I have been reading “Consciousness Explained” by Daniel Dennet (Back Bay Books, 1991) – in it he talks a lot about Richard Dawkins’ memes. “Meme” is the title Dawkins gives to the “idea” (in his book “The Selfish Gene”) to call attention to the fact that ideas replicate via minds. In chapter 11 “Memes: The New Replicators” (at one time available on-line, and may still be), Dawkins presents the idea that since memes are replicators, like genes, they are alive. This got me thinkin’ about the Word, of course.
Dawkins says your average meme is highly “subject to continuous mutation” between minds (not exact copies are made… miscommunication occurs) – but then contradicts himself by mentioning that a different understanding of Darwinism is a meme entirely separate from the Darwinism meme (though owing its existence to the earlier meme). This is a contradiction because it says both that 1) memes mutate, and 2) stay in tact (rather than mutating), but produce offspring which may be different (if that is what is meant by mutation, then this discussion on memes brings up something very subtle, but very important — especially to a discussion of the Word). Just like Dawkins mentioned of the Darwinism meme – if you (like Dawkins) have an incorrect understanding of the Word – you don’t have the Word – you have a completely different meme (see my “Against Gnosticism” thread for an example of an incorrect understanding of the Word). However — though maybe nobody has the original Darwinism meme in their minds (now, or in the future) — God will not let that happen to His Word. It is unchanging and everlasting.
Whereas Dawkins pins down memes as “selfish” replicators – he seems to neglect that in order to “rebel against the tyranny of the selfish replicators” – we must combat with memes which favor altruism. So… that would make them… selfish altruism memes (oxymoron)? I think he may have just gone too far with the “selfish” thing (thought himself in knots or something). Memes are not selfish, and neither are genes – they are, as he said earlier – “unconscious, blind replicators” (unlike the Word, of course, which wants to get in your mind) – and he should have stopped there. It is not inherently evil to love yourself (I say that because Dawkins seems to like the shock-value of calling things “selfish” – therefore putting an evil spin on it), for how can you love your neighbor as yourself (or treat others as you would have them treat you), if you hate yourself? If the altruism memes populated more minds and had more of an effect on the world than the malevolent-selfish memes, it would not be a result of competition (as if the memes know time in a mind is a limited resource). Memes do not fight over minds any more than chicken nuggets fight over stomachs. It means people got fed up with malevolence; won over by Love (John 1:1, 1 John 4:9) – the most superior (not to mention aesthetically pleasing) of all memes, by which all memes must be measured. Real competition is willful and can be seen in humans taking the reigns of their blind-replicator memes (holding every thought captive, 2 Cor 10:5) and surrendering to God’s superior memes (Eph 6:17-18), so that He can rid us (far better than we ever can) of the cancer of malignant memes (Hebrews 10:22).
If you get a kick out of Dawkins’ memes – perhaps you’ll get a kick (like I do) out of a (not exhaustive) study of the Word as living (Dawkins says “memes should be regarded as living structures, not just metaphorically but technically” … as “self-replicating brain structures, actual patterns of neurological wiring-up that reconstitute themselves in one brain after another.”) (I have resisted the urge to replace every instance of “Word” or “Scriptures” with “Meme” or “Memes”.) After the study I go into (sorta) the ethical implications if you consider values-transmission in the light of Dawkins’ memes.
All quotes from Scripture and from study notes are taken from Zondervan’s NASB Study Bible, 1999.
The word “Scripture” below refers to both OT (Old Testament) and NT (New Testament) – see 1 Tim 5:18, which quotes from Deut 25:4 and Luke 10:7, calling them both “Scripture” (although the NT was still forming at the time… keep in mind there was a time in which the OT was still forming, as well).
Isaiah 55:11 “So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It will not return to Me empty, Without accomplishing what I desire, And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.”
NASB note: My word. Especially the promises of vv.3,5,12. The word is viewed as a messenger also in 9:8, Ps. 107:20. Cf. John 1:1. succeeding. See 46:10-11 and note; cf. 40:8; Heb 4:12.
Jeremiah 23:28-29 “‘The prophet who has a dream may relate his dream, but let him who has My word speak My word in truth. What does straw have in common with grain?’ declares the Lord. ‘Is not My word like fire?’ declares the Lord, ‘and like a hammer which shatters a rock?’”
NASB note vv.28-29: The true word of God is symbolized in three figures of speech (grain, fire, hammer).
NASB note v. 28: straw…grain. Of the two, only grain can feed and nourish [see note on 15:16 – NASB note: “I ate them” means “I digested them, I made them a part of me” (see Ezek 2:8-3:3; Rev 10:9-10)].
NASB note v. 29: like fire. See note on 20:9. The fire of the divine word ultimately tests “the quality of each man’s work” (1 Cor 3:13). like a hammer. Similarly, the divine word works relentlessly, like a sword or hammer, to judge “the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb 4:12).
John 1:1-3, 14, 18 “1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. 14 And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. 18 No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.”
NASB note v.1: Word. Greeks use this term not only of the spoken word but also of the unspoken word, the word still in the mind—the reason. When they applied it to the universe, they meant the rational principle that governs all things. Jews, on the other hand, used it as a way of referring to God. Thus John used a term that was meaningful to both Jews and Gentiles. with God. The Word was distinct from the Father. was God. Jesus was God in the fullest sense (see note on Rom 9:5). The prologue (vv.1-18) begins and ends with a ringing affirmation of His deity (see note on v.18).
