A Non-Dualist Exploration of Genes, Memes and Evolution

memes genes and evolution

The goal of this article is to introduce the idea that memes are to genes what consciousness is to the brain. The premises I use to get there fly in the face of mainstream knowledge, but my conclusions lead to practical advice for taking control of the destinies of the individual and humanity at large.

The materialist/physicalist model of the mind states that consciousness is just a pragmatic byproduct of the complexity of our brains; that it is an illusion used to facilitate the evolutionary fitness of individuals and species, which are themselves just inconsequential vessels for the survival of genes. Not only do I find these models of consciousness and evolution to be irrational, I find them to be cynical, defeatist and self-loathing. And they are also becoming obsolete as innovative new models challenge their ideological supremacy.

Independent philosopher (my favorite kind) Bernardo Kastrup has been working within the non-dualist paradigm to illustrate a new model of the brain and consciousness that does not stumble on materialist metaphysical dogmas. His general premise is that the substance of reality is primarily consciousness and that matter is a narrative device to give form to thoughts. Where mainstream science sees the brain as an engine driving our minds and bodies, Bernardo sees it more as a speedometer. The brain, in his parlance, is the second person perspective of consciousness, a phenomena which can only really be experienced internally by the individual. Therefore when neurologists see the brain reacting to external stimuli, they are viewing conscious processes from an outsider perspective in the limited context of their own beliefs about brains/minds. Here is a short excerpt explaining this in his own words:

The elegance of this view is that it dispenses entirely with the need to postulate anything other than the obvious: consciousness itself. We do not need to postulate a whole material universe outside consciousness anymore. Empirical reality is merely the outside image – the external aspect – of the mental activity of a cosmic consciousness, while body-brains are merely the outside image of dissociated segments of this cosmic consciousness. And what is a body-brain but something we can see, touch, measure; something with the qualities of experience? Indeed, the empirical world is the experience, by an alter, of the rest of the stream of consciousness outside the alter. It is dissociation that creates the duality between internal and external aspects. But this duality does not imply or require anything outside experience: the external aspects are themselves experiences; experiences of alters. As explained in Chapter 9 of Brief Peeks Beyond, ‘everything that currently motivates us to believe in a world outside consciousness can and will be understood as the effects of mental processes outside our particular alter, which we witness from a second-person perspective.’

Now hold on to that thought.

In his book Virus of the Mind, Richard Brodie takes a philosophical look at the science of memetics. That discipline is primarily concerned with understand the phenomena of memes, which Brodie describes as:

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.

A meme, then, is a genetic unit of an mental entity that reproduces using the evolutionary strategies of viruses. The book and its ideas are brilliant, which is why it became such a critical and commercial success. I found the book enlightening throughout, with the exception of his insistence in the natural selection model of evolution. I think that my intelligent selection model actually works much better to pull the front and back ends of his book together, since what he is essentially proposing is that our observable reality is a construct of the symbols and archetypes we use to filter reality via our individual consciousness. A process which essentially creates our personal subjective realities and contributes to the illusion of an objective consensus reality where they overlap.

Essentially, he proposes that memes are the genes of consciousness, and that memetic therapy can be used to cure any malware of the mind caused by malignant, self-replicating memes that threaten the fitness of individuals and species.

When we think of genes, we think of tiny little instruction manuals that tell organisms how to form and behave. This is the materialist/physicalist model. Genes give rise to individual organisms and species in the same way that brains supposedly generate our minds. But how should we approach genes in a non-dualist model of consciousness and reality?

Earlier we explored the idea that brains were just second person perceptions of the first person experience of consciousness. Rather than the engine, the brain was an instrument panel showing the activities of an individuals consciousness. What then if we were to similarly view genes as the second person perspective of the first person experience of memes?

In this model, instead of saying that a gene caused you to have green eyes and red hair, those traits are a part of your memetic structure. A person’s genes are just physical manifestations of the memetic components of that individuals consciousness. In other words, a gene is a thumbnail image of the symbols and archetypes that you are made of. Your physical self is the image that those thumbnails represent, yet you are not the image of you. You are the thinking, feeling and creative being who can only be experienced by other thinking, feeling and creative beings in the form of the image constructed of ideas about you. Those ideas are memes.

If a meme acts like a virus, then it has two possible outcomes. It replicates itself as wholly as possible in as many hosts as possible -or- it makes innovative copies of itself that sometimes improve the fitness of itself and its host, and sometimes make it non-viable. Learning to recognize what a memes most likely outcome is, we can make conscious efforts to resist the kinds of viable memes that have no innovative qualities, and thus no benefit to their host. If we look at evolution as the march of memes through time, and we are able filter out malignant memes and accept, share and create useful ones, then we have the capability of shaping the evolution of ourselves, our species and our reality.

