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Dan Dennett: On The Prevalence & Power Of Ideas (Memes)

July 17th, 2008 | by Daniel DiRito |

In the following video, Dan Dennett discusses the power of ideas (memes) to hijack evolutionary rules and therefore the individual. When this happens, depending upon the idea, society and the individual can become the virtual victim of a parasite that promotes actions that are actually contrary to our genetic fitness. While the concept seems complex on its surface, Dennett does an excellent job of communicating the premise that ideas (memes) can be toxic and detrimental.

Dennett offers some examples to demonstrate this phenomenon. He actually uses the term infectious repetititis to describe the process by which ideas can become dangerous (viral if you will). Knowing as much, he moves forward to suggest that the antidote to toxic memes is a commitment to knowledge and rational thought designed to explore the factual merits of an idea…absent a preconceived bias (morally neutral). Hence, it becomes the responsibility of society to propagate good ideas and extinguish (refute) those that aren’t.

I find the topic fascinating. Dennett, an adept communicator, is actually little more than a student of human nature who is committed to the expanded application of the scientific method. In other words, passion has its place…but it ought to be tested prior to its widespread distribution.

I’ve included a second video which I believe offers additional insight into the replication of ideas and the impact they can have on societies. The video basically traces the influences of the various religions, over time, and how their spread impacted the individual and the society. In the ebb and flow of these religions, people were persecuted and killed, customs were extinguished, and dissent by the individual was frequently prohibited. I think this second video does an excellent job of exemplifying and amplifying Dennett’s observations and the concerns he brings forward.

Dan Dennett On The Power Of Ideas (Memes)

The Spread Of Religion

Cross-posted at Thought Theater

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  1. 3 Responses to “Dan Dennett: On The Prevalence & Power Of Ideas (Memes)”

  2. By Paul Merda on Jul 17, 2008 | Reply


    Here is an excellent resource about belief and brain research that discusses memes at great length…

    Yes, all religion is based upon the meme, the “mind-virus”.

  3. By rube cretin on Jul 17, 2008 | Reply

    thanks for the excellent post. i have been aware of memes for some years now and find the subject very interesting. Looked at Paul’s site and can tell one night soon when the insomnia takes hold i have a subject and site to cure the curse of old age.

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