Monday, 15 September 2014

Away To A Fabulous Land


By Luke Kristopher Davis


If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants. - Isaac Newton 

The Joy Of Science


   Humans are a small element in the subset of all the life on earth and this subset may even be still an even smaller element in the set of all life in the known universe. We are here by chance: there existed the chance for the basic atoms of matter to form complex compounds and for these to form even more complicated material structures which somehow formed the building blocks of DNA. The fact that over thousands of millions of years of evolution have produced a life form, us, which can decipher the patterns in the world and form an understanding of them is extraordinary. It is as if the universe is contemplating itself through our brains, how odd and mysterious this is! 

   To question and inquire the workings of the universe is an absolutely joyful experience. What grander quest exists than to understand the universe? To use the language of mathematics and the imagination of the human brain to describe events in the world is fun! The ingenuity of some species of organisms to deal with environmental selection pressures stretches the mind. The fact that we can describe a lot of what goes on in the universe with the basic equations and ideas of quantum mechanics is stifling! With a few elementary equations we gain a huge insight into the universe, this means that the universe that surrounds us and is us, is an elegantly and beautifully constructed system. 

   With science we can create technologies which allow us to talk to friends from all over the world, science enables us to travel around the world in the first place ! We can build monumental structures with the basic notions of mechanics, aerodynamics and metallurgy. We can conjure up bio-mechanical limbs which in some cases work better than our own evolved limbs! 

   What has separated us from the middle ages is science. Modern society is nothing without it. The only way we can make considerable progress in the advancement of knowledge, our happiness and health is with science. All other areas of study are dwarfed by sciences ability to thrust mankind into a new land of understanding.

   I cannot understand how doing anything else in ones life could be that exciting, mesmerizing or humbling than doing science or mathematics.

The Fabulous Land

   To train oneself, or if one is lucky enough to have a huge genetic disposition, to become aware of the patterns that live in the many layers of our world reveals the fabulous land. The fabulous land can be thought of as the mechanical cogs behind a majestic clock. Instead of only seeing the face of the clock and its decoration and so forth we must wonder what the clock is and how it works. We then open up the clock, without destroying it, with some clever tricks (mathematics) and we witness a whole new layer... the workings of the cogs. This analogy has its limits as it assumes the workings of the universe to be deterministic which at some layers it can be but at many layers of reality events occur in a probabilistic fashion. The point, I hope, is made clear.

  I think trying to tease out the patterns in our world assumes the validity of the claim that the whole natural world consists of layers of interacting patterns. This claim can never be shown to be absolutely true as it is a claim about the world, its validity depends entirely on the empirical success of the methods of inquiry which assume it. Through the success of science it is quite reasonable to assume that every event in the known universe is part of some pattern or other. With this assumption we are confidently able to look at new phenomena or mysteries in a completely scientific fashion.

  As one develops his/hers pattern recognition skills and knowledge of already existing patterns one discovers more of this fabulous land. It is easy to become lost in this land and to forget about the face of the clock (returning to the analogy). We must always try to bring what we find in the fabulous land back to normal reality and explain it in terms applicable to the everyday world in which we see and others see. Otherwise we lose the wonder and beauty that attracted us to the fabulous land in the first place, we also have an obligation to share what we find with the rest of humanity so that they benefit materially or intellectually from it. 





Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Neurology and Yahweh

by Michael Kenning

The Brain of Wonderful Tricks

The stimulation or destruction of any part of the brain affects its corresponding physical or mental behaviour. A damaged hippocampus impairs memory. Stimulating the amygdala elicits violent behaviour. A shrunken frontal lobe produces anti-social behaviour (as was the case with a patient called ‘J.P.’). Gradually we are are uncovering the neural correlates1 of our behaviour, but how these neural networks produce emotion, thought, experience, memory, the experience of ‘qualia’, such as colours, emotions, sound, smell, and how they are produced, has eluded scientists and philosophers alike.2

Being the natural dualists we are (see The Self Illusion), it is not immediately obvious that the moments in which we feel most out-of-body, or weightless, or one-with-nature, are grounded in matter. Doubtless the majority of people have felt at least once the feeling of weightlessness, or bodilessness (for lack of a better word).


