Extract from Neuroecology by Professor George Angel
The Integral Sea
If we think of the memes and memeplexes in terms of organisms. If we think of them like bacteria or animals and our minds, our nervous systems, as the world in which they exist do we not have a useful analogy or metaphor for understanding ourselves? Every day ideas, thoughts, fashions, anything that can be thought of in informational terms fights to persist in our brains, to thrive and to spread.
I think of it as an ocean, a deep, dark ocean.
At the surface are our conscious thoughts, the ideas that we are aware of in the moment. Fleet, fast, adaptable but visible. They breach the surface like dolphins or fly in the sky. As I think these words and move to type them the ideas and concepts that make them up are called to the surface, flashing and dazzling like a shoal of silvery fish.
As I try to recall a memory, larger, slower creatures – whales perhaps – rise to the surface to take a breath and show themselves before sinking back down into the darkness beneath.
Deeper, perhaps, we find the subconscious desires and thoughts that influence us powerfully and subtly. The Freudian id, if you will, or the Jungian unconscious if you won’t. Even deeper still, perhaps, the truly unconscious, the autonomic nervous system, the beat of the heart, the swell of the lungs, the reflexes, the basics of life.
What niches have their analogues in the ecosystem of the mind? Are there plants, passive thoughts, immutable solidities of perception feeding on regular, but weak, use. The recognition of a colour perhaps, or a sound. Are there herbivores? Big, placid, slow moving ideas of certitude and solidity. Are there predators? Fast moving ideas that wipe out and kill others, feasting on their corpses and replacing them?
When one sees a previously rational man overcome with religious fervour, tossing aside the validity of reason and embracing madness it is not hard, I admit, to picture a writhing mass of sharks within his head, frenziedly eating up what common sense he might have had.
How complex, how evolved can these ideas be? Is our consciousness the apex of the mental ecosystem and does it emerge from or coexist with these other memes? Might there not be other, greater noospheric organisms alongside us, unseen, beneath these metaphorical waves?
Do all ideas, all consciousness, share a common memetic ancestor and can we derive that fundamental root to all thought. The double-helix if the meme.