Meme wizardry

Yesterday I spent a fascinating day in the company of a handful of friends listening to Helen Russ explain her perspective on memes and memetics.

Just the term ‘meme’ carries a lot of tainted baggage as clearly seen in the wikipedia definition and immediately apparent in the tweet  I received on the morning from Dave Snowden ”

@rondon seriously? Memes? false analogy with genes, I thought that stuff had died?”.

Anyway the location was the Temple Lodge near Waterloo Station in London which is a fabulous Grade II listed Christian retreat/bed and breakfast packed full of renaissance paintings and  with beautifully laid out gardens.

Our hearts initially dropped as we realised we were being locked into our room from the outside, fear of abductions by cults filled my head but it was only to stop our noisy conversations interrupting the peace and tranquility of the other guests.

We began by setting the work into context with a look at manipulation of public opinion by Edward Bernays in the 1920s through to Egregore, the collective group mind. Helen explains the key concepts of her approach using many different metaphors but I think all of our favourite was that personal conciousness. This she explained is like a mansion but any trauma (or influential meme) during development wounds the psyche, closing doors until you can

end up living your life in the foyer of your conciousness.

Perhaps not everyones cup of tea, I found the whole day massively interesting, intriguing and though provoking. I made pages and pages of notes while jotting down as many parallel thoughts as I could.

What I found really interesting was Helen unveiling her world view that had an explanation for all the key aspects of life and the universe (and a whole lot more) for which I could see a direct parallel in complex adaptive system theory. The models she drew each made lots of sense encompassing identity, feedback loops, sense of place, hierarchies, right through to navigating an organisation through the meme landscape. I came to the conclusion that if we look at the trends present in theories and world models like this, we will gain much greater insight than focussing on particular details.

The idea that a meme is not effected by gravity, heat, cold, time or space set off interesting ideas about quantum physics.

One thought that really caught my eye was the idea that when our psyche is wounded we respond by shutting down part of our mind and replacing it with a desire, which we then grab hold of  “to maintain order”. This emergent structure reduces complexity in our subsequent behaviour, referring decision making “to the meme”.

We all took away so much from the day, a broader mind, lots of new stories and metaphors and an appreciation of a whole new approach to making sense of the world.

At the end we debated the use of the term ‘meme’ and whether it helped or hindered Helen’s approach. I was constantly trying to remember Alastair McIntosh’s book ‘Soil and Soul’ where he describes the ‘domination system’ which I blogged about previously and how to face up to negative forces. In it he also explained the work of Charles T Tart who referred to all of this as ‘hypnosis’ and ‘concensus trance reality’:

We’re all sleepwalkers. Powerful forces construct social reality – parenting, schooling, television, advertising, dress code, corporate ethos, military drill. they’re all variations on hypnosis. mostly we walk around in a semi-trance.

My childish sense of humour had me uncontrollably giggling as I tried not to explore the possibilities of a meme wizard like Helen from Australia, hence the title. Whatever the correct terminology this was an excellent use of a day and I hope our feedback helped Helen develop this material into a complete workshop as her explanations of the material entertains, informs and intrigues in equal measure.



1 Comment

  1. Hi Ron,

    Yes, memes, and if you want to get serious on this then maybe read Schlain’s Art and Physics, or Kurzban on Why everyone else is a hypocrite. Memes, like basic evolution, is a simple theory, which has tremendous value when you explore the complexities. Memes, NLP, TRIZ, Six Hats, they are all simple formula of great value when the context is simple. When combined with more recent understandings of the mind they serve to allow us to deal more effectively with the complex.

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