This feeling has been experimented with in one case: A forty-three-year-old suffering from severe epileptic seizures had her right angular gyrus of the temporal lobe stimulated through electric shocks. The scientists conducting this study were able to control the height she reported being above the bed using different levels of electricity (Blanke et al, 2002 cited in The Believing Brain). These are experiences we have in which we feel most separate from our body, and yet they are still rooted in electrochemical activity.

These apparently bodiless experiences are what make many religious experiences. In 2001, Michael Persigner published an article in the Practice and Opinion section of The Journal of Neuropsychiatry to account for the paranormal experiences. He first noted that ‘patients who display complex partial seizures with foci within the temporal lobes … report more frequent paranormal experiences has been known for decades’, and that ‘[p]aranormal beliefs and paranormal experiences are related.’3 Furthermore, 15 years previous to the study, Persigner noticed that ‘specific complex magnetic fields’ over the right hemisphere made participants, who were unaware of the experiments purpose, experience a ‘sensed presence’ or ‘sentient being’.

Other cases described included a couple who felt ‘an apparition moving through their bed’, and a female adolescent experiencing a presence ‘stimulate her inner vagina and uterus, and sensed the outline of a baby over her left shoulder.’ While the researchers found possible neurological reasons for the experience, the girl’s ‘religious context resulted in a different interpretation’ on her part. Electromagnetic readings in the locations of these experiences revealed ‘repeated transient of complex magnetic fields’ similar to those use to induce a sensed presence in the laboratory.

Experiences like these are in the extremes. There are the more subtle emotions that make us feel just as bodiless. Love is one of these emotions. Oxytocin is considered to be the neurotransmitter most frequently associated with forming personal and social bonds. It’s released by mothers when holding their children, during orgasms, and in the final stages of childbirth (Carter, R., 2010, p. 124).

Setting the Schism

Accounting for the most extreme of human experiences in neurological terms will not satisfy the argument—and it’s not the primary aim of this post either. This is the salient point, though: Dualism4 is dead, but there are still philosophers grasping onto it in the name of ‘monism’5.

‘Non-reductive monism’, better termed ‘property dualism’ (because it is a dualism), states that there are two kinds of ‘properties’: the mental and the physical. Here’s how K. T. Maslin describes it:
[Non-reductive monism do] not insist that mental properties are nothing over and above physical properties. On the contrary, it is willing to allow that mental properties are different in kind from physical properties … 
[P]roperty dualism dispenses with the dualism of substances … 
There are only physical substances and physical events, hence it is a form of monism. [T]here is a one-sided dependence of the mental on the physical … (An Intro. to The Philosophy of Mind, p. 153)
If this ‘mental property’ is in the physical realm, as Maslin stated, then this means we are able to test for it … right?
I think it would be true to say that we have a strong, overwhelming intuition that there is a fixed gulf between the material and the mental, which not only forever prohibits their identification, but in addition renders an account of how one gives rise to the other out of the question. (ibid., p. 168)
He’s right—up until the second comma. There is a strong intuition to believe in this ‘fixed gulf’, but that’s as far as you can reasonably go.6 I myself freely admit that I sometimes fall into the trap of the appeal to intuition. But it is hardly surprising that we cannot conceive of a ‘bridge’ between the ‘gap’ when we have the small island of evidence we have now. What seems intuitive to us isn’t necessarily the right thought process, and it might not lead us anywhere new. Take Darwin’s scepticism—albeit more sensible—about the evolution of the eye:
To suppose that the eye, with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest possible degree.
The tendency to posit a completely new substance (yes, it is a non-physical substance)—one we do not have and cannot know we have—is all too unoriginal. Giving problems names does nothing to describe them, either.

This philosophical theory places you on both sites of the proverbial fence.7 Is Maslin a dualist or a monist? Yes. But what he does admit, and what he must admit, as well as those who agree with him, is that the ‘mental properties’ are completely dependent upon the ‘physical properties’. Any diversion on his part would be inconsistent with his theory, because it would be to immediately assume that these ‘mental properties’ can assume an independent existent. (He already eschewed Cartesian dualism, after all.)

