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Coding Viruses for the Mind

By brain in a jar in Culture
Sat Nov 13, 2004 at 04:07:05 AM EST
Tags: Culture (all tags)

If as some have suggested religions are viruses of the mind, then it might make sense to separate the components of any given religion into two parts. The first part being those things which are necessary to maintain viral infection and which assist in the infection of new hosts. The second part is the payload: Those instructions which the virus writer wishes those who have been infected to carry out or execute.

My hope is that this method of analysis will assist others in understanding the structure of existing religions as well as those who aim to write one from scratch

First I should explain quickly the analogy at the beginning of the article. The analogy is not mine, but its truth may not be immediately apparent if you have not heard it before. A religion like a virus requires a host, it exists only in the minds of its followers. Just as a virus uses the cellular machinery of the cells which it infects to make more copies of itself, religions generally cause those infected by them to attempt to recruit others to the religion. The analogy with biological viruses only fails in that biological viruses always damage their hosts to some extent, whereas in some cases religions can have a positive effect.


A religion like any other virus requires a means to infect new hosts and means to ensure that infection is as persistent as possible. In some cases this part of the can be coded extremely simply. The prohibition by the catholic church of masturbation as well as any effective form of birth control helps to ensure recruitment of new members to the faith. The pyramid selling approach is simple, but can be effective. For example the Jehovah's witnesses function using a system where only those members of the faith who have racked up the greatest numbers of conversions are allowed to enter heaven.

However such simple mechanisms to ensure replication are more likely to produce an immune response in the host. That is to say when the instruction is costly to the host, or has a feeling of being arbitrary, it is more likely that the infection will fail to take hold or that it will be terminated. For this reason more subtle means of ensuring replication are typically required. A truly classic strategy is to imbue in the infected population the idea that they are privileged, chosen, or righteous and specially beloved of God. Vanity is mans greatest weakness and this is one of the most successful strategies to date. It has some value in terms of infecting new hosts, because the faithful generally wish to spread their good fortune to (a select group) of others (success here is somewhat hampered by the insufferable smugness of those affected by this meme). That said the real power of this strategy is in suppressing the host's immune response. To reject the religion the host must also reject the idea that they are special and better than the rest of humanity. Few are capable of this level of humility.

The next tool of choice is territorial expansionism. This is usually paired with the previous strategy, since it is easier to kill and enslave other humans and take their land when you believe that you are better than them, or if you believe that they are doomed anyway because all uninfected humans are doomed. Territorial expansion and forced conversion can be encouraged in a number of ways. For example a large area of disputed territory can be defined by religious fiat to belong to the followers of that religion, thus commanding the followers of the religion to gain control of these regions and remove or forcibly convert all other inhabitants. In addition the religion can state that special rewards are given for those who die in war (religiously motivated or otherwise). One example of this is the ancient Viking idea of Valhalla, the hall of heroes where warriors go when they die in battle. A second, and more up to date example are the rewards that islamists are promised in exchange for dying as part of a Jihad.

Insularism is also a valuable part of the virus writer's armoury. Instructing infected hosts to associate mostly among themselves helps to reduce the risk of them rejecting the virus due to information received from others, or due to comparisons with the uninfected which display the costs of infection. There is of course a tradeoff here between maintaining existing infections and creating new ones, but given that the hosts are relatively long lived, maintaining infection is of the utmost importance. Another popular strategy to ensure the continuity of infection is to have a skewed set of rewards, with special punishments being reserved for those who reject the religion and possibly with special rewards being given to those who return to it . This kind of strategy can be seen in many religions: The Christian parable of the prodigal son, in the rejection from the community which orthodox Jews may visit upon those who give up their faith or marry outside the faith or in the vindictive mistreatment of those who try to escape the church of scientoology.


So now that we have dealt with some of the basic components required to produce a mind virus we get to the fun part: Execution of (almost) arbitrary code. There are as many payloads as there are religions, and in many cases the payload has been altered over time by subsequent authors. This part is really up to the author, it could be anything from good food hygiene (present in Islam and Judaism), to generally being nice to people as described in the Christian new testament. Again a little care has to be taken in selecting code to execute because here also there is again the risk of promoting the host's immune response if the payload is excessively arbitrary or too virulent (costly to the host). However for the virus author who wishes to improve the lives and behaviour of those who become infected, this should present little difficulty. For the author who has other purposes in mind, I will offer no advice as I do not wish to assist him.

I would also offer one warning with respect to payloads. Once a virus is released into the wild there is no way of knowing how long it will persist. It could last a couple of weeks, or a couple of millennia. For this reason it is wise for the writer of mind viruses to write for the ages. Payloads which are too specific, or too prescriptive, are likely to become irrelevant or harmful as time passes. Only the most general principles have a hope of remaining valid a thousand years hence.

Although this method of understanding religions has a fair amount of explanatory power there remain cases that are borderline. Are the long lists of sexual prohibitions in many of the older religions a moral payload, or are they there to ensure replication? This is one puzzle we may never solve.

Finally, at the end of the article, something about the end of life. The one component without which no mind virus will function properly, is the promise of an escape from death. In his Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams (may he rest in peace) described the problems which the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation had with its elevators. They had been imbued with both artificial intelligence and the ability to see into the future, so that they would always be waiting at the required floor. The unintended consequence was that the lifts looked into their future and saw misery and death and went to sulk in the basement. Humans too are blessed and yet cursed with foresight and tend to seek an escape from that which they know must happen. If you offer them escape from this one unpleasant truth, they will swallow many other untruths gladly.


