Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Meaning Is In the Memes

The Simple Explanation states that a huge part of our personalities is shaped by the memes we hold dear as well as the memes we hate.
The memes you cling to (sanskara), both the ones you like and ones you don't like, influence your ability to exercise your free will in the here and now. When you unthinkingly lock onto a meme or set of memes, it is your belief in the memes that determines how you will interpret your surroundings and how you will respond. Your response may or may not be the best response to a situation, but it is the only one your set of memes allows.

We see this phenomenon at play every day. For example, a person (person A) whose meme bundle includes a belief that others are "out to get me" will interpret events in a manner that reinforces that meme. The most innocent statements on another's part (person B) will activate person A's "out to get me" meme, even when no such insult was intended. Person A's ego is hurt by their own meme, not by person B.

Another example of delimiting memes occurs during problem-solving. The more tightly held one's memes are, the fewer solutions will present themselves. The ability to consider solutions "outside the box" and to engage in "lateral thinking" comes about through nonattachment to the "shoulds" and "oughts" of how things work. One must be willing to set aside treasured beliefs in order to perceive memes outside one's own bundle and thereby discover fresh solutions.

I realized the other day that each and every cultural institution we belong to (family, workplace, church, mosque, tribe, nation, etc.) not only comes with its own bundle of shared memes held in common by its members, it also comes with a filter that prevents members from acknowledging or adopting incompatible memes. Memes are even more important to an institution than its members in the sense that members come and go, but memes persist.

Institutions are defined as much by their excluded memes as they are by their included memes. An exclusive institution holds tightly to the indentity provided by its memes; its border is strong and its filter powerful. An inclusive institution allows members more latitude in the memes they may hold; its border is less defined; its filter less opaque. An "open-minded" institution acknowledges the fact that there are memes out there in the greater culture that may have value, and is willing to consider new memes; its border is permeable and its filter thin.

A goal of the Simple Explanation is to demonstrate the simple commonality of the reality underlying the panoply of memes. Not just the religious memes; not just the spiritual memes; but the "rational" and "scientific" memes, too.