With this in mind, we are left with dualism versus monism: our human experiences are  either believed to be products of physical reality, or exogenous.

Yahweh’s Soul

The case for a physical explanation behind consciousness has been presented. Now the implications of such beliefs must be explained. Nick Lane, in Life Ascending, argues that ‘feelings are entailed by patterns of neural firing, by a very precise code.’ If this is true, or some such similar case is true, then there is no conceivable way that emotions, thoughts, ideas, words, etc., could be produced without a brain.

By contrast, dualism would leave us to a completely different conclusion. If the ‘soul’ is an incorporeal thing, capable of leading an independent existence, then it is also the case that emotions, thoughts, ideas, words, etc., are all capable of being existent, independent of the brain, or ‘patterns of neural firing’. 

It would therefore be logical to assume that any incorporeal being would be able to host emotions, thoughts, ideas, words, etc., without requiring a brain. This reasoning also applies in the opposing direction. If one believes that an incorporeal being can hold emotions, thoughts, ideas, words, etc., then you must—must!—believe that emotions can exist independent of neural nets and the brain, or any similar physical structure.

This would make sense for any theist or deist. How many times have you heard the phrase ‘God is Love’, or ‘God loves his children’. What about Genesis 1:31? ‘God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.’ It’s present in the Qur’an, too: ‘If you should love Allah, then follow me, [so] Allah will love you and forgive you your sins. And Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.’

The Olympian Gods in all their myths (which, so far as I have read, are wonderful) feel some set of emotions or another. They are portrayed as infallible as human beings, as susceptible as we are to the vagaries of the human condition; they embody the highest of intellectual virtues, or superhuman strength. In every theistic and deistic world religion, the gods have been bestowed with some collection of mental power whilst being entirely ethereal.

These are what must be admitted if you are a dualist—and it isn’t hard to do so. If you are a monist, however, it is not logically possible to also believe in gods.

There’s the dilemma: if you’re a monist, you can’t logically believe in any immaterial gods; if you’re a dualist, it's a little easier, but you still have a long way to go to prove your case.

Neurology Without The Tools—Or Eyes
‘You sadden me, Mrs Sauskind. I wish I could find it in my heart to tell you that I find your scepticism rewarding and invigorating, but with the best will in the world I cannot. I drink quiet, Mrs Sauskind, drained. I think you'll find an item in the build to that effect. Let me see. … Ah yes, here we are, “Struggling on in the face of draining scepticism from client, drinks—three hundred and twenty-seven pounds fifty.” Would that I did not have to make such charges, my dear Mrs Sauskind, would that the occasion did not continually arise. Not believing in my methods only makes my job more difficult, mrs, and hence, regrettably, more expensive.’ —Dirk Gently in Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency

There will be more objections to my argument than there has been ink spilt over the Trinity. Many will be vacant: others will be thought-provoking. But few will overcome the dilemma. However terse it may be, it doesn’t take away from the thrust of the argument.

The ‘theories’ of many charlatans and pseudo-scientists, examples being Deepak Chopra and Graham Hancock, work from the platform of ignorance. We know so little about the brain, and in particular about consciousness, and people like these claim that they know more; and what’s more that we cannot verify what they to know exclusively without first believing what they say.

An objection I can think of off the top of my head would be something like this: Well, what if there is a god, or gods, and it is/they are ‘physical’? How big would you want the god to be? The bigger it is, the slower the neural activity, the slower it would think. You could make it small; but how many neural nets could you fit into that?

There is an experiment that may, if successful, yield some interesting results. If there is any human behaviour that cannot be correlated with any neural activity in the brain or body, and has been tested and repeated numerous times under controlled conditions, only then might I consider that there might be a distinct ‘thing’ from physical matter, and only then might the religious and charlatans be vindicated.

Endnotes

1 Neural correlates are the neural nets in the brain which correspond to a particular behaviour, whether it’s mental or physical. For instance, there is an area of the brain called the primary motor area; if certain parts are stimulated with electricity, you can manipulate its corresponding body parts. And vice versa, moving your arms and legs will cause the associated areas in the primary motor area to ‘light up’.

