Memes on the Mind

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Having read the first chapter of The Meme Machine, I am now adding The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci to my list.

In brief: A meme is a unit of information, the mental version of a gene. Memes may be transmitted via communication and imitation, in essence “infecting” the recipient with this information, which may then be transferred to another, and so on. The method of transfer may be any medium. For purposes of my research I am focusing on direct, person to person, as biological viruses spread. Therefore, absent a hard medium such as a book, CD, or electronic file, memory is used instead.

Since genetic drift is a given fact, mutation of the meme must occur, but this mutation can be lessened by using tools, “mnemonics”, to build associations between the meme in its original form and information already stored in the recipient. For instance: nursery rhymes. We may forget what every billboard said on the way to work, but we remember, to a large degree, every nursery rhyme we learned as small children. Adding simple rhythm and melody to information gives it immediate context, therefore it is more likely to be retained.

Question: to what extent is this tool knowingly put to use in the world around us? Jingles on the radio come to mind. “Na-bis-co!”. “By MEN-in!” Short, catchy tunes, three notes, four beats, mathematically precise, the tune inseparable from the message. Ergo, via viral transmission, a meme. Nabisco and Mennin have been introduced into the bio/data/memory sphere.

Hypothesis: Bastardization of Occam’s Razor: (1)simple answer is better, easier to understand, easier to slip in to borderline subconscious. As in childhood songs, etc.etc. Even “alphabet song” is sung to rhyme and meter.(2) Moments of decreased conscious/ increased subconscious activity (hypnotism??) Witness the song which awakens us in the morning, which remains, half-heard and half-remembered throughout the day, popping up to annoy us during moments of mental distraction.

Conclusion: Melody and rhythm have been used for thousands of years as mnemonic devices. Christian churches use song/chants to teach. (Did any of the OT rhyme in the original Greek? Does the Nag Hammadi rhyme in Aramaic?) A huge number of Chinese aphorisms/folk wisdom sayings rhyme. Also in the west: “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight/Red in the morning, sailors take warning”. The power of a meme is directly related to medium. Next question: which is more powerful, context or medium?

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