I am not a philosopher (this will become obvious in short order); I am here as an amateur. I am fascinated by many of the questions philosophers ask, and I admire the work they do, but I have frequently found philosophical concepts confusing and not helpful in understanding the world and those who live in it. However, there is one, recently described, concept that I have found understandable and quite useful, that of memes. So far as I can tell, the term `memes’ is due to Richard Dawkins and, though similar concepts existed in philosophy prior to Dawkins, it is he who articulated the concept in the form that I have reflected on, value and will consider today.
a. What is stored on the disc in your computer? How did it get there? Why is it different than what is stored on my disc or your friend’s disc? When we bought our computers they were similar (perhaps even identical); they all come with hardware (for example: processor, screen, keyboard, sensors) and pre-loaded software (for example: operating system, trial anti-virus program) and a lot of free space for future storage of information. We sometimes call the information we add after we buy the computer `files’.
i. Though this next statement may not be sufficiently precise, it is an attempt to articulate an important idea: at a particular moment in time, your computer (versus everything that is not your computer) is exactly its skin and what is inside its skin – the hardware, the software, the state and the files – and nothing else.
b. What if we all die tomorrow, but the Internet keeps going? Of course, eventually some computers will run out of energy or physically break; others will hit software bugs and just stop processing. The internet fiber cables will cloud, etc. But we are discussing philosophy here and so let’s pretend that we don’t encounter such difficulties and just keep going forever. The automatic updates continue, the virus software keeps running, the mail program keeps synchronizing and downloading email. Computer viruses still infect; perhaps they erase some of your data, perhaps they add new data, perhaps they download programs that take over your computer and try to infect new computers. What will be stored on your computer’s disc a hundred-thousand years from now – still got that funny video of your dog?
c. Now consider a human baby: they all come with hardware (for example: brain, eyes, bodies) and pre-loaded software (for example: sucking, sleep cycles, digestion, circulation) and a lot of free space for future storage of information. The hardware and pre-loaded software are genetically determined, the information (for example: experiences, lessons, TV programs, YouTube videos) we add after the baby is born, we will call `memes’.
i. As above with computers: at a particular moment in time, a human (versus everything that is not that human) is exactly its skin and what is inside its skin – the hardware, the software, the state and the memes – and nothing else.
d. Now consider humans: we have evolved to be able to acquire energy, repair some defects, reproduce and basically just keep going forever. We have gone on for at least several hundred-thousand years. What memes ended up stored in our brains?