Monday, January 23, 2012

Virus of the Mind

Richard Brodie, 1996

Introduction: Crisis of the Mind

-Viruses of the mind, and the whole science of memetics, represent a major paradigm shift in the science of the mind (p15).

-Once created, a virus of the mind gains a life independent of its creator and evolves quickly to infect as many people as possible (p17).

-Even mindless stubbornness is immunity against only some kinds of mind viruses.

“Birth of a New Paradigm”

1.Complacency/Marginalization [Indifference]




GENE – basic building block of LIFE – biological programming/bio-replicator – body/physical/natural

MEME – basic building block of CULTURE – mental programming/psycho-replicator – mind/non-physical/artificial

Chapter 1: Memes

[The science of memetics is the mind-universe’s analogue to Genetics, which studies the same thing about genes in the Biological Universe.]

Dawkins’ BIOLOGICAL Definition:

The meme is the basic unit of cultural transmission, or imitation

Plotkins’ PSYCHOLOGICAL Definition:

The meme is the basic unit of cultural heredity analogous to the gene. It is the internal [artificial, mindspace] representation of knowledge

Dennet’s COGNITIVE Definition:

The meme is an idea, the kind of complex idea that forms itself into a distinct memorable [memory…] unit. It is spread by vehicles that are physical manifestations of the meme.

Brodie’s WORKING Definition:

The meme is a unit of information in a mind whose existence influences events such that more copies of itself get created in other minds.


An attitude, idea or belief (p48)

On Plotkin:

Under this definition, memes are to a human’s behavior what our genes are to your bodies: internal representations of knowledge that result in outward effects on the world [Dawkins Extended Phenotype].

Genes are hidden, internal pieces of information stored in an embryo that result, with the influence of its environment, in the flesh and blood of the developed organism. Memes are hidden, internal representations of knowledge that result, again along with environmental influence, in external behavior and the production of cultural artifacts such as skirts and bridges. If I look around and see short skirts, that might cause the predication of a meme in my mind that short skirts are in fashion. But the meme is in my mind, not on [Megan Fox’s] body [that would be instead the extended phenotype of the meme] (p29).

[Controlling the mind is the best way to control behavior (not just controlling the body, as genes do) and since the ability to emulate and imitate (and with the advent of consciousness, to empathize) is unique to humans (at least in the capacity that we hold). Controlling the behavior, via the mind, is the best way to manipulate other humans]. (captain obvious?)

Chapter 2: Mind and Behavior

“Peer Pressure”

When people get immersed in a culture (like any company or job or high school) with strong memes it tends to be a sink or swim proposition. Either you change your mind, succumbing to peer pressure and adopting the new memes as your own, or you struggle with the extremely uncomfortable feeling of being surrounded by people who think you’re crazy or inadequate (p48). [I like how crazy is the inverse of inadequate.]

-“distinction memes” form a perceptual filter

-Mind viruses thrive on your belief that its memes are true (p53).

[How does this relate to 'realism' in art or via Kahler’s Narrative, the tendency of the author to try and make their work as ‘believable’ as possible? And see below on Ch.4Evolution…]

Chapter 3: Viruses

-One reason to take viruses seriously is that making copies of yourself is the most powerful force in the universe (p58).

-Anywhere there is copying machinery; there can be viruses (p59).

-For billions of years it was DNA that was being copied (p60-61).

Viral Workflow (p63):

1. Viruses penetrate our minds because we are so good at learning new ideas and information.

2. They are copied by us communicating with each other, something we are getting better and better at [though I would ask what parameters measure this progress].

3. Viruses issue instructions by programming us with new memes that affect our behavior.

4. They spread when the chain of events stemming from the new behavior reaches an uninfected mind.

5. Repeat.

Cultural Viruses






Designer Viruses


Human-generated intent


Development of Culture

--sequence of ideas and discoveries that build upon one another

--a meme pool where the ideas in our heads are shaped and transported by various forces including mind viruses.