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Coding Viruses for the Mind | 210 comments (120 topical, 90 editorial, 0 hidden)
I think you meant trojan horse. [nt] (none / 1) (#6)
by sllort on Wed Nov 10, 2004 at 05:01:59 PM EST

Warning: On Lawn is a documented liar.
I don't think I did (none / 0) (#134)
by brain in a jar on Fri Nov 12, 2004 at 10:31:41 AM EST

A trojan provides a backdoor into a computer which allows it to be controlled directly, with new commands being given at any time.

whereas a virus, contains all the instructions which the infected host is required to carry out, and changing these instructions later is difficult.

I think that latter is a better representation of religion.

Anyway, given that a lot of viruses (which self-replicate) now also install backdoors the distinction between a virus and a Trojan is somewhat blurred.

Life is too important, to be taken entirely seriously.
[ Parent ]

If I read this properly (none / 1) (#9)
by Heywood Jablome on Wed Nov 10, 2004 at 05:17:39 PM EST

Your assertion is that we have all been created by Microsoft?

I knew it! (none / 0) (#33)
by zrail on Thu Nov 11, 2004 at 12:17:57 AM EST

I think what first gave it away was my irrational desire to make love to Excel.

[ Parent ]
Please... (none / 0) (#52)
by skyknight on Thu Nov 11, 2004 at 09:23:59 AM EST

wear a keyboard protector.

It's not much fun at the top. I envy the common people, their hearty meals and Bruce Springsteen and voting. --SIGNOR SPAGHETTI
[ Parent ]
If we're going to be fair... (2.91 / 12) (#14)
by skyknight on Wed Nov 10, 2004 at 07:24:14 PM EST

all information is viral and in constant competition to reproduce selfishly. Its mechanisms for propagation, while physically different, are remarkably similar to the elaborate rituals and interactions that govern the selfish reproduction of genetic material. Thus the term memetics has been coined.

There is no reason to limit the scope to religion. Scientific theory propagates in much the same way. Ideas come into existence on some host as the result of observations and as the progeny of other knowledge, they spread to other individuals through either language or observation, and they fight with one another for dominance. Their battlegrounds are armed conflicts, markets, universities, and tables at Starbucks. Whichever theories confer the best advantages to their hosts propagate preferentially to those that are relatively flawed.

It's not much fun at the top. I envy the common people, their hearty meals and Bruce Springsteen and voting. --SIGNOR SPAGHETTI
Flawed thinking (none / 0) (#15)
by xutopia on Wed Nov 10, 2004 at 07:52:23 PM EST

"Whichever theories confer the best advantages to their hosts propagate preferentially to those that are relatively flawed."

You are infected with the meme that makes people think that religion gains by being advantageous by its hosts. ;)

Many viruses take over their hosts with complete disregard for them. I think religion has proven itself as dangerous for some individuals. Look at people ready to blow themselves up in the name of Jihad. The host obviously becomes less important than the memetic complex. Of course if this person with his act strengthens the meme within other hosts it's all to gain for the memetic complex of religion. We don't have to look as far as Islam, just look at how many men and women have given their lives to spreading the meme of religion. Imagine how much a priest or nun has to give up in order to become ordained. He won't spread his genes and will be used by the memetic complex of religion all his life. His life is in essence wasted.

[ Parent ]

The hosts as a group gain advantage (none / 0) (#16)
by six volt on Wed Nov 10, 2004 at 08:08:55 PM EST

You seem to be implying that religions kill off all their subscribers.

-I want to be this guy.-
[ Parent ]

Bingo /nt (none / 0) (#21)
by skyknight on Wed Nov 10, 2004 at 08:31:07 PM EST

It's not much fun at the top. I envy the common people, their hearty meals and Bruce Springsteen and voting. --SIGNOR SPAGHETTI
[ Parent ]
no I don't imply that. (none / 0) (#31)
by xutopia on Wed Nov 10, 2004 at 11:02:44 PM EST

I imply that religion is of no benefit to it's infected society. It may seem that way to you but it's really an assumption that you should look at with more skepticism. Religion takes lots away from you as an individual and if you add things up it kinda draws an ugly picture of religion.

Check the comment where I explain why I think religion is bad for any hosts it infects: here

[ Parent ]

Not so flawed as you think... (none / 0) (#19)
by skyknight on Wed Nov 10, 2004 at 08:15:58 PM EST

I take issue with two assumptions that you are making. You are being both too narrow and too short sighted in what you are consider.

"Host" does not necessarily connote an individual. It also is a label for a society, particularly in the case of memetics. While certain memes may result in self-destruction for an individual, it can still have a net benefit for the society that harbors the meme.

Also, you must realize that the temporary manifestation of some trait does not mean that it will be successful in the long term. Evolution is all about guess and test. Most of your guesses are going to be mutations that are fatal to the host organism, and they will result in the organism being weeded out, along with the genes/memes/whatever that they are carrying.

Lastly (okay, three), you might have to redefine what you think of as "success". Your thinking that some particular outcome is "unsuccessful" it tinted somewhat by your own world view. What is "success" anyway, but the propagation of genes and memes, when you really look at things at the lowest level?

