is it that some individuals seem to operate out of it, i.e. their genetic programming permits them to think out of the box?

Thanks for the encouragement! I think this last comment of yours is especially clarifying: "their genetic programming permits them to think outside the box." So if i understand, you are stepping into the meme/culture evolution paradigm for a moment (and evolutionary bio-determinism too for the moment) and wondering whether we might at some point discover a biological/genetic mechanism that thwarts the memetic/culture evolutionary determinism in a way that produces examples of "out of the box" thinking in some human beings. People who make great innovations might be found to have a genetic mutation or an inheritable trait the disrupts the transmission of memes?
Maybe a conversation for another time - common sense and its relationship to theoretical thinking... Common sense is one of the anchors that (should we posit the possibility of a free mind) allows us to judge the plausibility of a line of thought. Abstracting from common sense is often the best beginning of philosophy, and a good skeptical attitude results from keeping the insights of a variety of lines of theoretical thought - especially where they conflict with and challenge common sense - in the forefront of ones mind. Forgive my pet interest...

Dear Captain,

Thank you for bringing up this fascinating subject. I read Dawkins' "The Selfish Gene" and watched the Susan Blackmore presentation on 'temes' before. I'm interested in this to see how far the Darwinian paradigm might explain behavior, especially in the realm of religion and spirituality with a focus on the memeplex of Theosophy. 

Your question about a beginning of such an endeavor and Joe's idea about posing the right questions is very important. I'd like to rephrase this intention in the following way:

Can we, for the sake of argument temporarily suspend or bracket the Theosophical memeplex and look at it from an entirely different vantage point, in this case evolutionary theory? This assumes we understand the evolutionary theory sufficiently to make that 'move.' But, do we?


Thanks Govert.

I doubt that anyone has ever claimed that any evolutionary theory is completely understood. Even Craig Venter, the creator of synthetic life form has refrained from making such a claim. This in fact, provides us an opportunity to speculate freely on the subject.

Looking forward to more from you on this topic.


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