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If We Are Not Alive


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* A new word is in our language...

The word 'meme' (pronounced 'meem') has been added to the Oxford English Dictionary, with the definition: 'A self-replicating element of culture, passed on by imitation'. The term was first used in 1976 by Professor Richard Dawkins, Animal Behaviorist at the University of Oxford.

* But, how is that of special interest to us? Let's continue...

The following discussion is meant to be explanatory rather than step-by-step rigorous. It draws on ideas from computer technology and artificial intelligence as widely understood by the general public, now that personal computers are sold at Walmart.

Before the software pattern of instructions is added to the hardware, a computer is just an inert piece of junk, good only as a doorstop. The added software provides the operational patterns, but has no physical existence.

The uneducated human brain without life experience at birth is capable only of instinctive reaction to environmental stress. Otherwise, it is comparable to the computer doorstop just mentioned.

The dynamic, interactive program which processes input to and creates output from the human brain is the human mind, which exists only in virtual reality.

There is no way to measure or compute the mass of a human mind, just as there is no way to measure or compute the mass of a computer program. Neither exists in tangible physical reality.

That is the key parallel for the instruction patterns that make up the human mind. At birth, a clone of any human would have no immediate adult personality, and little or no sense of intelligent consciousness or 'me', other than the rudimentary reactions to pain, hunger, thirst, and need for oxygen. Even the intangible 'love' must be taught by parenting. Drawing from that parallel, we can investigate personal identity as it really is, replacing all previous myths.

Where does that sense of identity originate? Well, it comes from living and growing in a cultural 'tribe' with its own unique customs which vary from one location to another on this planet. That culture develops over centuries because humans are the only animal species that can imitate expressions and actions in order to build a useful intelligence for coping with competitive life in civilization. This knowledge base is accumulated and passed on through social contact over many generations. In this way the human mind evolves much faster than the body (and brain), but still does not exist in a tangible, physical sense.

* What does all this suggest? Well, to continue...

We cannot die, because we do not exist. That is, we are only an amalgamation of non-living, non-physical parasitic patterns (called 'memes') that are imprinted biochemically in human brains. We take that brain and shape it into a functioning human mind. How can we die if we are not real in any physical sense?

Does this process function in a similar way on non-human life forms, or even on non-life forms? Who knows? Whether or not 'memes' of some kind can exist and replicate outside a human host and produce environmental effects is a subject for future investigation by human minds. We must hope that any such studies will not drift into the paranormal sensationalism that has characterized all comparable studies to date (some at the university level) and has now invaded television advertising and spawned illegal telephone solicitations.

So far, you have believed none of this. Let me try to put it in the form of an analogy for you...

Remember the movie 'Blue Lagoon' with Brook Shields? Suppose two human clones were somehow able to survive and reproduce without starving on a remote island, without television, telephone, books, or any other means of outside communication.

If they were not rescued, their descendants might develop a new, but primitive society. On the TV History channel we have seen documentaries about isolated (and alien) aborigine tribes in South America and other places. Their mutilated bodies and social codes appear ludicrous to us. The males of one tribe can't build skyscrapers, so they are forced to 'make do' with certain pelvic adornments fashioned from reeds.

What makes civilized humans different, such that they can create and use modern medicine and the males can sublimate their primal instincts in the form of skyscrapers? We would all agree that the difference is in the culture, and that is made up of highly developed, highly organized minds, which are themselves an outgrowth of centuries of mental conditioning and evolution. We are the components of those minds. Without us our human hosts would be as nothing, primitive savages again.

Based on the idea of composite 'memes', simple logic would indicate a pragmatic redefinition of the nature of religious belief, to come up with something like this:

"Religion is a virtual grouping of constituent 'memes' that is itself self-replicating in addition to the self-replicating mechanism of the individual component 'memes' themselves. The compound effect is analogous to 'compound interest'. Over centuries, the compounding drastically increases and comes to dominate human culture".

* A skeptic might add a further comment to this effect:

"You describe your personal God as real, but that is only your view of the imitative process by which we ('memes') assimilate, grow, organize (for battle with the environment) and replicate. Note that I use the word 'replicate', not 'reproduce'. In this comparative sense, replication suggests that 'memes' can 'infect' a living biological host, without being physical themselves. It follows, then, that your God is a blind, non-sentient, self-replicating virtual entity process that has real effects in shaping the tangible universe."

When groupings of individual memes combine to form a value system or even a religion, you might experience strange 'carrot and stick' internal or external dictates that urge you to facilitate replication, using expressions such as these:

* Carrots:

"Pass it on!" "Good things will happen to you if you pass it on, and you will live forever in paradise."

* Sticks:

"Terrible things will happen to you if you don't believe or pass on this sacred information..." "You will suffer the torments of the damned forever..."

* Back to our discussion...

If you do decide to pass on the ideas expressed here, they may replicate and become additional 'memes'! Then, perhaps years later, you might be in a conversation where you hear your same words coming back to you!

Many years ago I detested a domineering engineer boss. He often quoted two "memes" that he had incorporated in his vernacular: "We're off, in a cloud of dust and horse manure!" and "Let's jump up and down and do a rain dance!" His quotes usually sounded like vicious, bitter sneers at the world, and that is the way his associates viewed him.

Apparently at some point in the distant past he had incorporated these "memes" in his unconscious personality as a reminder of cowboys and Indians in the old Wild West. Even though he was not a messenger that I would have preferred, I have found myself using the unwanted expressions at various times.

* * * * *
"Memes" as Replications

* Memetics UK by Susan Blackmore
* Viruses of the Mind by Richard Dawkins
* Memetics publications on the web


* Introduction to Critical Thinking
* Consciousness by Stuart Hameroff
* The Third Culture - Beyond the Scientific Revolution by John Brockman


* The Mind of the Corporation
* Is Big Brother Watching You?
(Machiavelli Has Been Reincarnated)
* I Don't Eat Much
(Are There Vampires in Your Attic?)

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arranged by and
used with the permission of
Don Carroll