It's not much fun at the top. I envy the common people, their hearty meals and Bruce Springsteen and voting. --SIGNOR SPAGHETTI
[ Parent ]
rarely have I heard the term host (none / 0) (#30)
by xutopia on Wed Nov 10, 2004 at 10:43:44 PM EST

used as a society or group. When I use the term I mean a single organism or when dealing with memes I speak of a person. I believe that's the way it usually is in books dealing with the subject (Any by Richard Dawkins for example).

"Also, you must realize that the temporary manifestation of some trait does not mean that it will be successful in the long term." - agreed.

I guess we don't have the same idea of what success is. Let me define it the way I see it.

Success for an organism in nature: pushing as many as his genes as possible to the next generation. Note that sometimes it doesn't mean reproducing itself but allowing members of his family sharing some genes with him to reproduce more often.

Success for a person in a society: pushing as many as his genes and memes he holds dear as possible. It's a way of living forever to have people mention your name hundreds of years after your death.

So I guess I see it as the lowest level as you seem to. If someone is infected with the religion virus he'll spend time and energy spreading that virus (someone else's memes essentially). In a sense his view is clouded by the virus and he spends his time and energy to help someone else's memes to spread. Of course he may add memes to the complex but essentially he's waisting his potential.

Now for the ones that completely give up their time and reproduction options (priest, nuns) to help religion are really sad and sure the memetic complex has to gain from it but I don't think society/ecosystem has anything to gain from supporting a virus which takes time from his members. The hosts are often fooled into thinking it though.

Now my assertion was that your statement "Whichever theories confer the best advantages to their hosts propagate preferentially to those that are relatively flawed." is a fallacy. I still don't see the advantages that religion provide to a society. Most things that individuals give in the name of religion/deity could be given without it. And lots of time, energy, money and lives are taken away from society to uphold the ressource consumming memetic complex. When does one decide that a memetic complex is bad for the society it lives in? When can we with certainty that a memetic complex is beneficial to society? We'd have to measure something shouldn't we? How do we account for all the things that these memetic complexes take away from us?

Today I believe that religion is the one thing which holds us back the most in society. It gives fallacious answers to very complex questions simply because it is easier that way, fools manu of us in thinking that it is good to waste our time to promote the memetic complex, takes our money so we can finance better infectious agents (clergy), and even takes lives (jihad).

[ Parent ]

Two things... (none / 0) (#51)
by skyknight on Thu Nov 11, 2004 at 09:22:13 AM EST

First, I think you make funny use of possessive adjectives. You refer to a meme as belonging to some originating person, and you say that in the case of an "infected host" that he is wasting his time transmitting the memes of someone else. I think that this doesn't really make any sense. Unlike genes, for which you start out with a definite set at the beginning of life and you neither gain nor lose any for the duration of your life, memes are fundamentally different. You start with only a very few hard coded ones, that arguably aren't memes anyway but rather the result of genetics. As such, pretty much any memes that a host possesses are either ones that were taken from other organisms, or ones that resulted from the organism combining other memes and creating a new one. In any case, the vast majority of the memes residing in the typical host could reasonably be expected to be of foreign origin. Consequently, I think it somewhat odd to speak as if a host has been hijacked by some meme or other. The mere concept of meme ownership, I think, is flawed. We humans are merely vectors for memes (and genes), and are constantly in various states of hijacking. My memes are what define "I" and yours are what define "you".

Second, as much as I find Christianity distasteful and wish that it would go away, it is clear to me that it confers certain competitive advantages to its host societies, at least in certain scenarios and combined with other memes. Christianity is a great way to instill in a people a set of stories and beliefs that will make them somewhat fanatic warriors. We've seen this throughout history, ranging from the Crusades of yore to President Bush's constant invocation of God in his speeches. A belief in an afterlife and huge rewards therein is a very powerful motivator for organisms to risk death where a non-believer would refuse to engage in such behavior. Has any empire in the history of the world been built on the backs of soldiers who are devout atheists and agnostics? I would guess not. Atheists and agnostics can be extremely moral people, and can even be willing to die for a cause, such as liberty, but you probably won't find them gladly fighting for some king to expand his holdings.

It's not much fun at the top. I envy the common people, their hearty meals and Bruce Springsteen and voting. --SIGNOR SPAGHETTI
[ Parent ]
rebuttle (none / 0) (#57)
by xutopia on Thu Nov 11, 2004 at 12:01:15 PM EST

first point: I agree slightly. I don't always use the right vocabulary to express what I want to say. However I believe that people use memes to the advantage of their genes. It's an extended phenotype of sorts.

I once met a guy who's son had just died a week prior. He lost his son to a terrible congenital disease which prohibited him from growing physically. People with such a disease have a life expentancy between 8 and 10 years. His son was to be a speaker at age 11 for a conference on child healthcare in Quebec. He wrote his own speech in advance without the help of anyone. Because his health was rapidly declining a few of the father's contacts at the CBC (canadian broadcasting corporation) offered to record his speech on tape in case he wouldn't make it for the conference. The child knew all his life that he'd die faster than anyone he ever met. He spent most of his time painting, writing and before his lungs became too weak singing. He recorded an album, got some of his writings published and even sold a painting before he was ten. I was with the father a week after the death of his child. He showed us a video of the tape airing at the conference and the first words in the speech were "If you see this it is because I am not alive anymore for you to see me.". His last were "My greatest desire is for you all to remember me forever."

