“A meme is a unit of information in a mind whose existence influences events such that more copies of itself get created in other minds.” (p. 11)
Okay so let’s break this down. What I take from this is that a meme is an idea, concept, or snippet of information that is catchy – it latches onto the mind of someone and that someone does something to spread the information (wears a new fashion, hums a tune, “shares” a website link on Facebook, says a catch-phrase, joins a cult, etc.). The idea, concept, etc. gets replicated like a virus and latches on to hundreds, thousands, millions of other minds and influences their thoughts and actions.
Memes related to democracy and human rights are an excellent example of the infectious nature of memes; these concepts are playing out in both the Middle East and in our own country’s state of Wisconsin. These ideas have created movements that spread like a virus and continue to influence thoughts and actions around the world.
Another way of looking at this is that a meme is to our mind what a gene is to our physical bodies. The strongest genes are replicated and contribute to the evolution of the human body – survival of the fittest, right? Memes function similarly – the strong memes are replicated and spread all across the planet. Yet, unlike the gene, the evolution of the meme can be instantaneous with new ideas spreading the globe in mere seconds thanks to technologies such as You Tube, Facebook, Twitter, and old timey television and print media.
Brodie introduces memetics – the science of the meme – as a scientific model. It is important to mention that he does not see memetics as the Only Way to view the mind. He emphasizes that this model is not The Truth, but rather a way to look at and understand the mind. He says that memetics is “…looking at ideas – memes – as distinct entities in competition for a share of your mind and share of everyone else’s” (p. 12).
Memes do not need to be inherently “good” or “bad” in order to replicate. Merely they need to push one of our buttons that triggers or influences subsequent thoughts and actions. Big triggers are familiar and very strong for us: fear, survival, power, sex, love. Think about advertising – buying that big truck is going to get you that sexy girl who is advertising said truck, right? Advertising pros know how to harness the power of the meme, even though they may not know the science of it all. They just know what works to influence customer behavior.
Brodie discusses how a “good” meme is really simply “…an idea or belief that spreads easily throughout the population” (p. 15). A good or successful meme does NOT mean that it is necessarily a “good” idea. A final quote in this chapter really nails it:
“The most interesting thing about memes is not whether they’re true or false; it’s that they are the building blocks of your mind” (p. 16).
The rapid rate of mind evolution is what makes the science of the meme so fascinating. If it is true that memes are the building blocks of our mind AND they are what influence the evolution of the mind AND the strongest memes survive and spread most virulently, doesn’t it make sense that we become conscious of and conscientious about the type of memes we allow our mind to take on AND the memes that we send out to the rest of the world? For me, the answer is a resounding YES! Brodie asserts,
“When those ideas [memes] are harmful ones and they become part of an infectious mind virus, understanding this model can show you how to combat the infection.” (p. 12)
It is this Virus of the Mind that undergirds the plea and premise of this book – to become aware of the memes “infecting” our minds so that we can make more conscious, informed and proactive choices about how we want to play in this life. Thus, the study of memetics – the science of the meme – would be a step forward to increased awareness and consciousness of what is running our mind and ultimately our lives.
What is running my life? Am I really that conscious of the thoughts and beliefs that form my decision-making every moment? Heck no – this thinking about my thinking is really hard work! I must say, however, that now when I am making especially thorny or potentially high-cost decisions, I run a filter and ask myself these questions: What core thought is influencing my decision about this? Is this core thought helping me or hurting me? My goal is to keep these questions going until they are so natural that I no longer have to consciously bring them up to the forefront. I want my meme awareness to be as automatic as driving a car.