Meme Theory – If You Groaned, Don’t Read It!

Don’t you just hate it when you have a really good idea …. and then you discover that someone else has beaten you to it? Or worse; that its old hat and been kicked around by society in general for years and you end up feeling stupid!

I for example, have just recently discovered a thing called Meme Theory! Now I’ve been prattling on for ages about the notion of ideas as entities and the mechanisms by which they are able to pass from one individual to another. I even postulated that maybe ideas are the real life forms and that our sadly mortal bodies are nothing more than temporary hosts …. That maybe ideas are able to move from one individual to another, much as a monkey might swing from tree to tree. The obvious flaw in that analogy is that the monkey is only in one place at any given moment … whereas an idea can exist where it just arrived, as well as where it came from.

I always thought I’d write about my idea transference notions some day … when I’d had enough time to consider them a bit more. But now I find that this tantalising concept is already being picked over and argued about all over the place! And a quick scan of the internet showed me that it is a very contentious issue amongst the scientific community, as well as (and moreso, it seems) amongst the pseudo, wannabe, scientist lookalikes like myself

That being the case, and in the interests of disclosure, perhaps I need to make a few points about me, before daring to comment on this prickly issue. For starters, imagining me as a scientist of any kind, would be like imagining that Captain Kirk is a real life superhero …. and it would be a terrible insult to the science community. Secondly, to imagine that the science community is populated only by scientists would be to confine science itself to a straight-jacket thinking; that says that only people with a piece of parchment can be scientists. Its not a view that I subscribe to. My definition of a scientist is a person who studies any aspect of the environment of our existence, for the purpose of gaining knowledge and furthering mankind’s understanding of the cosmos and his place in it. I have no doubt that the science world has its share of citizens to whom fame, glory and recognition are far more important than actually contributing to mankind’s knowledge base. To some people, being heard and noticed is way more important than being correct. These people aren’t what come to mind when I think of science or scientists.

I think its fair to say that every great scientific advance that was ever made, started out as a hypothesis in the brain of its discoverer …. and science was the tool by which those hypotheses became theories and then accepted scientific fact. But the real laboratory, the fountainhead of all great discoveries, is the human brain … and we’ve all got one. In short, just because you don’t have a degree, doesn’t mean you don’t know nothin’! And just because someone else has already thought of something, doesn’t make your discovery of it any the less remarkable.

So on to my ideas about ideas … and that damn Meme Theory!

From my admittedly brief reading on this subject, one of the issues that people have with Meme Theory is the concept that ideas evolve and that the ‘science’ of meme theory is linked to Darwinism …… the notion that ideas evolve in the same manner as do living creatures. I can see how such a connection is made. What surprised me was that people seemed to object to that notion (of Darwinism) in Meme Theory because it didn’t seem to apply strictly (or is that scientifically) in an identical way to what it does in the natural realm. Gee, what a surprise! Obviously, even if one accepted the concept of ideas as living entities, the notion that they are therefore the same as any other life form and subject to identical evolutionary laws seems like a huge leap.

From what I read, there seemed to be plenty of people who are inclined to dismiss Meme Theory as pseudo science at best and pure hocus pokus at worst. Well let me state the matter as I see it and, if you disagree with my initial premises, there’s probably no point in reading past them. Save you some time and stomach acid and perhaps save me from unsolicited criticism.

My thoughts on thoughts are these:

Thoughts (ideas) do exist.

Thoughts (ideas) are able to exist in more than a single consciousness at any one time.

Thoughts (ideas) are transferred from one consciousness to another, without ceasing to exist in the cosnciousness of origin,

Thoughts (ideas) are subject to change, as they move from one consciousness to another.

Ideas (thoughts) which undergo modification as a result of transference can return to an originating consciousness and undergo further modification through that process (think of kicking ideas around).

Thoughts (ideas) arriving within a consciousness can initiate a process whereby other ideas within that consciousness become modified.

Pre-existing thoughts (ideas) within a consciousness may act upon and cause alteration of a newly arriving thought or idea.

Thoughts (ideas) can cease to exist in any individual consciousness or in a collective consciousness.

I don’t know if thoughts (ideas) can exist in any ‘medium’ other than a living consciousness but, ‘not knowing’ is no support for believing that they cannot.

Everything that I believe about thoughts (ideas) might be incorrect.

It seems to me that a consciousness is the collective sum of all of the thoughts (ideas) that it contains, in the same way that a body is a collection of all of the cells, tissues and organs that it comprises. Clearly, the presence of some ideas can effect the state of other thoughts within the same consciousness….. just as the addition of a small amount of pigment into a can of paint, can change the hue of all of the paint in the can.

Consciousness can be thought of as individual consciousness and collective consciousness.

Its possible for an individual consciousness to support thoughts (ideas) that are not supported by the collective consciousness, or even by any other individual consciousness. i.e. Its possible to be the only person in existence who believes a particular thing.

This business of trying to understand the nature of thought and how it exists, transfers, evolves and dies out is an endlessly complex issue. Clearly, it could become an entire branch of scientific enquiry in its own right. To suggest that the study of ideas is too airy-fairy to be taken seriously would be strange, unless one was to disagree with the statements I’ve made about (my perceptions of) the nature of thoughts (ideas). Or perhaps science itself isn’t sufficiently evolved to be capable of understanding thought and ideas.

I expect that the science of what is now popularly referred to as Meme Theory will have to develop. Its a field that is wide and fertile for scientific enquiry. And given that it would be a somewhat infant science (so far as I know) it would be a shame if its progress was impeded by any insistence that it comply with any or every process of known scientific enquiry. It might be that it will require an entirely new vocabulary, a completely new set of units of measure and a set of laws that prove to be all its own. Personally, I don’t think the latter will be so.

In fact, I personally suspect that the opposite will prove true. Just as the idea of particle duality has become accepted (the concept that all particles exhibit both wave and particle properties) I reckon it will be necessary for us to recognise that Thoughts (ideas) behave both as living things and as physical objects.

I believe we will discover that ideas are subject to the very same laws of physics that govern physical objects. And its already clear that they are able to evolve and change, through a process that we don’t yet understand, but which has been already linked to Darwinism.

Are thoughts (ideas) therefore the same as what we regard as living things? … No. Are they the same as physical objects…. with mass and form? No. But the fact that a new field of study involves something that we cannot quite classify, doesn’t invalidate that field of study.

Anyone would recognise, for example that ideas have inertia. To achieve general acceptance of an idea within a collective consciousness requires a certain intellectual energy. To CHANGE an idea that is already in existence within a collective consciousness, likewise requires the application of further intellectual energy. And an idea that actively exists within a collective consciousness will abide there seemingly indefinitely, until some intellectual force is brought to bear to change it.

Ideas come into existence, They transfer between individuals and they appear to evolve and to go out of existence. They seem to have a life of their own.

Perhaps none of this thinking is entirely new. Totalitarian regimes have long studied the business of propaganda and mind manipulation through such devices as positive inducement and torture. Maybe what makes Meme Theory new, is its emphasis on thought itself, rather than of the mind that provides a crucible for it.

Clearly though, if an understanding of thoughts and ideas is ever to be pursued, it will be necessary to break up its study into its own unique facets … that of individual and collective Meme science. Maybe someday we’ll see Micro memeology and Macro Memeolgy being studied as enthusiastically and seriously as are now such fields as chemistry and physics. In the mean time though, I think you’d have to be brave or desperate to dismiss the study of thought and ideas as mere hocus pokus!

Andrew Caddle 20130811


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