The Spirit World of Ideas
Memetic processes occur in a space which is not tied to physical geography. We can think of memetic interactions as taking place within "meme space", a virtual place that occupies the memory of a communication network. This is analogous to a "cyber space" which occurs within one's mind. It is within this meme space that we will visualize memetic systems and nodes interacting with one another.
Memetics is a tool for describing the process through which culture is generated and inherited. The basic idea is that memes (units of cultural inheritance) are transmitted (and modified in the process) between communication nodes. A node could be an individual or an organization - anything capable of transmitting information and receiving feedback. Ideas are refined through feedback loops - for example, if a company produces an offensive commercial, they receive feedback in terms of sales and PR, and if they're intelligent, they will change how they communicate until they're getting better feedback. Our culture is a complex network of these feedback loops.
Typically, we look at the world from a human-centric point of view - we are independent actors, we have free will to choose our own actions, and information is nonliving -- it's inert, it's just data!
There is another way of looking at things though, and I think this is sometimes a more useful way of understanding behavior/culture/current events. I call it the Spirit World of Ideas. (sometimes called "memespace")In the Spirit World of Ideas
, information is the real life force in the cosmos, and we are just the dumb hardware designed to carry it.
An idea has its own life cycle. Small ideas are like bugs - they have a short life span, so reproduction is a challenge. Big ideas start off small, but as they gain representation in the world, they acquire defenses, they make redundant copies of themselves, they diversify, they mutate, they better reward their hosts. (Much like flowers - bees don't carry pollen for flowers with no nectar!)
To explain this way of thinking, let's look at a big idea -- say Christianity. Christianity started off as a small cult. Something about that idea provided a benefit to people, so they internalized it, talked about it, spread it, reaped the benefits (benefits like status, community, and mayyyybe some spiritual experiences). Lots of versions of Christianity appeared - the gnostics, the catholic church, et cetera. Christianity planted itself in a lot of different types of soil. Some soil was more fertile than other soil.
Christianity competed with other ideas for territory, particularly the Roman religion. The territory isn't physical, like churches or kingdoms, the territory is people's minds. (meme space) The Roman religion defended its territory by destroying the physical idea carriers. Christian writings were suppressed. This is natural selection in action -- only the most coherent, powerful, and organized versions of Christianity survived. It's like using vaccines to build a super-virus.
You can see how we can talk about ideas independently of human beings. We can describe ideas as their own semi-autonomous cellular organisms, capable of living, reproducing, producing waste, and one day dying. If we describe ideas as organisms with their own identity, then it makes sense to look at humans as the environment
in which these ideas live. We humans are the landscape of the Spirit World of Ideas
. We are a physical site where bundles of ideas compete, a bridge between the twin planes of biology and information.
In the Spirit World of Ideas, what we think of as Free Will
is just the process of one idea within that bundle beating the others. It's able to exert more control over its host than its competition by exploiting the reward systems of that particular biological landscape. Your process of choosing (be it a religion or what to have for lunch) is an act of natural selection. Speaking to other people about ideas is like being a bee, carrying pollen for our own reasons, yet in doing so, we perform an essential role in something else's reproductive process.
That's the brief explanation about how to see the Spirit World of Ideas.