2 In Nick Lane’s Life Ascending, Daniel Dennett is accused of begging the question in the last chapter on qualia in Consciousness Explained when he asked (and I paraphrase), why is it that electrochemical happenings in the brain can’t produce qualia? What is not realised is that he asked this question after citing multitudes of philosophers who have become absolutely certain that they cannot be explained using the vast, complex networks of neurones—without giving a reason other than intuition, by the way; even to the point of shifting the problem onto physics, by postulating that there might be new laws or new properties of matter to discover (which is not impossible, and if evidence does arise to support it I will admit it, but new laws purely for the sake of consciousness is asking for too much). Even Nick Lane almost fell into the trap.

Here’s an example of a philosopher, K. T. Maslin, passing-off any explanation of consciousness in electrochemical terms:
The basis of the objection is this: physical occurrences do not just appear to be different from consciousness; they are utterly different, so utterly different in fact, that it is inconceivable how the physical could produce the mental (Intro. to The Philosophy of Mind, p. 168).
Aside from begging the question (who’s to say there is a mental substance at all?), other questions come to mind. Why is it a surprise that it is inconceivable that the physical could produce the ‘mental’? We’ve barely scratched the surface of neurology. To what authority are these statements of ‘fact’ made? To intuition. (The same authority creationists all-too-often appeal to.) All that is provided in the favour of this view are intuition pumps.

The profundity of this view is understood with the following objections: (1) It is now possible to study the evolution of our primate brain. We are also able to observe that, with evolution, behavioural capabilities tend to correlate with the relative complexity of brains, and brain power. With this in mind, why is it insisted that we look elsewhere for an explanation?

(2) If ‘consciousness’ couldn’t possibly be multitudes of electrochemical happenings, then (and I’m borrowing this from Dennett) ‘what do you think it would seem like if it were just a combination of electrochemical happenings in your brain?’

(If you would like to see a great analysis on the philosopher’s quale, see Daniel Dennett’s chapter, Qualia Disqualified, in his book Consciousness Explained.)

3 There is a species of lucid dreaming, called sleep paralysis, which induces a state of paralysis, pressure on the chest, the feeling of floating, flying, falling, or leaving one’s body, accompanied by fear—and other times excitement, exhilaration, rapture, or ecstasy. I owe this description to Michael Shermer’s book (pages 227-228 of The Believing Brain), so I will continue by quoting him:
Several centuries ago, the English referred to nighttime sensations of chest pressure from witches or other supernatural beings as the ‘mare’, from Anglo-Saxon merran, or ‘to crush’. So a nightmare was believed to represent a crusher who comes in the night. Since they lived in a demon-haunted world, they called these crushers demons. Since we live in a alien-haunted world, we call them aliens. Your culture decides what labels to assign to these anomalous brain experiences.
4 Dualism is the philosophical theory that there is the mental and the physical, and the former is not reducible to the latter. I.e., you cannot explain the mental in terms of the physical.

5 ‘Monism’ posits that consciousness has its roots in physical matter. ’Reductive monism’ is the philosophical theory that all mental activity can be reduced by electrochemical processes in the brain. In contrast to ‘non-reductive monism’, it does not postulate a second ‘mental property’

6 Thought it adds nothing to the neurosciences, it is therefore a great thinking aid because of how intuitive it is. Just as Daniel C. Dennett uses the idea of homunculi—tiny people inside of the brain controlling everything, which has presented the problem of infinite regress—to help us think about our various faculties, so can ‘non-reductive monism’, and this conception of ‘mental properties’ and ‘physical properties’.

7 He even admits it himself:
What appears to be required is a theory that contract and middle path between radical materialism and strong dualism, a theory which, on the other hand, does not seek to deny the fact of mentality by reducing states of mind to the purely physical but, on the other, does not turn the possesses of mental states into incorporeal Cartesian ghosts, impotent to affect the world. (An Intro. to The Philosophy of Mind, p. 153)

References

Books

Adams, D., 1987. Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. London: Pan Books Ltd.

Carter, R., 2010. Mapping the Mind. London: Orion Books.

Darwin, C., 1998. The Origin of Species. Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions Ltd.

Dennett, D.C., 1993. Consciousness Explained. London: Penguin Books.

