Consciousness
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Consciousness
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Waking from the Meme Dream

We are in charge of our bodies, we run the show, we decide which ideas to believe in and which to reject. But do we really? If you begin to think about selfish memes it becomes clear that our ideas are in our heads because they are successful memes. American philosopher Dan Dennett (1995) concludes that a "person" is a particular sort of animal infested with memes. In other words you and I and all our friends are the products of two blind replicators, the genes and the memes.

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This simple logic explains why it is so hard for us to sit down and "not think"; why the battle to subdue "our" thoughts is doomed. In a very real sense they are not "our" thoughts at all. They are simply the memes that happen to be successfully exploiting our brain-ware at the moment.

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Micki Pacific's curator insight, March 5, 2013 4:59 AM

Since he first suggested the idea of memes Dawkins has discussed the spread of such behaviours as wearing baseball caps back to front (my kids have recently turned theirs the right way round again!), the use of special clothing markers to identify gangs, and (most famously) the power of religions. Religions are, according to Dawkins (1993), huge co-adapted meme-complexes; that is groups of memes that hang around together for mutual support and thereby survive better than lone memes could do. Other meme-complexes include cults, political systems, alternative belief systems, and scientific theories and paradigms.

Religions are special because they use just about every meme-trick in the book (which is presumably why they last so long and infect so many brains). Think of it this way. The idea of hell is initially useful because the fear of hell reinforces socially desirable behaviour. Now add the idea that unbelievers go to hell, and the meme and any companions are well protected. The idea of God is a natural companion meme, assuaging fear and providing (spurious) comfort. The spread of the meme-complex is aided by exhortations to convert others and by tricks such as the celibate priesthood. Celibacy is a disaster for genes, but will help spread memes since a celibate priest has more time to spend promoting his faith.

Another trick is to value faith and suppress the doubt that leads every child to ask difficult questions like "where is hell?" and "If God is so good why did those people get tortured?". Note that science (and some forms of Buddhism) do the opposite and encourage doubt.

Finally, once you’ve been infected with these meme-complexes they are hard to get rid of. If you try to throw them out, some even protect themselves with last-ditch threats of death, ex-communication, or burning in hell-fire for eternity.

I shouldn’t get carried away. The point I want to make is that these religious memes have not survived for centuries because they are true, because they are useful to the genes, or because they make us happy. In fact I think they are false and are responsible for the worst miseries in human history. No - they have survived because they are selfish memes and are good at surviving - they need no other reason.

Once you start to think this way a truly frightening prospect opens up. We have all become used to thinking of our bodies as biological organisms created by evolution. Yet we still like to think of our selves as something more. We are in charge of our bodies, we run the show, we decide which ideas to believe in and which to reject. But do we really? If you begin to think about selfish memes it becomes clear that our ideas are in our heads because they are successful memes. American philosopher Dan Dennett (1995) concludes that a "person" is a particular sort of animal infested with memes. In other words you and I and all our friends are the products of two blind replicators, the genes and the memes.

I find these ideas absolutely stunning. Potentially we might be able to understand all of mental life in terms of the competition between memes, just as we can understand all biological life in terms of the competition between genes.

What I want to do now, finally, is apply the ideas of memetics to the questions I asked at the beginning. What are we waking up from and how do we do it?

 
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Collected Wisdom on Memes, Luck, Consciousness, and Existence

Collected Wisdom on Memes, Luck, Consciousness, and Existence | Consciousness | Scoop.it

[I]f it is true that human minds are themselves to a very great degree the creations of memes, then we cannot sustain the polarity of vision we considered earlier; it cannot be “memes versus us,” because earlier infestations of memes have already played a major role in determining who or what we are. The “independent” mind struggling to protect itself from alien and dangerous memes is a myth. There is a persisting tension between the biological imperative of our genes on the one hand and the cultural imperatives of our memes on the other, but we would be foolish to “side with” our genes; that would be to commit the most egregious error of pop sociobiology. Besides, as we have already noted, what makes us special is that we, alone among species, can rise above the imperatives of our genes— thanks to the lifting cranes of our memes.

 

- Happy 70th Birthday, Dan Dennett

- via brainpickings.org

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Creativity, evolution of mind and the "vertigo of freedom"

Creativity, evolution of mind and the "vertigo of freedom" | Consciousness | Scoop.it

Darwin’s Pharmacy suggests that psychedelics were precisely a mutation in information technology that increased sexually selective fitness, through the capacity to process greater amounts of information, and that they are “extraordinarily sensitive to initial rhetorical traditions.” What this means is that because ecodelic experiences are so sensitive to the context in which we experience them, they can help make us aware of the effect of language and music, etc, on our consciousness, and thereby offer an awareness of our ability to effect our own consciousness through our linguistic and creative choices.

 

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Memes, minds and selves: competing for consciousness

Memes, minds and selves: competing for consciousness | Consciousness | Scoop.it

"... the theory is similar to Dennett’s but there are two fundamental differences. First Dennett calls the self a "benign user illusion". I suggest it is far from benign, and is the root source of human suffering and delusion. The creation of a selfplex means we live our lives as a lie; constantly falling into dualism, and prey to all the emotions concerned with protecting our false self from harm or dissolution. Second, for Dennett consciousness "is itself a huge complex of memes", which implies that if all the memes were dropped consciousness would cease. An alternative is that the memes of the selfplex obscure and distort consciousness rather than constituting it."

 

"This is a an empirical question, well suited to first-person research with available methods. Meditation and mindfulness can be seen as techniques for dropping memes (or meme-weeding), their ultimate effect being to dismantle the selfplex. We may ask those who have completed this path what happens. I believe their answer is that dualism falls away but consciousness (though it may be transformed) does not."

 

- Susan Blackmore

 

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