Sunday, August 24, 2008
by Deepak Chopra, Sep 1, 2005
Deepak ChopraAs I mentioned in an earlier post on "Memes and Change," I am intrigued by the part of meme theory that tries to explain worldviews.
On our own, there may not be much incentive to adapt to new ideas, but when two worldviews clash, as modernity is clashing with the jihadis and radical Islam in general, the pressure to adapt is inescapable. Our very survival may depend upon it. I am reminded of a CNN interview with a right-wing Christian operative from Indiana who said, "As long as liberals and atheists despise us, we will never go away."
The essence of a worldview is that it convinces you about reality. Two people with different worldviews can see the same fact and yet give totally divergent interpretations of it, because no fact or event is perceived by itself. Walking down the street, I may pass a woman with bright red lipstick, a faint whiff of wine on her breath from a lunch at a restaurant, and no hat on her head. In my worldview, none of these facts triggers any particular emotion or judgment. Therefore you might assume that nothing happened in my brain. Yet, as meme theory points out, a great deal happened tacitly. The sight of this woman entered my brain as raw data along the optic nerve, but I couldn't actually "see" her until that data passed through my worldview. Imagine a series of filters marked "memory," "beliefs," "associations," and "judgments." Each filter altered the raw data in some way, invisibly and instantaneously.
Should another person with a different worldview encounter the same woman, he would "see" her through his filters. If he happened to be a traditional Muslim male, all the innocuous features that entered my brain--the lipstick, the smell of alcohol, the absence of a hat--might cause a violent reaction in his brain.
When Richard Dawkins coined the term "meme," he was developing a theory of beliefs. As I understand it, memetic theory has proliferated wildly in many directions, and I am convinced by many aspects of what I've read:
1. Beliefs can spread from one mind to another like a virus; they can replicate themselves like genes.
2. Core beliefs enable us to label reality as real; they make invisible what we don't believe in.
3. Beliefs outlive one generation and are passed on to the next.
4. A worldview isn't just a passive filter. It creates personal reality.
5. Each of us creates our own worldview, but we also participate in larger schemes of belief.
These are fairly basic tenets that could be explained without memes. But I like the idea that worldviews come in discrete units, like genes, because these units do seem to have a life of their own.
A "bad" meme like the Swift boat captains' assassination of Senator Kerry or President Bush's use of the pejorative but catchy phrase "flip flopper" feels like a flu virus infecting collective consciousness. You can feel yourself trying to ward it off, resisting the infection successfully or not, seeking a vaccination through "good" memes centered on truth, decency, fair play, etc.
A worldview provides an automatic track for behavior, which is dangerous, unfortunately, much of the time. Traits like racism and war-making persist as automatic reflexes. Anatomically the human nervous system is considered to be divided into two parts: the somatic and autonomic nervous systems. All information in the body that you are conscious of comes from the somatic nervous system; all information that you are unconscious of comes from the autonomic nervous system.
Memes occupy a fascinating middle ground, a shadowland. When you can't get a catchy song out of your head--one classic example of meme behavior--you are totally conscious of the tune but unconscious of why you can't get rid of it.
This is precisely what the Bhagavad-Gita means by the binding effect of karma. You may be completely aware that you have a certain trait, such as being stingy, irritable, easily flattered, or self-important, but you cannot say why that trait, however much you dislike it and however much it hurts you in relationships, sticks to you.
Worldviews don't tell us why our core beliefs are so hard to change, but the behavior of beliefs is there for all to see. Beliefs are:
I won't explicate these traits in detail, but as a meme spreads through society, its success depends on whether it catches people's attention (sticky), binds to other beliefs of the same kind (magnetic), keeps reaching more and more people (proliferating), pushes older interests aside (metastasizing), and so forth.
One group's meme--such as the widespread belief in urban ghettos that Popeye's fried chicken contains a chemical that sterilizes black males--succeeds because it exhibits the traits listed above. Without those traits, the mem simply has no way to enter one's worldview. It seems nonsensical, irrational, and meaningless. In a white fundamentalist church, another meme--that rap music was created by Satan--is equally magnetic and successful.
Each of these behaviors is symbolic of a deep need, and therefore we can say that worldviews, which are models of reality, are built up from symbols of reality that fulfill a need. Take any charming entity in the environment--say, Princess Diana. For her to exist in your mind and persist there longer than a few moments, she must be significant to you. That is, she is a sign for something you recognize, and I would add something you value and desire.
On a very wide scale Princess Diana symbolized beauty, innocence, vulnerability, motherhood, prestige, sexuality, and more. Like all the best symbols, her negative side was also powerfully symbolic. At various stages she represented disability, illness, social liability, addiction, naivet・, wantonness, infidelity, and masochism.
I would go beyond meme theory to say that reality itself is built up from symbols, by which I mean the very world we live in and the events that transpire in it. Symbols carry essence, and the more attention you pay to a symbol, the more essence it acquires. I identify essence with consciousness, vitality, power, permanence, and presence.
I may have reservations about meme theory. By whatever name, however, memes are how we give meaning to experience, and thus are the carriers of spirituality. They serve Maya, the force of manifestation by packaging essence and meaning together into the building block of reality. Insofar as we are creators of realty, we use these symbolic building blocks as our raw material. I find this whole field immensely exciting because among those scientists who cannot stomach the notion of inherent consciousness, the parallel notion of memes is gaining considerable credibility. A gap is closing.
Original article: http://www.intentblog.com/archives/2005/09/memes_part_2_a.html
ｩ Copyright Illuminati News, http://www.illuminati-news.com. Permission to re-send, post and place on web sites for non-commercial purposes, and if shown with no alterations or additions. Excerpts from the article are allowed, as long as they do not distort the concept of the same article. This notice must accompany all reposting.