Sunday, March 2, 2008

What is Life? - Memes

Susan Blackmore, psychologist and student of consciousness

Blackmore presented and clarified some ideas that were new to me – the concept of memes as another structural level on which evolution can take place, just like species. She distilled Darwin down to the simple of idea that if you have creatures that vary, if there is a struggle for life such that almost all die, and if the few that survive pass on characteristics, then those descendents are better suited to the environment. This constitutes an algorithm for evolution. Blackmore’s point is that with variation, selection, heredity you must get evolution – you don’t need a designer, it just happens.
Blackmore stated that this applies to memes just as it does to genes. Memes are cultural information, such as ideas, habits, songs, or even fashions, that get transmitted verbally or by repeated action from one mind to another. Memes are replicators just as genes are. Blackmore characterized TED as a meme-fest!
Just as genes can treat organisms as simple tools for their own survival and evolution, so can memes. While other species are just gene machines, humans are also meme machines. I must confess this was my first in-depth thought about memes, despite having heard the word. Blackmore’s presentation definitely prompted me to put more reading on memes on my list.
She then went on to propose the existence of a third replicator – the technomeme, or teme. Whew – just starting to understand memes and now got to go my head around temes.

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