Memes & genes

From: Grant Callaghan (
Date: Fri 08 Nov 2002 - 16:07:00 GMT

  • Next message: Wade Smith: "Re: Memes & genes"

    Why we have conflicts between memes and genes.

    From the Boston Globe article:

    >The best explanation for this hinges on the rush of stress hormones -
    >including adrenaline and norepinephrine - whose release in the brain is
    >triggered by fear, causing vision to improve, pupils to dilate, and the
    >heart to pump harder. When they reach an area of the brain called the
    >amygdala, known as the brain's ''fear center,'' those hormones also enhance
    >memory, which explains why years or even decades later, people can remember
    >precisely where they were when they received catastrophic news.

    >Using drugs to help prevent PTSD, however, may not meet with universal
    >enthusiasm among doctors who treat trauma. Although the terrorist attacks
    >on Sept. 11 of last year have made PTSD an increasingly familiar diagnosis,
    >much of its biology and physiology is still mysterious. It is unknown, for
    >example, why one person recovers beautifully and another, who at first
    >appears calmer, may be haunted for years.

    >For that reason, scientists should be cautious about affecting natural
    >coping mechanisms, said one trauma specialist.

    >''I am someone who believes you have to do that really carefully, because
    >if nature is giving us adrenaline at a time like this, there's a reason for
    >it,'' said Rachel Yehuda, director of the Traumatic Stress Studies division
    >at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine. ''If medication delays your dealing
    >with the event, maybe you'll pay for it later.''

    >But others interviewed said the medications are a promising new direction.
    >In both humans and animals, memory is heightened and enhanced by certain
    >kinds of stress or fear. A group of college students tested by researchers
    >at the University of California at Irvine, for example, could remember a
    >series of slides better when they were accompanied by an upsetting or
    >frightening story.

    * * *

    From the evidence of these studies I would suggest that memes have a strong effect on how our genes have prepared us to act. Frightening stories, for example affect memory and other internal systems that prepare us for fight or flight. Memes are the source of the medication doctors are using to dampen the effects of stress on the body. How we react to trauma is treated one way by the genes in our bodies and another way by the medications we've developed to counter these effect.

    I also suggest that civilization itself grew out of the need to control how we react if we are going to live in large groups that interact with each other. Much of the memetic structure we have adopted in the course of history (laws, separate housing for families, sanitation, food distribution, clothing to cover parts of the body not affected by heat and cold, organization into units based around the functions of war, law and order as well as work and distribution of goods and services) was developed from the need to overcome certain genetic reactions that tend to cause conflict between members of large groups living closely together. Such conflicts can tear the group apart and weaken the members in a struggle for survival against other groups.

    As they say in football, a well functioning team of mediocre players can beat a team of allstars. It's been proven on the football fields and basketball courts time and time again. That's a test of memes against genes.

    The life of an individual in this world has always been short and painful if he did not belong to an organized group that shares memes. That applies not only to our species but to many species, including wolves and primates. This supplies the survival value of memes to society and influences which memes are kept and which ones are discarded.



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