Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Of memes and consciousness

A theory of memeplex and self

According to Susan Blackmore, the world is full of memes ; replicating elements of information that exist in a myriad of forms and whose sole purpose is simply to be. They can persist as single entities, but often conglomerate and coalesce with other “similar” memes propagating synergistically through time. They can be basic entities such as an idea, saying, and fad or can organize into whole societal systems such as religious faiths and government structures.

The conceptual origin of the meme has roots in Richard Dawkins 1976 book, “The Selfish Gene” where he introduces the gene (a particular version of the gene still debated today) as the primordial replicator. Here the replication of information is the sum total goal and in the larger scheme these replications occurred sometimes with variations and pressures that essentially come to describe a kind of universal evolution. That is, anything that had the capacity to persist; to replicate, acted like the Dawkins gene concept and opened the door to evolutionary pressures.

In essence, this is what Blackmore calls the meme constructing an intriguing theory that argues our very “self”; the “I” in me, are basically a vast group of collaborating memes; a memeplex or “selfplex” if you will, that ultimately creates the illusion of self. Blackmore notes Related memes tent to form mutually supportive meme-complexes such as religions, political ideologies, scientific theories, and new Age dogmas. Some of these may be hugely hugely beneficial to human society, but others are pernicious because they infect people and demand their resources in spite of being false.” She adds The most powerful and insidious of all memeplexes is, I shall argue, your own self.”

According to this theory, the selfplex is the origin of the illusion of human consciousness and free will. These are illusions, myths of the memes within the context of the human mind- a human meme machine capable of allowing the flowering of ever more complex memes to succeed by replicating.

The brain works in such a way that a series of regions, mechanisms, and interactions create an experience of self. There is no central depository, or neural eminence that is the self. The package of memes work “together” using the human brains unique ability to imitate and speak (language) to create a flourishing environment that produces an effect- human consciousness. Blackmore goes on to say that The implications of consciousness are this. The whole problem of consciousness stems from making a distinction between the world that is perceived and the self who is perceiving it, but if this self is just a myth, then this distinction must be false” She later adds “Our consciousness is the way it is because of the success of the memes that make up the selfplex.” With the ever more interactive and complex growth of human society comes more complicated meme interactions and further opportunity for them to replicate and persist.

This is an interesting concept and may carry the seeds for an ultimate understanding of the self . Even one of the interesting arguments against this theory discussed by Mary Midgley seems to perhaps misunderstand its intent and describe a false impression that there is a distinction between her idea of reductionalism and qualitative concepts such as the study of behavior.

Overall the meme theory will need to fit into the realm that describes a sense of self. According to Rita Carter (Exploring Consciousness) these are first, a boundary in space- an elastic one which may incorporate things and people beyond our body, but one that is firm enough to provide a point of view and thus “ownership: “ of our individual slice of consciousness. Second, a sense of agency, such that our acts seem to be signatures of some entity distinct from mere physical processes, and finally a sense of unity and continuity that allows us to create an autobiography.”

It seems that this intriguing concept of the selfplex might hold promising gems in the continuing effort to expand our knowledge of how consciousness emerges and could provide another toe hold in the deepening quest to understand the “self”.

1 comment:

MT said...

The self is "insidious," sure, and just as obviously it's "powerful," if you choose to rate it as a framework. That doesn't mean it's bad or even benighted to embrace the concept in a death grip. There must be dozens of morality tales in which resolving to always tell the truth or some other selflessness brings grief to everybody. The remark is so vacuously tendentious that I have to wonder if Blackmore has a case to make at all, besides that she can sound deep.