Hood, B., 2011. The Self Illusion: Who Do You Think You Are?. London: Constable & Robinson Ltd.

Lane, N., 2010. Life Ascending: The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution. London: Profile Books Ltd.

Maslin, K.T., 2011. An Introduction to The Philosophy of Mind. 2nd ed. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Shermer, M., 2012. The Believing Brain: From Spiritual Faiths to Political Convictions—How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them As Truths. London: Constable & Robinson Ltd.


Articles & Journal Entries

Blanke, O., et al., 2002. Neuropsychology: Stimulating illusory own-body perceptions. Nature [Online], 419(6904), pp. 269-270. Available from: http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v419/n6904/full/419269a.html [Accessed 6 September 2014]

Persinger, M., 2001. The Neuropsychiatry of Paranormal Experiences. The Journal of Neuropsychiatry [Online], 13(4), pp. 515-524. Available from: http://neuro.psychiatryonline.org/article.aspx?articleid=101550 [Accessed 7 September 2014]

The Extended Phenotype: A Book Review


By Luke Kristopher Davis



About the author

 Richard Dawkins is a prolific writer on evolution, Darwin and Atheism and was a zoologist at the university of Oxford. He is known for his tour de force book The selfish Gene which offered a new world view of life and how it came to be. Dawkins' efforts are mainly to encourage secularism, reason and science in today's society through articles, programs, books and films. He is one of my favorite authors because his clear-cut-no-nonsense logic really appeals to me and his courage to tackle all problems and questions scientifically.

The central idea of the book

   This book is a sequel to The Selfish Gene, which proposes that evolution IS solely concerned with gene survival and that organisms are merely used as gene vehicles. One is assumed to accept the idea of the selfish gene but a large chunk of the book is aimed at providing concrete examples and arguments which defend this view of life, Dawkins also challenges group selection theory and kin selection theory. The main idea is that phenotypes, which are expressions of genes, do not just stop at the level of the organism but reach further out into other organisms and the environment itself. He builds up step by step a sequence of arguments, examples and rebuttles which lead to the obvious fact that phenotypes go beyond the organism in which the gene resides. 

Style

      The Extended Phenotype is aimed at professional biologists, something I was ignorant of, because it is a concise and referenced academic thesis proposing a serious scientific idea. The complexity of the examples and the use of technical language should not hinder a new student of evolution but it does take some slow reading and imagination to understand the book. It is recommended to thoroughly digest his earlier popular works on evolution and around the subject before this more subtle idea is introduced. However, the clarity and excitement in the book makes it a work engaging to layman and the like. With careful reading and patience the idea will be clearly and correctly understood.

      If you are looking for a quick popular read or get bored of academic nomenclature and arguments this book may be slightly beyond your liking. However the content of the book outweighs any faults in style.

Why should this book be read?

   It enhances ones knowledge and most importantly understanding of the grand scale of evolution and the significance of the gene as the Darwinian protagonist. Anyone who really wants to understand the processes of life and how evolution works should read this. Also professional biologists and biology students have to read this in order to gain the correct macroscopic view of life, some biological phenomena only make perfect sense under this paradigm.


8/10 



Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Biologists Reduce Aging by Gene Manipulation



By Luke Kristopher Davis




The research 

   Matthew Ulgherait, David Walker and their UCLA colleagues have found a way to prolong the life of fruit flies by activating a gene, AMPK, within the nervous system. They activated the gene in the intestine of the fruit flies which increased a process known as autophagy within the intestine and the brain. This prolonged the lives of the flies against a control group by 30%. 

What is autophagy?

  Autophagy is the basic catabolic and cellular process which degrades and recycles broken or dysfunctional cellular components via the 'breaking down mechanisms' within lysosomes. 


The cellular 'junk' is isolated by a double walled membrane and ends up in a waste package known as an autophagosome. The lysosome, which can be thought of as the 'junk' grinder, docks then enters the autophagosome and begins to breakdown the cellular 'junk'. 

This process is important for cellular health as the continual recycling of dysfunctional proteins etc. will help keep the cell thus the organism healthier and more efficient at surviving.

What does this mean for humans?

