Monday, March 21, 2005

Minding Your Memes

Have you ever noticed the way different media outlets seem to all get on the same page, even when they are (seemingly) unconnected? I first noticed this in listening to the radio in high school. The songs that came and went would somehow have the same themes like sailing and oceans or shining star/super star, etc. At that time I chalked it up to Jung's collective unconscious. Interestingly, it never occurred to me all those years ago, to ask (seriously ask) just WHY that was? It got filed under WEIRD and that was the end of it.

Now this phenomenon has it’s own name. It’s been called a meme. From

meme n.
A unit of cultural information, such as a cultural practice or idea,
that is transmitted verbally or by repeated action from one mind to another.

[Shortening (modeled on gene), of mimeme from Greek mim ma, something
imitated, from mimeisthai, to imitate. See mimesis.]

An expansion on the idea:

Meme: /meem/ [By analogy with "gene"]
Richard Dawkins's term for an idea considered as a replicator, especially withthe connotation that memes parasitise people into propagating them much as viruses do.
Memes can be considered the unit of cultural evolution. Ideas can evolve in a way analogous to biological evolution. Some ideas survive better than others; ideas can mutate through, for example, misunderstandings; and two ideas can recombine toproduce a new idea involving elements of each parent idea.

The term is used especially in the phrase "meme complex" denoting a group of mutually supporting memes that form an organised belief system, such as a religion. However, "meme" is often misused to mean "meme complex".

Use of the term connotes acceptance of the idea that in humans (and presumably other tool- and language-using sophonts) cultural evolution by selection of adaptive ideas has become more important than biological evolution by selection of hereditary traits. Hackers find this idea congenial fortolerably obvious reasons.

Did you catch that last bit? What if some memes are deliberate? Like computer viruses for subtly hacking the mind? In this light, I’m finding The daVinci Code and its attendant ideas are getting to look a lot like memes. The first clue is of course, it’s staggering popularity. The world view I have today says, "Whatever idea is occupying the attention of the masses is likely diverting it from something way more important, or it is twisting it away from any truth that idea may have originally had." Why are people so taken with this book, to the point where some heavy hitters from the Catholic church are getting involved to counter it?

Secondly, there are supporting ideas coming out in the most unlikely places. One of the organizations mentioned in dVC is called the Priory of Sion, and a place called Renne-le-Chateau. These are already fabled for holding "esoteric secrets" and have spawned a cottage industry of their own., but they weren’t very well known outside of the "esoteric fringe". The da Vince Code has brought them into the main stream. Why is that?

But this is what really got my attention. One of my guilty pleasures is science fiction and fantasy TV. I loved Star Trek, Outer Limits, Twilight Zone and X-files, all the superhero shows, and the rest. Even, so help me, the original Lost in Space (I was really young, OK???). There are a couple good ones running on cable right now. Imagine my surprise when in the middle of a story arc that was seemingly divorced from any sort of current esoteric fad, up pops a reference to "Sauniere manuscripts", Renne-le-Chateau and "the Priory". This time though, I’m asking, "what’s up with that?"

The Grail Series has a lot of good information on the Priory of Sion and Renne-le-Chateau. Enjoy checking it out.

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