The Electric Meme: A New Theory of How We Think
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From biology to culture to the new new economy, the buzzword on everyone's lips is "meme." How do animals learn things? How does human culture evolve? How does viral marketing work? The answer to these disparate questions and even to what is the nature of thought itself is, simply, the meme. For decades researchers have been convinced that memes were The Next Big Thing for the understanding of society and ourselves. But no one has so far been able to define what they are. Until now.
Here, for the first time, Robert Aunger outlines what a meme physically is, how memes originated, how they developed, and how they have made our brains into their survival systems. They are thoughts. They are parasites. They are in control. A meme is a distinct pattern of electrical charges in a node in our brains that reproduces a thousand times faster than a bacterium. Memes have found ways to leap from one brain to another. A number of them are being replicated in your brain as you read this paragraph.
In 1976 the biologist Richard Dawkins suggested that all animals -- including humans -- are puppets and that genes hold the strings. That is, we are robots serving as life support for the genes that control us. And all they want to do is replicate themselves. But then, we do lots of things that don't seem to help genes replicate. We decide not to have children, we waste our time doing dangerous things like mountain climbing, or boring things like reading, or stupid things like smoking that don't seem to help genes get copied into the next generation. We do all sorts of cultural things for reasons that don't seem to have anything to do with genes. Fashions in sports, books, clothes, ideas, politics, lifestyles come and go and give our lives meaning, so how can we be gene robots?
Dawkins recognized that something else was going on. We communicate with one another and we get ideas, and these ideas seem to have a life of their own. Maybe there was something called memes that were like thought genes. Maybe our bodies were gene robots and our minds were meme robots. That would mean that what we think is not the result of our own creativity, but rather the result of the evolutionary flow of memes as they wash through us.
What is the biological reality of an idea with a life of its own? What is a thought gene? It's a meme. And no one before Robert Aunger has established what it physically must be. This elegant, paradigm-shifting analysis identifies how memes replicate in our brains, how they evolved, and how they use artifacts like books and photographs and advertisements to get from one brain to another. Destined to inflame arguments about free will, open doors to new ways of sharing our thoughts, and provide a revolutionary explanation of consciousness, The Electric Meme will change the way each of us thinks about our minds, our cultures, and our daily choices.
The availability of the Pill and its “sister” technologies allow women to artificially limit their fertility and so violate the biological primary directive to go forth and multiply. However, due to the complexity of gene coding, we should expect inertia in the ability of the brain to respond to such changing circumstances. Evolutionary psychologists suggest, then, that maladaptive behaviour, like using the Pill, is caused by ancestral responses to modern conditions. We are all trapped in “Stone
is simply that the copy and the original must be of the same class of entities, so that they can rightfully be called similar to one another. The reference to “relevant respects” generally means with respect to those qualities that allow the replicator to maintain its generative ability and those aspects that produce the similarity of the copy to its source. At the same time, this clause allows for the possibility, indeed the necessity, of occasional mutations in what gets copied. Such variations
inhabitant, no new code was written at any stage in the runs exhibiting the evolution of parasites. Reproduction, death, natural selection, and mutation seemed to be enough to cause parasites to appear from nowhere. Ray didn’t need to—and had not—built them into the system. Reading Ray’s report convinced John Maynard Smith (one of the most eminent of contemporary evolutionary thinkers) to announce (in one of the world’s most prominent scientific journals) that “artificial evolution” in computers
program was physically linked to the network. But since TIERRA viruses can’t replicate except in the context of the TIERRA operating system, in fact they are safe; their “genomic” code is nonsense outside this “virtual” world, just as DNA is useless outside the nucleus of a cell. Similarly, the —— 120 · THE ELECTRIC MEME —— computer simulations that operate well within the confines of the holodeck on Star Trek are unable to step out of the room where the conditions for their existence are
replicators. My goal is to show you that the brain is a highly isolated, protective environment in which replicators could evolve. In fact, the brain is just the kind of place Replicator Theory should suggest as the birthplace of a replicator. It is full of ambient energy waiting to be harnessed and provides lots of scaffolding for a replication reaction in the form of a network of cells with support structures on which to hang components, all in standardized configurations, and so on. Just as