Quotes Tagged "memes"
Rumors had their own classic epidemiology. Each started with a single germinating event. Information spread from that point, mutating and interbreeding—a conical mass of threads, expanding into the future from the apex of their common birthplace. Eventually, of course, they'd wither and die; the cone would simply dissipate at its wide end, its permutations senescent and exhausted. There were exceptions, of course. Every now and then a single thread persisted, grew thick and gnarled and unkillable: conspiracy theories and urban legends, the hooks embedded in popular songs, the comforting Easter-bunny lies of religious doctrine. These were the memes: viral concepts, infections of conscious thought. Some flared and died like mayflies. Others lasted a thousand years or more, tricked billions into the endless propagation of parasitic half-truths.
A civilization makes progress by leveraging the achievements and observations of past generations. We compress history into words, stories, and symbols that allow living people to learn and benefit from the experiences of the dead. In the space of one childhood, we can learn what it took humanity many centuries to figure out. While animals may have some capacity to instruct their young, humans are unlimited in their capacity to learn from one another. Thanks to stories, books, and our symbol systems, we can learn from people we have never met. We create symbols, or what Korzybski calls abstractions, in order to represent things to one another and our descendants more efficiently. They can be icons, brands, religious symbols, familiar tropes, or anything that compresses information bigger than itself.