My point is that we are born with the desire to promote ourselves in any way we can, genetically and memetically. We're programmed that way. Memes to me have their originators. When we promote memes we usually do it because it is the way we are programmed. Memetic complexes that take away our originality are detrimental in my opinion, at least to the person wasting his time on memes which he isn't the originator. Then again an individual attaching himself to a memetic complex is probably under the illusion that part of him will live on forever. It's illusion though that the memetic complex is part of him. He's fooled just like some are cuckoed.

Second point: I believe you see advantages where there aren't any. If a king/governing body can use religion to protect his holdings who benefits? The king or the society? Despite disagreeing with your said scenario I can see some instances where religion could have a benefit for the whole. I just think we'll never reach such a scenario in a million years. Religion is a virus that in most cases only benefits some dead guy and the people who represent him. Everyone else pays in some way by joining the religion, either in wasted time, money or lives. Sure the promise of after life sounds great but it's just that. A promise.

[ Parent ]

A religious society (none / 0) (#73)
by six volt on Thu Nov 11, 2004 at 03:03:39 PM EST

Invades other societies, and either kills or incorporates them, making the original society much stronger.

Religion allows non-professional armies to keep up their morale.

-I want to be this guy.-
[ Parent ]

It depends, again, on your definitions... (none / 0) (#129)
by skyknight on Fri Nov 12, 2004 at 08:55:05 AM EST

in this case of "benefits". If "to benefit" is defined as acquiring land, accruing material wealth, and exercising power over others, then religion often tends to benefit societies. Sophisticated religious belief systems are a great way to swell the ranks of armies with fanatical warriors. Their heads are filled with visions of empire and rich rewards in an after life. They will die in battle because they believe it is the highest calling with little thought as to what utility there is in their death. History has shown this time and again. In the simplest terms, success is defined as spreading ones genes and memes.

When a conquering army overruns a neighbor, what happens? The men and children are murdered or enslaved, thus preempting propagation of their genes and consequently giving preferential advantage to the genes of the conquerors, the women are raped by the soldiers and lords, thus propagating the conquerors' genes, and the conquering nation's laws are imposed on the subjugated people, thus furthering the memes of the conquerors.

You just need to upgrade your level of cynicism in defining "success" and then we'll be in agreement. :-p

It's not much fun at the top. I envy the common people, their hearty meals and Bruce Springsteen and voting. --SIGNOR SPAGHETTI
[ Parent ]
I really must say I enjoy discussing this with you (none / 0) (#138)
by xutopia on Fri Nov 12, 2004 at 01:35:59 PM EST

it's rare I have my money's worth when discussing something with someone. I'm surrounded by people who prefer talking about reality shows than anything which would make them think.

Here's a thing that's been shaking in my head in the last 24 hours regarding our discussion on wars and benefits.

We don't have a standard scoring mecanism and it is hard to say for sure wether a phenotype won't be detrimental in the long term. An example of short term benefit and long term disaster is when a population has a gene making feeding oneself an upmost priority. This type of phenotype is seen as beneficial when food is scarce but we see examples of a population outgrowing their ecosystem and starving themselves as a result. Sometimes they become extinct because they ate all the food faster than it could replenish.

On the same hand let's take the example of humans. We are essentially a same species with very little DNA differences between each and every one of us. I bet we can unequivocally say that having someone attack us is detrimental to us.

Now if we have group of us which goes to war and invades a country it seems rather advantageous to us right? We can thank our hawk gene for that. But once the territory becomes too big and a political schism happens as it did with the new world and England a war can happen between the two newly formed parts. Death ensues, and reconstruction efforts etc... It's costly and in my opinion detrimental.

The hawk gene was probably selected through time because it allowed us to protect ourselves from predators or competing species. Now that we've grown throughout the land and speak different languages we don't see other members of the same species always as we should. We treat them as members of a competing species. Is it an error in evolution? An imperfection in the guesswork of evolution?

I've been thinking a lot about this. Tibetans have been carrying, promoting this non-violence meme. In essence if everyone was using this meme we'd on average all have a higher score if death was considered detrimental. The problem is scoring things. I'm sad to say that for the moment success is hard to define. Genes and memes propagation is probably the only means of counting things we have. It seems that despite everyone having a better score if we didn't commit violent acts that the ones who choose not to do violence risk way more than the ones who do. So long as that is we'll have a propensity towards violence.

Anyways maybe we do agree in essence. We just haven't got similar definitions for things and that's where we have hiccups. Let me know what you think about this daydreaming rant on success, violence etc...

[ Parent ]

Indeed... (none / 0) (#159)
by skyknight on Sat Nov 13, 2004 at 09:25:59 AM EST

non-superficial conversation is an increasingly rare commodity, both in the digital land of K5 and in the meat space of the "real world". You have to take your opportunities where you can get them. I can't stand reality television shows. I watched a single episode of Survivor in the second season because my friends demanded it of me, saying that I was being unobjective in my criticism. Well, I watched it, and whadayaknow... Now I have an objective basis for thinking that reality TV sucks. To be fair, though, I think almost all of TV sucks.

