Apr 15, 2012

The Selfish Viral Idea: Meme

When we have a cold or a cough, we normally think of the symptoms as annoying byproducts of the virus's activities.  But in some cases it seems more probable that they are deliberately engineered by the virus to help it to travel from one host to another.  Not content with simply being breathed into the atmosphere, the virus makes us sneeze or cough explosively.  The rabies virus is transmitted in saliva when one animal bites another.  In dogs, one of the symptoms of the disease is that normally peaceful and friendly animals become ferocious biters, foaming at the mouth. 
- Richard Dawkins' The Selfish Gene 

What Dawkins is pointing out here is that the virus strategically locates itself in our throat and nose, not only because it thrives in those moist environments but also because it recognizes that because of our immune system's response we will sneeze and cough, releasing strains of the virus into our environment. This will maximize the probability that strains of the virus will find their way to another person's body to infect, survive and continue to grow. The virus, not only uses our bodies to survive and grow but also to spread to other bodies. We can apply this same concept to the billions of bacteria that live throughout our digestive tracks and how they interact with our cells and nervous system and help shape and influence our behavior and eating habits to benefit their own survival and growth.

Ideas follow the same methodology.  For example, once an ideology has entered (infected) a person's brain, it will use that person's mind not just to reside in but also as a facilitator to help spread the idea to other people and minds.  Our genes as the very first so called "viruses" got together back in the day in our evolution and decided to form a partnership and use our bodies and reproductive organs to survive, grow and spread and this partnership developed an Army called the immune system to attack foreign intruders such as viruses that will not obey the laws that govern our genetic survival and growth.  Ideas are the same way.  Once they have infiltrated a person's mind they leverage the subconscious emotions as their army/weapon to protect themselves and attack, reject and dismiss new ideas that might threaten them.  Try converting an orthodox Jew to Islam and you will witness this emotional response I am sure.  

This blogpost is just an idea that if you forward along to your friends will become a meme and you the facilitator of this meme. Once you forward this along, you are no longer just an unbiased reader but a vehicle to spread the email or meme to others so it can survive and grow.

Our minds are all vehicles for cultural ideas to include religions, music, art, language. Our bodies are vehicles to carry and spread our genes to the next generation and perfecting them by having sex with the right partner. Humans are superior to animals because we posses what's called social learning, that is we don't just biologically evolve and perfect our genes but we also evolve mentally through selecting the best of ideas that we come across in our culture. We learn and copy ideas that we come across and by combining them with other ideas and memories of experience in our heads we innovate. The danger is when one radical idea infects our brains and takes over our minds through slaving our emotions to block all other ideas that might challenge its existence or survival. Powerful business people often use advertising to infect our minds with their ideas (idea of the iPhone, iPad) and using our emotions (I love my iPhone) to purchase a new product every year.

From religions to products to music or sports, we are all infected minds by ideas or ideologies that we get exposed to through culture. The infection is inevitable and necessary for survival and innovation in our society, what's required is having the right filters so no one idea takes over and blocks others from entering.

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