virus: Religion and Memetics

Grant Callaghan (
Fri, 30 May 1997 23:32:25 -0700 (PDT)

From: Richard Brodie=20
To: "'Grant Callaghan'"=20
Subject: RE: Virus of the Mind
Date: Thu, 29 May 1997 14:39:55 -0700


Thanks for writing. I invite you to join the Church of Virus=20
email list and post the message you just sent me. It is the=20
most active memetics discussion group. I and others will be=20
happy to address your manypoints. You can subscribe from=20
Meme Central (second URL below).


I have joined the Church of Virus e-mail list, but I have a=20
few doubts about the concept of tying memetics to the an=20
organization called a church. Look what the Christain=20
churches have done to the simple and extremely useful memes=20
of Jesus. You can barely find them amid the flood of=20
religious doctrines that have poured forth since his death=20
two thousand years ago. The people who run curches tend to=20
subvert the ideas on which the church was founded to their=20
own immediate needs and goals. Their doctrines tend to=20
separate people into those who support the doctrine and=20
those who don=92t. It=92s a divisive concept based on politics=20
rather than knowledge and research. =20

I have no objection to religious ideas per se. I have a few=20
of my own. And the meme concept might just fit right into=20
them. I have included the introduction and outline of a=20
book I am currently working on below that will show you my=20
approach to the subject. Another religion that seems to get=20
at the heart of where I think memtics should go is Buddhism. =20
It was the Buddha who said that the source of all our=20
problems and suffering was desire. Rid yourself of desire=20
and you will take a giant step up the ladder of evolution.

When you see what genetic evolution is leading to, this idea=20
makes a lot of sense. We cannot continue to breed=20
uncontrolably until we strip the Earth of everything that is=20
capable of sustaining us. We are already at a stage where=20
the population is doubling every 25 years. Since we are=20
crowding Earth to the point already where the fish are=20
disappearing from the ocean, hydrocarbons from our industry=20
and transportation are changing the weather patterns, and=20
the forests are being stripped from the tropics to make=20
houses and furniture, how will we sustain doubling that=20
population even one or two more times? =20

This is why we need a science of memetics. Only memes can=20
overcome the driving force of genetic reproduction. Only=20
memes can reproduce fast enough to get in the way. If the=20
rest of nature is any indication, population increase=20
follows a "J" curve. And when the curve is going straight=20
up (as it is close to doing for human population right now)=20
the upswing is followed immediately by a drop that takes the=20
population down close to zero. We either learn very quickly=20
to recycle everthing and control reproduction or we join all=20
the other species that outgrew the territory they inhabit.

If you want to see our future, start some bacteria growing=20
on a petri dish. Note what happens when the petri dish is=20
full. Do the bacteria stabilize or does the entire colony=20
die out? To my mind, this should set the mission for=20
memtics. Find ways to plant the right memes to change the=20
course of genetic evolution or the memes will die off with=20

Here is the gist of my religious concept. I think it might=20
be compatible with what you are doing, but I don=92t think the=20
church approach will be productive.



The wisdom of ancient China extended to the Information Age

Over three thousand years ago one or more Chinese=20
philosophers compiled a book called the I-Ching. It took=20
chance arrangements of trigrams made up of solid and broken=20
lines in arrangements of three that looked something like=20

--- - - ---=20
- - --- - -
--- - - - -

You can see them today on the flag of South Korea along with=20
the other Taoist symbol: a circle divided into two parts,=20
one white and one black, representing the forces of yin and=20
yang which make up the universe we live in. The philosophy=20
that lies behind these trigrams is called the Tao, or the=20
path or way of nature. =20

According to James Legge, the earliest mention of the I-
Ching is found in the Official Book of the Chau dynasty. In=20
the beginning, the total number of trigrams was eight, but=20
they were multiplied by king Wan while he was in prison to=20
64. King Wan was the sovereign of the kingdom of Chau and=20
produced his version of the I-Ching in the year 1143 B.C.

The Tao I speak of in this treatise is not the Tao of king=20
Wan or even of Lao Tze or Chuang Tze. I refer to these=20
early philoso-phers because they provide a convenient=20
framework on which to hang the paradigms of my own=20
convictions and because there are remarkable similarities=20
between some of their ideas and what has subsequently been=20
learned by scientists and other scholars in the past twenty=20
to thirty years.

Knowledge is a progression from the old to the new. The=20
oldest formulation of the ideas I plan to talk about begin=20
with the I-Ching and continue through the work of Richard=20
Dawkins in his book, "River out of Eden," which came out=20
this year.

D. T. Suzuki, in his introduction to James Legge's=20
translation of the Tao Te Ching says, "Lao-Tzu's chief=20
concern was about Nature and life and he deduced his moral=20
teaching from it. The result is what is known as the=20
philosophy of Tao and whatever moral values he emphasized=20
came from it. The Tao is the great principle regulating the=20
course of Nature. Tao literally means "a path," or "a way,"=20
or "a course," but it is more than a map for orientation=20
schematically drawn up for the traveler to follow. The Tao=20
is our actually walking on this "way" or coursing on or=20
through it. No, it is more than that. It is the walking=20
itself, or the coursing itself, which is the Tao. The
Tao is not where we follow the way as indicated in the map. =20
We are the Tao, the walker and the Tao are the same."

Present day scientists and philosophers have discovered=20
these concepts anew and used them to take mankind into a=20
time we call the Information Age. The ancient trigrams have=20
now been replaced by the arabic numerals "1" and "0" and are=20
the foundation of a system called binary arithmetic. This,=20
in turn, is the root of all calculations done by computers=20
and the means by which we do everything from calculating the=20
trajectory of a rocket to rondevous with a planet, like=20
Jupiter, millions of miles away, to encoding the pictures of=20
that planet, which are then sent back through those millions=20
of miles of space and displayed in books, magazines, and on=20
computer screens all over the world.

While we are justifiably proud of these achievements, few=20
people realize that the binary system was first devised=20
about three and a half to four billion years ago by strings=20
of molecules so small they can not be seen by the human eye=20
and that, over the years since then, it has been used to=20
create some 30 billion species, including the ones who sent=20
that rocket to Jupiter and beyond.

Marshall McLuhan said, "The medium is the message." He was
right. You and I are both the medium and the message of=20
those polypeptides which grew, first, into strings of=20
organized molecules, and then into single celled animals,=20
and finally into the rich variety of plant and animal life=20
that is still changing the face of the planet we live on=20

My purpose in writing this essay is to bring together the=20
ideas and observations of a number of scientists and=20
philosophers who have patiently deciphered the system by=20
which we are generated and on which we continue to build=20
with the melding of man and machine into a conglomerate=20
mixture that, if it doesn't destroy itself first, will take=20
those miniature polypeptides to the stars and beyond.

They are, you see, still with us. They are burried in every=20
cell of every plant, animal, and human being on the face of=20
the earth. They continue to weave their lines of code into=20
everyting around them and convert the chaos and random=20
collisions of inert pieces of matter into the orderly=20
generation of living matter.

That is the dichotomy that marks the line between yin and=20
yang. The line between order and chaos. The line that=20
separates the living from the dead.