I think that an important thing to remember about evolution is that it doesn't really have a far sighted heuristic. If I had to pick a CS algorithm that best described it, it would be the greedy algorithm. Of course, the greediness of the algorithm depends on how harsh the environment is. The more relaxed the climate, the more frivolous evolution can be about trying out things that won't pay immediate benefits. The more vicious the climate is, the more focus there will be on mutations providing immediate benefit.

Human rationalism is much the same way. We have finite computational capacity, so we apply what is known as a "discounting factor" to the utility of future events. This is furthermore sensible because estimating the probability and utility of events really far in the future is hard, and thus the calculations are apt to be fuzzy. As such, we might colonize some land, thinking only of the benefits to be had in the near term, neglecting the long term issues. So it goes...

The degree to which organisms cooperate depends on the extent of the commonality of their genes and memes, and also on how much competition there is from dissimilar entities. You must remember that its genes and memes that are selfishly reproducing, and that we are just vectors, along for the ride. As such, what we think of as "altruism" exists because of a coordination of efforts of common genes and memes across host organisms. When highly dissimilar competitors show up on the scene, the common threat to the genes and memes of you and your brethren binds you together. Lacking such an enemy, your common genes/memes are both assured of existence and your disparate genes/memes compete for comparative advantage. This is why people of very different backgrounds can be bound together in times of war, and yet in times of peace people will step over their own mothers to get certain things.

As for the Tibetans... I don't think that a non-violence gene is very sustainable. The world has finite resources and the human populations thereon exhibit potentially infinite demands. Displaying an unwillingness to engage in violence is to invite disaster. It's easy to forget how scarce things really are, but you have to remember that in some parts of the world that water is so scarce that wars can erupt over it. While the more successful industrialized nations may not have water scarcity as a primary problem, they are obviously willing to fight over other things, such as oil. All of this preparedness for war may seen like a waste, but there is no other way. Human rationalism has lots of manifestations, and one of them is to exploit perceived weaknesses in competitors. When rational agents are at play, the only way to attain a lasting peace is through a competitive stalemate.

It's not much fun at the top. I envy the common people, their hearty meals and Bruce Springsteen and voting. --SIGNOR SPAGHETTI
[ Parent ]
Memes and genes don't work very well anymore (none / 0) (#18)
by six volt on Wed Nov 10, 2004 at 08:15:13 PM EST

Things are changing too fast for them to adapt.

-I want to be this guy.-

Er... What else is there? /nt (none / 0) (#22)
by skyknight on Wed Nov 10, 2004 at 08:32:58 PM EST

It's not much fun at the top. I envy the common people, their hearty meals and Bruce Springsteen and voting. --SIGNOR SPAGHETTI
[ Parent ]
ah never mind (none / 0) (#23)
by six volt on Wed Nov 10, 2004 at 08:56:35 PM EST

I suppose I was referring to the old memes in particular. They are having a really hard time adapting today. Kids see a choice between an old-fashioned idea and totally new ideas. There is little thought towards changing the old ideas because the changes are so drastic.

As for genes, I think there is some part which ties into the basic human society of 1000s of years ago. Now, the prominent social influences in your life can be different than those for your children.

And even if there were some intelligent force manipulating the gene pool, it can't react fast enough to prevent the downfall of human DNA - either by humanity killing itself or humanity constructing its superiors.

-I want to be this guy.-
[ Parent ]

"Kids" are a bad example (none / 1) (#26)
by ajs on Wed Nov 10, 2004 at 10:11:09 PM EST

When we are young we are foolish and idealistic... when we are old we are foolish and conservative. To say that "kids" aren't accepting old memes is missleading. By rebelling against an old system the younger generation forces it to adapt slightly but otherwise it remains unchanged. Later in life these same "rebels" will find themselves enriching the same institutions that they rebeled against. You know that a particular idea or institution (such as a religion) has reached the end of its natural lifespan when the new generation continues to rebel against it well into their middle-age (e.g. the way modern US culture treats the music industry).
-- Aaron Sherman <ajs@ajs.com>
[ Parent ]
A: Genes created the brain ... (none / 0) (#160)
by tilly on Sat Nov 13, 2004 at 10:58:24 AM EST

because the intelligence in the genes did not work quickly enough to deal with changing environment

[ Parent ]
Um... What? (none / 0) (#161)
by skyknight on Sat Nov 13, 2004 at 11:02:14 AM EST

The intelligence in the genes? Come again?

It's not much fun at the top. I envy the common people, their hearty meals and Bruce Springsteen and voting. --SIGNOR SPAGHETTI
[ Parent ]
Let me spell it out ... (none / 0) (#165)
by tilly on Sat Nov 13, 2004 at 01:52:26 PM EST

The intelligence of the genes is the evolutionary process itself. Mistakes are made in self-replication; most of those mistakes are harmful and kill the organism. But every once in a long while, a "mistake" comes along and it confers a survival advantage.

If the environment is changing, again, fortunate imperfections in self-replication help the organism to adapt to those changes.

Slow but better than nothing ...

[ Parent ]

I've studied biology extensively. (none / 0) (#166)
by skyknight on Sat Nov 13, 2004 at 01:55:54 PM EST

I don't need to have the basics of evolution spelled out for me. I'm taking issue with your usage of language. It sounds quite absurd to me to speak of genes as having intelligence.

