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Memes and genes in Warsaw, Poland

Memes are like genes. They are passed from one generation to the next. But memes are knowledge, conventions, things we learn, like brush your teeth twice a day, what goes up must come down, say your prayers before you go to bed. Like genes, some memes thrive and flourish, others die out.

For a meme to thrive it needn’t necessarily be true and it needn’t necessarily be useful to people. People are just the carriers for memes. Memes are selfish. So long as the human carrier passes the meme onto others the meme doesn’t care what happens to it. The suicide bombing meme for instance. If the suicide bomber generates plenty of publicity before blowing themselves up, the meme will be spread to others.

I listened to Keith Stanovich on a podcast yesterday who’s written a book about all this called The Robot’s Rebellion. The title comes from a line in Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene, where he says we’re all like robots, programmed by our genes and acting in ways that are in the interests of our genes, but not necessarily in our own interests. He suggests that now, having realized we’re slaves to our genes, we can rebel and start doing things that are in our own interests.

It’s the same with memes. Many memes are not in the interests of their carriers. Possibilities include the religion meme, the make lots of money meme, the don’t question authority meme.

Today the people of Venezuela vote in a referendum on changes to the constitution. It looks like Chavez might lose this one.

The cleaners are making a lot of noise clearing away the breakfast things in the kitchen. Breakfast here, included in the price, is sliced bread and jam. I rebel against that meme and have a yoghurt and a banana. And filter coffee, which they provide.