At the same time, memes also present an existential risk. Toxic memes can create a viral epidemic that harms our species and environment. Our culture has adopted memes that take the form of macro images and macro slogans. These meta-memes make us susceptible to absorbing and spreading memetic information compulsively without examining its properties and consequences. What we generally call a ‘meme‘ on the internet is sort of a virus that makes us consume and spread memes voraciously without any awareness. It invites the sort of apathy that turns memes from a useful tool for willfully evolving, into viruses with no other goal than to make their hosts just as blissfully ignorant of their own existence as they are.

Memes can either infect us with intellectual zombi-ism or pave a path to the stairway to heaven. The distinction will be a result of our ability to recognize them and utilize them consciously. Our pattern for validating and reinforcing the compulsive uses of memes and meta-memes is a frightening harbinger. Yet the power of memes means that beneficial memes like this article and its concepts are able to stem that tide and put us in the cockpit of our own evolutionary destiny.

The Problem of Predeterminism

From Wikipedia ‘Predeterminism’:

“Predeterminism is the idea that all events are determined in advance. Predeterminism is the philosophy that all events of history, past, present and future, have been already decided or are already known (by God, fate, or some other force), including human actions.”

The question of predeterminism is a very old one, prevalent throughout the history of philosophy, religion and science. In a general sense, the opposite of predeterminism is ‘free will’, which is the idea that individuals are capable of determining future events and making choices of their own agency and accord.

Through Catholicism the prevalent thinking in the western world was that man was given free will to exercise in all matters, whether or not they chose to exercise it. The Protestant movement through Calvin and other theologians marked the widespread rejection of free will and the advancement of predeterminist notions.

This thinking has been extended in the modern western world to even the secular worldviews in the forms of naturalism, physicalism, materialism and others. This is not the only example of Protestant beliefs creeping their way into secularism and science. For instance, the Big Bang is a repetition of the philosophy that the universe is mechanistic, linear, causal and has a finite beginning and end. For this reason, the Big Bang was rejected by scientists at the time of its inception for being too similar to Judeo-Christian theological notions. It was, in fact, a man of the clothe who originated the idea.

Scientistic materialism continues to rehash predeterministic notions even to this day. The fields of genetic biology and neurology are ripe with the idea that our every thought, perception, reaction and decision have been determined by forces independent of human consciousness itself. This thinking extends itself to the idea that human consciousness itself is nothing more than a circumstantial byproduct of material substances which were themselves the result of another coincidence, ad infinitum.

However, both the religious and scientific claims of predeterminism carry self refuting statements. For the religious, determinism endangers both the doctrines of faith and acts, for which all religions depend upon one or the other.

In science, determinism violates logical principles, the same logical principles that uphold the veracity of the scientific method. It is of little wonder that the adherents of determinism in either science or religion tend to be the most literal minded fanatics whose truths are often accompanied by hypocrisy. Predeterminsim is a toxic foundation for any ideology or worldview because of its inherent inconsistency, as we shall soon see.

The problem with predeterminism is that it is self-refuting. Whatever basis is used to make a claim of predeterminism would itself be rendered invalid by predeterminism. Predeterminism would become the cause of the claim itself. Let me be more specific.

In religion, faith and/or acts form the basis for salvation. Yet we must choose to act or have faith. This choice determines our eternal fate. However, if our lives are already written and known by a divine force prior to the creation of the universe, even our faith is predetermined and we are able to make no choices of our own agency or accord, even those of faith or deeds. This eliminates the entire purpose of religion, unless, we were to suppose that a God of infinite love and wisdom created the majority of people for no reason other than to experience eternal suffering or agony. I cannot take the suggestion of such an omnipotent sadistic force very seriously.

Scientifically, predeterminism is self-refuting in the following way. If our genetic and neurological patterns produce a consciousness determined by biology, than any claim to predeterminism would be said to originate from biology, and therefore it cannot be claimed that predeterminism has logical or empirical causation. If you say that our thoughts are caused by our physical bodies, then you cannot claim that the thought that predeterminism is correct is caused by anything except the same biology. Logic and empiricism are removed as factors by the necessities of predeterminism.

Simply put, if you believe that everything is predetermined, so is your belief. You can no longer claim that belief has a basis in rationale or faith. Predeterminism erodes faith and rationality equally alike. The fundamentalism of religion and materialism are products of the incongruency intrinsic to predeterminism. While both groups, the religious and the scientistic materialists, make radical claims that the other side is responsible for all that ails humanity; they may do much better to focus on their common problem, on that which they are both wrong. The problem of the world is not religion nor science, but the idea that our choices and agency are limited or do not exist, so that all the problems of the world become somebody else’s fault. We are crippled by the blindness and repetition allowed by a species who does not believe that individual responsibility or accountability are amongst the most meaningful values.