It's not much fun at the top. I envy the common people, their hearty meals and Bruce Springsteen and voting. --SIGNOR SPAGHETTI
[ Parent ]
I think ... (none / 0) (#171)
by tilly on Sat Nov 13, 2004 at 03:21:16 PM EST

any mechanism that allows a system to respond appropriately to its environment can be construed to be "intelligence".

p.s. Sorry, I did not mean to be assume a patronizing attitude.

[ Parent ]

I think that... (none / 0) (#173)
by skyknight on Sat Nov 13, 2004 at 03:35:05 PM EST

intelligence arises out of non-intelligent sub-components. A gene can't do much of anything on its own, and thus I think it incongruous to speak of it as being intelligent. Genes contribute to intelligence, but aren't themselves intelligence, at least in my own parlance.

It's not much fun at the top. I envy the common people, their hearty meals and Bruce Springsteen and voting. --SIGNOR SPAGHETTI
[ Parent ]
the only virus of the mind (1.00 / 14) (#27)
by Liberal Conservative on Wed Nov 10, 2004 at 10:35:06 PM EST

friends and i have been talking

what is our conclusion related to viruses of the mind?

religion is a virus of the mind

this is indisputable

this is purely indisputable

the mind, the body, the soul...

the wallet, the guilt, the obligation...

all connected to "christ", a mysterious, santa-like figure

all connected to the pope, a mysterious, yoda-like figure

miserable failure

   liberal conservative

viruses of the mind are viruses of the mind (none / 1) (#29)
by six volt on Wed Nov 10, 2004 at 10:42:01 PM EST

therefore they're nonsense?

-I want to be this guy.-
[ Parent ]

Have you (2.55 / 9) (#28)
by QuantumFoam on Wed Nov 10, 2004 at 10:41:26 PM EST

read Snow Crash lately, by any chance?

- Barack Obama: Because it will work this time. Honest!

Nope n/t (none / 0) (#38)
by brain in a jar on Thu Nov 11, 2004 at 01:48:05 AM EST

Life is too important, to be taken entirely seriously.
[ Parent ]

you should (none / 1) (#45)
by szo on Thu Nov 11, 2004 at 04:19:19 AM EST

It has the same shit, just better written.
I guess it wasn't the dove...
[ Parent ]
I'm not so sure (none / 0) (#142)
by Intelligentsia on Fri Nov 12, 2004 at 03:59:57 PM EST

I regard with suspicion any writer who believes a line like "parallelepiped of tuna" is a good idea.

We need to prove that we can spread rumors just like the mainstream media.—waxmop

[ Parent ]
Why religion? (2.88 / 17) (#39)
by illuzion on Thu Nov 11, 2004 at 01:50:53 AM EST

I'm puzzled as to why you have this focus on religion. Everything you say is valid for all ideals or ideologies. I don't know if you've noticed, but people who disbelieve religion often push it just as much as people who believe in one. Every idea like this, whether a religious one or an idelogical one - anything which is believed in strongly, even, say, open source for a lot of people - follows exactly the same pattern. Just about everything you've said applies to dozens of other things as well.

If I was a suspicious person I'd suspect you're writing about religion as a virus because you don't like religions, and I'd guess you're American, at least Western, and have made the classical fallacy of equating famous practitioners of a religion with that religion itself. You don't judge Christianity by Bush or by your Southern fundamentalists any more than you judge Kaballah by Madonna.

Otherwise you'd be writing about Open Source as a virus, trying to replicate by various means (such as license restrictions), expand its territory (how many OS people here don't think it would be a good thing in a much greater quantity of the software world?), is insular (this is a big one. People who think the same don't cluster to ensure others don't fall away, they cluster because the people they know are like-minded. And K5, /., many other places on the net are insular in the extreme - back on topic, most people 'out there' wouldn't have a clue what OS is, let alone be easily convinced that it's a good thing), and arbitrary payload (there are many.)

In short, you've taken the fiction of Snow Crash, applied it to some hazy ideas about memes, forgotten about the rest of the world and come up with a theory of religion.

Why Religion (3.00 / 8) (#42)
by brain in a jar on Thu Nov 11, 2004 at 02:27:13 AM EST

You are right to suggest that most ideologies have something of a viral nature. I could have written this article about OSS. But as you have already pointed out K5 and /. are already rather insular communites and I wouldn't want to make this situation any worse.

There are other things I could write about to illustrate the idea of memes. Urban myths are possibly the purest form of meme, because they generally contain no instructions other than the instruction to pass on the meme.

Hence I concentrate on religions because they, more than many other ideologies cause instructions to be executed by the host.

I wouldn't say I dislike religions in general. I would say that I dislike religions which are highly prescriptive, that is ones that are most obviously using their hosts to execute code. I have a good deal of sympathy for those christians who are more strongly influenced by the new Testament than the Old. They understand that following a long list of directives is not a reliable path to goodness, and certainly has little to do with anything I would call spirituality. Accordingly I also think that some of the eastern religions, especially Buddhism also have a good deal of value. That said I am myself an unbeliever.

Finally, I have never read snow crash. Ideas arise in multiple places, in some cases truly independently, or because there is an older source of the idea. I think the idea of religions as viruses of the mind was coined by Dawkins, though Ghost in the Shell has some interesting related ideas.

Life is too important, to be taken entirely seriously.
[ Parent ]

you should read it (3.00 / 4) (#47)
by illuzion on Thu Nov 11, 2004 at 07:13:59 AM EST

It's a good book. Strange, and on second reading not as good as it seems (oddly enough) but a good book nonetheless.

