Wednesday, November 30, 2011

#334 / Memes

My favorite columnist in the world, Jon Carroll, was talking about "memes" back in 2007. There are internet Know Your Meme sites that focus on nothing but what they call "memes," namely on the latest pieces of celebrity gossip. Progressive political commentators have incorporated "meme analysis" into their thinking, and you can click on this link, or on the image, to see a critique of "memes" from cartoonist Thad Guy.

As you might suspect, Wikipedia has a rather extensive article on "memes," and assigns the origin of the idea to Richard Dawkins, who wrote The Selfish Gene, and about whose ideas I have expressed some skepticism.

I am always concerned or skeptical about any purported explanation of the world that relies on the supposed existence of independent and autonomous processes, liberated from the workings of intentionality (that is, processes which are supposed to proceed in the absence of intentional choices, made by individual human beings).

My "model" of the world (our human world) assumes that "we" create it, precisely by thinking of what we would like to do, and then doing it. My model, of course, is quite "legalistic" in concept, at least in one way of looking at it. The "laws" we make (in our human world) represent our articulation of what we think we want to do. They are prescriptions of what we think would be good for us, as differentiated from the "laws" that govern the world of Nature, which are descriptions of what will and must happen. Human "laws" are quite different, in other words, from the law of gravity.

In my "model," if we follow the laws that we ourselves articulate and promulgate, the world we construct comes to reflect the realities that we have first posited as possibilities and then achieved through our actions.

The idea of self-propagating "memes" doesn't seem to fit in, in any natural way, with the way I have looked at the world. However, I note that the Wikipedia article, which I found quite helpful, quotes Dawkins as saying that the "meme," as he sees it, is a "unit of imitation."

I actually do like that. It does seem to me that we change the world as we "imitate" the behaviors (and sometimes the people) we believe are "right," who have the right "prescription" for our world, and for the kind of future we want to create.

In other words, to take advice from Gandhi, we need to "be the change we want to see in the world."

Inevitably, this means lot of "imitation." It also means, to refer to Gandhi once again, a lot of "experimentation with the truth."

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