Chapter 4: Evolution

Evolution – complexity

Entropy – simplicity

[These two forces operate in both universes.]

-Is the replicator being copied (passive) or is it making copies of itself (active) (p67)?

-In copying/replicating for evolution, error is essential, but in the right amounts: too high, nothing changes; too low, the quality that made it good for replicating changes, is lost (like an office document photocopied over and over) (p67).

-Evolution requires a certain amount of both fidelity and infidelity [and this can also be related to the ‘believability’ of artists?] (p68).

Fitness in Evolution: the likelihood of being copied (p68)

-Darwin didn’t know what DNA was (p69).

An individual of a species doesn’t replicate itself, but its genes. From the selfish gene point-of-view, a human is just another way of making genes, and evolution revolves around their well being, not ours.

-We are in the end of the DNA era (almost) (p79).

-Almost all the information stored on earth was stored in DNA until ~3000 years ago (p79).

[What is information?]

Chapter 5: The Evolution of Memes

“An invasion of armies can be resisted, but not an idea whose time has come.” – Victor Hugo

“mental-pretzeling” – Richard Brodie

The Telephone Game is a meme-evolution in a microcosm.

Advanced cultures have smaller population growth, but the most effective cultural imperialism, spreading memes, not genes (p99).

Chapter 6: Sex: The Root of All Evolution

You are the result of an unbroken chain spanning thousands of generations of males and females who were all successful at finding a mate (p104).

Chapter 8: How We Get Programmed

The “Trojan horse” of memetic programming is characterized by the memes’ decreasing order of believability:

-We all want freedom! (credible, agreeable)

--We all want democracy to work for everyone! (less so)

---We all want every American to have the opportunity to pursue the American Dream! (even less…)

----And we all want a health care system that makes that possible!

The more questionable memes ride right in on the initial, acceptable ones (p144).

Chapter 9: Cultural Viruses

All cultural institutions, regardless of their initial design or intention (if any), evolve to have but one goal: to perpetuate themselves (p158).

On Art and Such:

When the Wizard of Oz is colored [from black and white], it changes the thing, not for the sake of its artistic expression (which ‘is’ what it is, so it’s not for the sake of the thing) but for the sake of its spreadability, or for the sake of its viewership. (The viewers prefer color…) [loosely referencing p167]

Making sense is a strong selector for memes; truth is not (p168).

[The Heliocentric Theory made no sense at all initially, but alas, over time, all the conflicting memes fell away, so far way, that we have completely forgotten our once firmly-held belief that angels and demons pushed and pulled the celestial bodies.]

News is biased, but only towards strong meme-selectors. There is no morality, no politics, no truth … no conspiracies either, just super-complex, klugey evolution (~p170).

Power Shifts in Politics

The shift of power always seems to be for a good reason at first [or else it wouldn’t be selected]. While the short-term results appeal to the majority of voters, the long-term increases in government control over yet another aspect of life is not so appealing (p182).

Chapter 10: Religion

The Religiosity Spectrum:

Vehement disbelief à useful allegory à word-of-God fundamentalism

We have an enormous hunger to understand the world around us, which was extremely useful when the world was simple and mostly consisted of physical rewards and dangers. In the society of memes, however, we are constantly trying to make sense of things that simply have no sense. …We think they make sense, because our brains haven’t had much of a chance to evolve from the time when these cultural, psychological landscapes simply didn’t exist. Se we devote huge amounts of time, money and energy trying to understand and solve meaningless problems (p191). [This is the ‘self-helper’ Brodie.]

Religious Memes and Making Sense:

Religions that have clear, handy explanations for those tough questions are much more popular than those that challenge people to think for themselves, such as Zen. The answers don’t have to be true, just easy to understand (p193)

Delusion and Self Deceit: You Are Not Immune

We all live with a certain amount of delusion and self-deceit. Maybe it’s just a matter of consciously picking the right set of delusions to point us in the direction we want to go (p107-198).

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