I wouldn't be surprised if it was Dawkins who used religions as an example. He does seem to be... well... from what I pick up, a bit anti-religion. I don't know if I'm fair in saying that though.

If you felt like it, you could rewrite the article to focus on urban myths instead. It would probably make it more interesting, especially if you had examples of myths that had spread, how they had changed, etc. I think as it stands the article is a bit hard to read (large paragraphs in large lumps together) and you might be able to break it up with examples, short paragraphs, anecdotes, etc with a topic like that. You could with religion as well, but it'd probably be easier with something else.

[ Parent ]

Dawkins isn't anti-religion (none / 1) (#58)
by xutopia on Thu Nov 11, 2004 at 12:14:02 PM EST

however his book The Selfish Gene does show how memetic complexes work and it's hard to refrain from replacing his examples with religions of the world. Many people like myself who think religion as a horrible thing for humanity use some of Dawkins's approach to explain to people why they are anti-religious or atheist.

Dawnkins himself isn't anti-religion AFAIK. I can tell you though that the picture he paints of memetic complexes isn't a great one and he is said to be atheist. I'm thinking he's just refraining from insulting religions too much because he can't by himself survive the onslaught of religious fundamentalists going at him. I think his idea to plant the ideal anti-religious memes out there is probably the smartest thing he can do if he doesn't like religions! :)

[ Parent ]

Yes he is (none / 1) (#69)
by Azmodan on Thu Nov 11, 2004 at 02:34:48 PM EST

Just read this letter that he wrote to his daughter : http://www.fortunecity.com/emachines/e11/86/dawkins2.html

I wish I could write as good as he do.

[ Parent ]

that isn't anti-religion (2.50 / 4) (#78)
by xutopia on Thu Nov 11, 2004 at 04:06:11 PM EST

he's just saying that we shouldn't take at face value whatever is handed us by tradition, authority, or revelation. Sure he uses examples of religion but he isn't saying that she shouldn't believe in any religion. Just that she should be careful if one claims something to her. It it anti-religious to be skeptical?

I guess if we really think long enough about it we'll see that skepticism doesn't tolerate religion because religion is nothing more than traditional, authoritative and revelated memes handed down purely for bad reasons.

[ Parent ]

ideologies are viral (none / 1) (#176)
by Nyarlathotep on Sat Nov 13, 2004 at 05:58:34 PM EST

Yes, ideologies are usually viral, but one is not really: science.  We are facing a great conflict between ideologies:  The traditional ideologies which propogate themselves via their intrinsic ability to appeal to people's desires;  vs.  Those boring anti-ideologies, like science, which allow the ideas to compete directly in some sort of experement.

In the end, the anti-ideologies will win for the simple reason that they just evolve faster.  The great secret of evolution which the social darwinists did not understand, is that evolution uses abstract means, and functions at many levels.  The great truth about evolution which memetic theorists do not understand is that, every once in a long while, evolution goes back to make a judgement based on actually survival.  For us, this will happen when millions of religious people all over the world refuse to accept brain implants, stem cell based drugs, or sanely derived philosophies which do not waist resources of war.
Campus Crusade for Cthulhu -- it found me!
[ Parent ]

Well not all ideas are like that (3.00 / 2) (#64)
by Big Sexxy Joe on Thu Nov 11, 2004 at 01:34:24 PM EST

A religion is virus like in that others don't spontaneously arrive at the same religions.  Scientific and mathematical ideas come from a process of reasoning.  Many of them are indepently discovered by more than one person.

Other ideas are like jokes spread like viruses but people recognize that.

More importantly, these other ideas are actually helpful to their hosts.

I'm like Jesus, only better.
Democracy Now! - your daily, uncensored, corporate-free grassroots news hour
[ Parent ]

False distinction (3.00 / 2) (#84)
by cr8dle2grave on Thu Nov 11, 2004 at 04:36:12 PM EST

While a very small number of individuals have arrived at scientific ideas by way of reason, most of those who believe in scientific ideas recieved them as truth handed down from on high and accept as a tenet of faith.

Unity of mankind means: No escape for anyone anywhere. - Milan Kundera

[ Parent ]
But (none / 1) (#139)
by Big Sexxy Joe on Fri Nov 12, 2004 at 01:49:57 PM EST

These ideas spring up spontenously.  If you could make everyone forget a valid scientific theory, it would still pop up again.

I'm like Jesus, only better.
Democracy Now! - your daily, uncensored, corporate-free grassroots news hour
[ Parent ]
Sir, (none / 1) (#65)
by sllort on Thu Nov 11, 2004 at 02:16:38 PM EST

Please name an ideology which is not religion which promises an escape from death.

Thank you.
Warning: On Lawn is a documented liar.
[ Parent ]

Warning: spoilers (3.00 / 2) (#66)
by sllort on Thu Nov 11, 2004 at 02:17:38 PM EST

Freezing fetishists (I consider this a religion)
Singularity fetishists (I consider this a religion)
Cyberspace fetishists (See above)
Warning: On Lawn is a documented liar.
[ Parent ]
re: Warning: spoilers (none / 1) (#158)
by willie on Sat Nov 13, 2004 at 08:31:09 AM EST

How about just saying you consider all ideology which promises an escape from death a religion and be done with it.

