Monthly Archives: May 2008

ideas can ‘hijack’ a person’s mind and make them do things

I think that some people are uncomfortable with the memetic perspective because it presupposes that an idea can ‘hijack’ a person’s mind and make them do things. Dan Dennett speaks at length about this notion. A meme is a semi-autonomous thing: it is an idea that spreads through minds as if it had a will of its own. People don’t like to think of ideas as things that control them. For most people who think of “ideas” in the abstract, they are like items in a catalog, not programs resident in memory. A post over at meme-weaver gave me an interesting example of exactly the hijacking that poeple are afraid of (and that fear is not without reason).

Here is the example. What Derren Brown implants into his mark’s brain is not a meme per se, since it does not spread. But it does show that an idea can be implanted in such a way that it hijacks a person’s brain rather than becoming a passive item within it.

Here is one explanation for how this was done. Based on neurolinguistic programming

There are a bunch of tricks that D. Brown has played that expose deeply the vulnerabilities of our minds. He’s a magician; he doesn’t want his memes to spread. A magician never reveals the trick.  But the tricks are out there, spreading by inducing people to spread them.  The marketing magicians know it.  I think we should too.


two examples to illustrate the usefulness of the memetic paradigm

I can think of two examples to illustrate the usefulness of the memetic paradigm. The first is a post on VilralOne , a blog on memetics. The blog entry describes the philosophical underpinnings and history of memetics. It is thorough. It goes into a great many criticisms of the memetic paradigm and how they might be countered. And, eventually, discourse of this kind might win memetics a grudging place in academia. From there, it could spread (a meta-meme) into the popular consciousness of young students who would then put it to (presumably) good use. Eventually, it could influence the development of good ideas in a similar fashion to how Darwins’ ideas helped influence the development of molecular genetics. This would validate the current memeticist’s perspective and efforts, but probably not in their lifetime.

In a sense, this is an example of the old method for memetic success. Problem: memetics is not an accepted science. Solution: write a careful, long description of why it is worth accepting, then wait 100 years.

There is another way for memetics to gain acceptance, and that is the direct and immediate application to current problems. Take the example of Godwin’s law. Godwin noticed that when discussion on the ‘net got heated, it was almost inevitable that someone would make a Nazi comparison. He wanted to design a meme to combat it, so he wrote Godwin’s law. The new form is that “once a discussion reaches a comparison to Nazis or Hitler, its usefulness is over,” but that is not how Godwin phrased it originally. He started a meme, and it evolved. And it was, arguably, successful. People seem to be more careful about making comparisons to Nazism, as they don’t want to be the person who takes the discussion over the line into uselessness (or at least they don’t want people to call them out by invoking Godwin’s law).

Godwin designed this idea specifically as a meme. And so it stands as a success story of the memetic perspective. Memetics, philosophically sound or not, is useful. It is an intellectual tool and need not be a philosophy of life. I’m neither a social scientist nor a committed materialist. Both of those people might have reason to be threatened by memetics if they refuse to adapt. Social scientist may well have to learn a new vocabulary as their field is eclipsed by a new one. Strict materialists may have to accept that a new perspective explains human behavior without specific reference to biology. Of course, genetics was a successful science long before the specifics of DNA replication were known, and it’s probable that neurobiology and memetics will be reconciled eventually.

But in the end, reconciling these disparate ideas (sociology, biology, memetics) by way of philosophical discourse is inefficient. It will happen eventually if all of them prove to be useful descriptors of the same thing. Look at the history of M-theory or Quantum Electrodynamics. The big upshot is in that key word: useful. And the marketing companies already know that memetics is the wave of the future.


Gumption traps and how to get motivated, part 4: Over-prioritizing

Over-prioritizing. That’s what I call it when I stare at my list and agonize over what is the most important thing. To be fair, it is important to prioritize your to do list. But don’t spend more time on the list than you spend on the items in it. One thing I like about the GTD system is that you don’t put things back in the inbox. Until hard-landscape items come up (appointments and meetings) you work on the next thing. All of the next things are treated as equal priority. Prioritizing next things can be a full time job, even above doing next things.
If it’s an official Next Thing, then it made it through your weekly review. It must be important. If it’s important, it doesn’t need to be the most important thing to be done next. It just needs to be done. In that spirit, I’ll keep this brief.


Gumption traps and how to get motivated, part 3: Coffee

Coffee is a major way I stay “motivated” (read: higher energy than a jack russel terrier). I mentioned my rampant caffeine addiction in an earlier post. It’s not the only legal recreational stimulant anymore. According to some interesting news published at Nature a lot of scientists are using some fun new substances on the prescription market.
I’m not one to pass judgment. For the time being, I’m going to stick with sleep, runs and a bit of caffeine. OK, more than a bit of caffeine. If things change, who knows. Maybe I’ll find that I need something extra and an understanding physician to make it happen.

In the mean time, I’m going to give you the run down on how to make good coffee. There’s lots of information over at the old usegroup FAQs page (the wealth of info stored in the old usegroups FAQs is pretty amazing). But the long and short is this: it doesn’t matter how good your coffee is if you have a dirty coffee maker. That’s step 1. Clean your coffee maker. Once that’s done, consider your water. Step 2 is, if need to filter your water, filter your water. Don’t buy bottled water. Step 3 is to buy some decent coffee. Don’t overspend. Make sure the grind is right for your machine.


Gumption traps and how to get motivated, part 2: Exercise

Exercise is a major way I stay motivated. When I was in high school I ran with the cross country team. When I was younger than that, I ran with my Dad. All told, including the intermittent months off, I imagine I’ve run an average of about 6 miles a week since 1995. Fitness guru? Maintaining my appeal for for my girlfriend? Well, that is an issue… but self motivation is important, too. During the weeks when I run, I feel like I’m more awake. On a day that I run, no matter what else happens, I have one string positive in the accounting of the day.
Of course, if you’re having trouble motivating yourself, it will be hard to motivate yourself to run. But as step 1 to a higher ‘energy level,’ you could do a lot worse than a 20 minute jog… or a walk for that matter.

Have a look around for some good shoes. I happen to like Saucony shoes for my wide feet.

Other than that, just make it part of your routine. Substitute walking to the grocery store form time to time. Carrying two bags for a mile is a nice little workout.