NASB note v.14: became. Indicates transition; the Word existed before He became a man. flesh. A strong, almost crude, word that stresses the reality of Christ’s manhood. dwelt among us, and we saw His glory. The Greek for “dwelt” is connected with the word for “tent/tabernacle”; the verse would have reminded John’s Jewish readers of the tent of meeting, which was filled by the glory of God (Ex 40:34-35). Christ revealed His glory to His disciples by the miracles He performed (see 2:11) and by His death and resurrection. [ There is more to the note if you’re interested. ]
NASB note v.18: has made Him known. Sometimes in the OT people are said to have seen God (e.g., Ex 24:9-11). But we are also told that no one can see God and live (Ex 33:20). Therefore, since no human being can see God as He really is, those who saw God saw Him in a form He took on Himself temporarily for the occasion. Now, however, Christ has made Him known.
Hebrews 4:12 “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
NASB note: word of God. God’s truth was revealed by Jesus (the incarnate Word; see John 1:1, 14), but it has also been given verbally, the word referred to here. This dynamic word of God, active in accomplishing God’s purposes, appears in both the OT and the NT [see, on your own, Ps 107:20; 147:15, 18; Is 40:8; 55:11; Gal 3:8; Eph 5:26; James 1:18 (NASB note: the “word of truth” is the “proclamation of the gospel”); 1 Pet 1:23-25]. The author of Hebrews describes it as a living power that judges as with an all-seeing eye, penetrating a person’s innermost being. soul and spirit…joints and marrow. The totality and depth of one’s being.
1 Peter 1:23-25 “23 …for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God. 24 For, ‘All flesh is like grass, and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls off, 25 but the word of the Lord endures forever.’ And this is the word which was preached to you.”
NASB note v.23: born again…through the…word of God. The new birth comes about through the direct action of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5), but the word of God also plays an important role (see James 1:18), for it presents the gospel to the sinner and calls on him to repent and believe in Christ (see v.25). seed which is perishable…imperishable. In this context the seed is doubtless the word of God, which is imperishable, living and enduring.
Additional verses: Psalm 19:7-11; 33:4,6; 104:4; 107:20; 119:92-93, 105; Mark 13:31; Eph 6:17; Col 3:16; 1 Thess. 2:13; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; Heb 6:5.
A nice quote from Lewis Sperry Chafer’s “Major Bible Themes” (revised by John F. Walvoord) (Zondervan, 1974), from chapter 1: “The Bible: The Word of God” p. 15: “Because of the combination of human and supernatural qualities which enter into the Bible, a similarity may be observed between the Bible as the written Word and the Lord Jesus Christ as the living Word (Ichthus: in case the semantics confuse you, both the Bible and Jesus communicate the living Word – refer to the verses above). They are both supernatural in origin, presenting an inscrutable and perfect blending of that which is divine and that which is human. They both exercise a transforming power over those who believe, and are alike allowed of God to be set at nought and rejected by those who do not believe. The untainted, undiminished divine perfections are embodied in each. The revelations which they disclose are at once as simple as the mental capacity of a child, and as complex as the infinite treasures of divine wisdom and knowledge, and as enduring as the God whom they reveal.”
Question to ask yourself: If you consider that memes must have time in your mind in order to germinate – what memes are you entertaining? – how much time are you giving to them? Which memes would you prefer to have growing in your head? Is your mind a meme cesspool or a meme Eden (if you say “Eden” you’re lying)? If you feel powerless to escape the current conditions of your mind, you’re wrong – His power is perfected in your weakness (2 Cor 12:9) – take the hand He is holding out to you. Once He’s got you, there’s no going back, do you hear? Don’t you dare let go. He’s not going anywhere – He’s been here all along. Yes, even at your worst. It’s never too late.
I scribbled a few notes this time last year (11/24/05) about memes in terms of schemas. Not sure how correct I was, but here’s the nitty gritty: bad schemas are resistant to change, like strong memes. In that sense, they can be thought of as “plaque” on the mind (sort of reminds me of the “truth with teeth” thing, but anyway…). Good schemas and good memes can be thought of as the healthy germs from which our body actually benefits. You can immunize yourself against bad memes by injecting yourself with the Word. Lining yourself up with the Word is equivalent to preventive medicine (daily Bible study, being part of a church fellowship, selfless acts and what not, are like brushing and flossing and routine cleanings). Neglect your mind with all sorts of junk-memes, and you’ll suffer spiritually (see my “Madness as Spiritual Suffering” thread) in one way or another. God can work a miracle in your mind. Just ask. 1 Thess 5:17; Matthew 6:5-15; 7:7; 18:20; Luke 11:1; 22:32; John 9:31; Psalm 25:8, 86:5; James 5:16 (all relevant verses on prayer).
Another way to ask the same question: What are the implications of Dawkins’ memes on values transmission? I would like to put in there (your thought-soup) that God’s value-memes are far superior to anything the world has to offer – thank God we can choose them, rather than being stuck with inferior value-memes. Sort of reminds me of the section where Dawkins mentions memes do not necessarily have to support the life of the mind they indwell (which, for me, harkens back to “the wages of sin is death”) – any gene for jumping off cliffs before reaching puberty would be doomed to failure, but a meme for such a thing (refer to the number of accidents blamed and yet to be blamed on the “Jackass” movies) can flourish, as long as it does not indwell every existent mind and cause extinction. (I was just as goofy when I was kid – I’m not saying that pulling life-threatening stunts in childhood is, in-and-of-itself, sin – don’t get me wrong… just an illustration.) Don’t forget how this paragraph started… lol.
Check out “Biology as Literature – Learning to read the molecular book of life.”
I like to watch that and think about meme-transcription.