  Well AMPK is present within the human genome albeit at lower concentration levels than in the fruit fly. This experiment hints at the same process being used in humans i.e. activating the gene AMPK in the intestine, which could be digested through a pill, which will then increase autophagy throughout the body. 

The team at UCLA state that human applications of this experiment won't be around for some years, however their success in this experiment breeds hope for the longevity of human beings.


Monday, 8 September 2014

Memes: How ideas manipulate us to survive



By
Luke Kristopher Davis


The Selfish Meme


   We have thought and still like to believe that us humans choose ideas as we like and create them as we wish. However this view might be slightly erroneous as it fails to explain some of the oddities we see in our cultural world. It may seem as if we do choose to accept certain ideas and reject others or to create new ideas out of thin air however this is simply an illusion, we are being made to accept or reject ideas by the ideas themselves. Analogously with genes building and manipulating our bodies for their own survival, memes manipulate our brains for their own survival too. What I will propose is a possible theory, in some sense a paradigm, that could explain cultural phenomena. The theory I will develop is currently untested to the standards of modern science and should be seen as a set of working hypotheses which in principle could be tested. 

 What is a meme?



   A meme is a unit of cultural information and its complete form is some unique temporary or permanent neuronal pattern  in the brain. As the brain is not completely understood yet, the definition of the meme will be used in vagueness, however it can be usefully thought as a unique pattern in the brain. A meme can be related to what we already recognize as cultural objects; ideas, videos, images, pieces of art, scientific principles, songs, music and much more. For example Michael Jackson's Thriller is a meme as it produces a unique neuronal response and is expressed in a unique form in a cultural environment. These cultural objects are simply expressions of memes akin to organisms or cellular matter being expressions of genes. The expressions of the memes can be defined as their memotypes. The memotypes of memes are vulnerable to selection mechanisms in certain cultural environments. This is similar to phenotypes of genes which are under selection pressures be it Darwinian, sexual or artificial. This moves us onto the next important topic, replication.

Genes replicate through reproduction, how do Memes do it?

    Memes are not constrained to the chemistry of life as genes are. Memes are based upon the social culture that we have evolved and hence replicate through completely different mechanisms. A meme is said to have been replicated if its unique neuronal pattern is experienced by a new brain. One way for this unique neuronal pattern to be experienced is by the sensory interaction with the respective memotype. For example if John shares Nicky Minaj's new song on facebook to his friend Mary and Mary watches the video then the meme, which is the song, has been successfully replicated. If Mary then shares this to Joan who then watches it then shares ad infinitum then the song will be continually replicated. Normally memes are shared by the interaction of sensory equipment of humans with a memotype.

What determines the success of memes?

    Firstly what is success in terms of memes? Well, like genes, if the number of copies of a meme at time t is greater then it was a time t-1 ago, then it can be said the meme has been successful. What happens if the meme rapidly copies itself but dies off very quickly... surely this is not a sign of success. So longevity, the lifetime of the meme in a meme pool, is a term in the success equation. Also a meme is vulnerable to mutation that is to say its memotype might be changed in collision with some other meme or randomly by replication error so if a meme can be resistant to mutation then it will be more successful. Memes may occupy different memepools in different environments for example a song can exist on the internet or on television (which may be considered to have different selection criteria hence different memetic environments). A meme which is in more memetic environments may increase the probability of replication but it may be vulnerable to different mutation rates and longevity so we only consider the success of a meme in one meme pool.

An equation for success for a meme m in memepool A may look like this:  S_A(m) = N_A(m)*L_A(m)/M_A(m) where  N_A(m) is the number of successful copies of m, L_A(m) is the longevity of m and M_A(m) is the mutation probability of m (the higher the less successful m will be). Note 0 < M_A(m) < 1. 

  What effects the number of successful copies of a meme depends on its interaction with selection pressures in different memetic environments. Consider a meme in the imgur, reddit and tickld sense i.e. a picture with language on it existing on the internet. There are many selection mechanisms at work, whether a meme makes us laugh or whether a meme appeals to our sensibilities. A successful meme in this memepool will do well against selection pressures relative to other memes in the memepool. We must note that success of memes is wholly relative to the rise or demise of other memes in the same memepool experiencing the same selection pressures. 

