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The Bricks of Mind and Culture: Memes
Jul 1, 2014

Humanity exists, sustains itself, and builds civilizations upon a heritage, and genes and memes, which are altered and conserved for generations, constitute the fundamental building blocks of it. We've learned many things in the last 50 years about genes as biochemical polymers which carry information that controls the processes and makes up the algorithms of our biological development. However we still do not have clear information pertaining to the development, transfer, conservation, and divergence of culture formation which is to a great extent the product of human mind.

Culture as we know it is generated from thoughts, emotions, attitudes and behaviors, networks of symbols, values, beliefs, and sensory perceptions. Culture itself also changes, differs and is transferred among generations. Memetics is a new field of science that tries to understand questions such as How does the mind work? How do humans learn and develop? How does culture form and transfer to future generations?

One of the major tenets of memetics is the meme, or meme concept. The meme concept is assumed as a mental unit to understand the structure and function of culture. Symbols (imaginations), cognates, archetypes, images, concepts, values, beliefs, emotions, attitudes, and behaviors that are produced inside the human mind are either memes or a meme set. Memes are described as mysterious codes of behavior, and the main production unit of reality and function of the human mind. Concepts like mind, cognition, and memory as well as the functioning of the genes and viruses have been instrumental in the development of the meme.

If we consider the human brain as a computer, genes can be regarded as units that make up the hardware, and memes as units for software. Speech and language skills enable the formation and transfer of memes that build mind and culture. Forms of literature and different sciences are also memes that help define a specific culture and civilization. It is accepted that memes are units that code, reproduce, and store ideas, emotions, and behaviors.

Since memes can only be reproduced in the mind and transferred via the brain's activities, they are also described as the viruses of the cultural world. The common feature of biological and computer viruses is that they leak into the system by concealing themselves, and thus infect other structures in the medium by replicating there. Through memes, acting as agents (viruses) that reproduce and diversify ideas, culture is transferred via media, speech, and mass communication devices. One such example of this would be commercials. Commercials and other forms of advertisements are produced by utilizing powerful memes.

Genes and the laws of genetics help us to understand memes. Genes and memes are very similar to each other in terms of working principles. Just like genes, memes are also multidimensional and multifunctional. The roles that genes play in the biological world are similarly carried out by memes in the mind. There are regulatory memes, just like regulatory genes. There are immunoglobulin genes in charge of protecting against diseases, just as there are memes that guard against bad, harmful, and unwanted cultural practices. Ethical teachings, decency, the concept of right and wrong, lawful and unlawful are examples of memes that conserve a culture's spiritual and ideological world.

Genes have helped the brain to develop in such a way that they store and reproduce memes. The synapses and neural networks of the brain are drawn towards certain memes. Neural genes and their products (neurotransmitters, neural networks and synapses) work in conjunction with these memes, spreading their content.

Knowledge is spread in this way. Like unlocking a door is dependent on a complete match and fit of the key and lock, the production, storage, reproduction, and transfer of memes relies on fitting with the proper genes. In other words, there is a high level of adaptation and association in between memes and memetic structures that are encoded into the structure of the brain. Therefore, not every meme can find its place in each mind; likewise, not every brain can accommodate and propagate all meme forms. This relation explains both why humans have different interests and respond differently to the same stimulant. In the meantime, it sheds light on the role of memes in the development of different mentalities, perceptions, and opinions.

Just as genes affect memes, memes also affect genes. Memes that form in the mind play a role in the expression, regulation, and control of genes. Memes such as emotions and ideas lead to alterations in the electrical activities of the brain. Furthermore, this triggers the excretion of neurotransmitter materials and the synthesis of transcription factors that switch gene activity on and off. Some of these memes can be pleasant, or they may be unwanted and disturbing. Thus, there is also a need for anti-memes, in order to neutralize unwanted and disturbing ones.

Belief systems, and conversely non-belief, produce different memes and this difference causes variations in a person's neural gene activity. The mental processes of a person possessing right or wrong memes shaped by religious faith will not be the same compared to a person who does not have these memes. This is similar to the way a person with positive and joyful memes sees life in a different light than someone who has negative and harmful memes.

The task that antivirus programs have in the computer world is similar to the tasks of anti-memes in our mind. Of course, a person can influence this process through willpower. Good things represent nice and pleasant memes and wrong ones symbolize unwanted and harmful memes. Of course, each country or culture has different definitions of what is good and what is wrong. From this perspective, so-called "culture wars" are actually wars of memes and memetics. It is only possible to understand civilizations through analyzing the algorithms and memetic maps which were used to erect them.

Memes are investigated under three main groups according to the anatomical and functional structure of the brain. The first is memes that are stored and populated in the neocortex, which is associated with advanced mental functions such as willpower, consciousness, and intangible thinking. These memes are also defined as a cognate (a unit that represents the information generated and stored in the cortex) in cognitive sciences.

The second one is memes that surface, stay, and diversify in the mezolymbic region, which houses the centers for reward and pleasure, fight or flight, and which generates simple and complex emotions.

The third type is memes that are associated with the back region of the brain that is in charge of activities pertaining to physical necessities, such as eating and drinking. Due to the make-up of our brains, personal memes for desire, fear, and other habits are significantly different from each other. But these three different types of memes play a role in shaping brain chemistry and culture. The way we think originates from these different memetic maps via different memes of subconscious content. Due to the differing makeup in personalities, because of memes and genes, people have different degrees of willpower. In summary, if there is not a problem regarding the foundation of genetic and memetic interaction, we develop and mature with the capacity to separate the good, right, and decent memes from the wrong, harmful, and disturbing ones. In this process, emotions and behaviors that are inside and outside of our will are subject to regulation and the control of psychological and spiritual states, and genetic-memetic systems. We should not forget that our ideas, emotions and behaviors are determined under the control of our intelligence, conscience, and willpower, which are the dynamics of our soul.