The evolution of memes

  As with Darwinian evolution the most successful genes will survive and among those the next most successful genes will survive and so on. However for evolution to act there must be mutation, selection pressures only exert themselves on slight differences in gene expressions, those that are just a tad more successful will replicate more and take a larger share of the gene pool until another more successful mutant comes into play. It is so with memes too, memes will mutate after many or little replications and the selection pressures of each memetic environment will exert itself on these mutations. It also happens that memes can merge much very easily to form a new unique meme and if this merged meme replicates more or has a longer longevity then its parents then it will be more successful than them and take a larger share of the memepool. Over time we will witness the gradual evolution of memes or combination of memes (if it does each meme better) in different memetic environments and we should witness a journey towards higher complexity. 

   As each new meme is either the mutation of a previous one or the combination of previous memes (its parents) then it can be postulated that the evolution of memes will form an ancestral tree. 

It is then possible to track back down the tree to an 'origin of memes' which would be some basic neuronal patterns near the start of the emergence of a linguistic culture... this would be very back in evolutionary time indeed maybe somewhere near the evolution of homosapiens. However this is just speculation, it would be extremely unlikely to track far back to the origin of memes... what is important is that memes follow an ancestral tree like pattern. As memes replicate and mutate extremely fast and numerously so the branches of the tree will be extremely dense and each branch being almost indistinguishable from the next.

Why is a meme selfish? 

 A meme is considered selfish because it does for its own good and only for its own good. Memes which seem to help us in our lives are only doing so because memes which promote the well being of humans will tend to be favored. A meme may seem to give us happiness or promote logic and reason etc. but it has evolved to do so i.e. those memes which do produce happiness and do not endanger the human will be more likely replicated from brain to brain. This is not entirely so! Some memes encourage self harm or sacrifice which does not promote human happiness or health but it might be successful for the meme to do so. I think there is no other way to explain self harm or religious suicide other than that a meme encouraging that behavior might be successful in a fundamentalist memetic environment, one that promotes insane acts in the name of another meme.... God. 

  As the survival of memes is entirely based upon selection pressures which are based on our own physiology it seems extraordinarily likely that memes which appeal to our biological well-being will most likely be favored... that is why memes which encourage malice to our own survival hence genetic survival will be extremely rare. What is important is that memes seem to act for themselves and we should avoid talking as if we are in complete control of the evolution of the culture which originally emerged from us.


Interaction of Memes and Genes

    Following on from our discussion, memes which promote human well being and longevity will be favored. If we also assume, which I think we do, a Dawkinsian 'selfishness of genes' point of view of life we have to conclude that successful memes in most meme pools will promote the survival of most genes. I say most genes as some memes, Hitlers idea of blue eyes and blonde hair being the best, favor some genes than others.... also racism and prejudice towards gingers or small people etc. However memes which promote most genes i.e. does not discriminate will most likely be replicated by everyone and hence become more successful than those which promote some genetic discrimination.

    It is possible to have memes which encourage the selection of certain genes.... that is an idea of beauty which encourages females to only mate with males above 6 ft. Or an idea of a designer baby or even genetic modification of a human to glow in the dark.

    Memes simply manipulate the phenotypes (mostly in the brain) of human genes to promote itself and memes do not carry themselves down the genetic germ-line. Also genes do not replicate in the same environment as memes do. This why the evolution of both can be considered separate. But in certain cases it will be useful to study how memes can provide selection for certain genes. 

How can this theory be tested?

Well on the assumptions which have been briefly proposed here it is possible to build mathematical models of cultural memepools and memetic replication and predict the successes of different memes. 

Also if memes really are the selfish and brain manipulating replicators which I claim they are we can predict that each unique meme will have some unique temporary or permanent influence on brain structure. 


What does this paradigm imply?



  It implies that culture is life. As life is merely the differential survival of different replicators. It is also an example that life may take many many different forms and different forms of life may emerge from one another in the continual march towards complexity. 

 It once again teaches us that we are simply vehicles of genes and vehicles of memes....  that we are being manipulate by replicators from the bottom up and the top down. Our power in the universe has yet again been stripped away...  however this is nothing against the theory it is simply a possible truth.