[ Parent ]
-1, vehement anti-religion from typical K5er (1.33 / 12) (#61)
by morewhine on Thu Nov 11, 2004 at 12:44:38 PM EST

Like the vast majority of K5ers, I'm agnostic, but this entire article strikes me as a means to use reason to rail against religion.  

Of course, using reason to rail against religion works - most religions that I've studied seem to be very irrational.   But I like to browse K5 for new ideas, not something that's already been around the block one million times before.  I've read a comment you posted which says you have nothing against religion, even though you're not a believer.  But honestly, do you really not have great disdain for evangelical Christians or Muslim fundamentalists, or do you abhor them because of their strict religious adherence?  Let's throw some honesty into the mix and not try to act like you're simply using "rational objectivity" to basically say that religion is like mind control.

"Religion is a virus."  Basically that could be said for any belief system using your thesis.

1, discourage (1.00 / 2) (#62)
by xutopia on Thu Nov 11, 2004 at 01:07:53 PM EST

I think it is good to rail against any system which takes advantage of its members.

If you want honesty I don't have disdain for religious people but compassion. I want them to finally relieve themselves of their shackles. Religion isn't helpful but detrimental.

Religion is mind control.

[ Parent ]

I think it promote the religions (none / 0) (#67)
by Azmodan on Thu Nov 11, 2004 at 02:26:01 PM EST

as a way to make people better. Check what he gave as a payload. Which is also worth a -1

[ Parent ]
Anti-religion (2.50 / 2) (#101)
by oneiromancer on Thu Nov 11, 2004 at 07:31:27 PM EST

I don't think it's anti-religion per se, but rather anti-ideology. Any ideology, when followed to extremes, refuses to allow any possibility of doubt or understanding of another's point of view - it doesn't matter whether it's Christianity, Islam, Communism or Fascism.

Do I, personally, have mistrust for ANYONE who puts loyalty to an intangible idea or creed above the realities of the world in which they live? Hell yes. I'm suspicious of any closed loop belief system, no matter what it is. It doesn't matter whether the ideology's goal is to die a martyr or to liberate the working classes from the tyranny of the bourgeoisie, it's still impossible to hold a rational discussion with someone who has a belief in their own rightness that doesn't stem from any real evidence.

'You are a heartless bastard.......' -- K5 hate mail
[ Parent ]
I agree (N/T) (none / 0) (#210)
by morewhine on Mon Nov 22, 2004 at 12:45:27 AM EST

[ Parent ]
Payload (3.00 / 6) (#63)
by Big Sexxy Joe on Thu Nov 11, 2004 at 01:25:07 PM EST

A couple of things you describe as payload are features that help the virus spread.  Such as being nice to others.  If you are nice to people they will be your friend and then you can save them because you are nice.  More importantly, you are nice to people in your own religion and support them because they also carry the virus.  After all, we're usually nicer to our own.  These features are probably a bit more helpful to small religions that are just starting out.  But then, all religions have to survive that phase to go on don't they?

I'm like Jesus, only better.
Democracy Now! - your daily, uncensored, corporate-free grassroots news hour
Go read Snow Crash (nt) (2.83 / 6) (#72)
by Mr.Surly on Thu Nov 11, 2004 at 02:57:40 PM EST

Analogy, metaphor, simile... (2.50 / 6) (#81)
by cr8dle2grave on Thu Nov 11, 2004 at 04:14:50 PM EST

All of the above are figures of speech, that is rhetorical tropes constructed for the conveyance of ideation. What they are not is ontologically substantive. My love may well be like a rose, which highlights certain similarities between the two concepts, but the verisimilitude established there does not extend beyond the level of language.

Religion, which is only a species of ideation concieved generally, may be like a virus in some respects, but it is not a virus. Viruses and religions, or ideation in general, are alike only at the level of language. Those supposing a deeper or more ontically substantive relation are, rather ironically, trafficking in the very same category error which lies at the root of most distinctionly religious modes of thought.

Unity of mankind means: No escape for anyone anywhere. - Milan Kundera

Um (3.00 / 5) (#88)
by city light on Thu Nov 11, 2004 at 05:11:49 PM EST

What a long-winded and pretentious way of saying 'bad analogy'! Anyway I don't think it's a case of the two concepts being alike 'only at the level of language'. If they had nothing in common besides being spelt or phrased similarly then maybe, but there's definately some valid semantic comparisons going on there too. Not a perfect analogy by any means, but still.

[ Parent ]
It's a bad analogy, yes... (none / 1) (#91)
by cr8dle2grave on Thu Nov 11, 2004 at 05:25:25 PM EST

...but it's a category error as well. I could have just pointed that out, but I'm guessing a fair number of readers would have no idea what I was talking about, so I tried to explain a little (perhaps poorly).

Unity of mankind means: No escape for anyone anywhere. - Milan Kundera

[ Parent ]
It isn't just an analogy (none / 1) (#133)
by brain in a jar on Fri Nov 12, 2004 at 10:25:40 AM EST

it is a model for understanding reality. Reality is always more complex than the models which we try to use to understand it, but that does not mean we should give up on models. It means we should seek the best ones we can find.

Please feel free to post your alternative model, which provides a method of understanding the functions of the various parts of a religion and which allows someone conversant with it to found their own religion.

I wait with interest.

Life is too important, to be taken entirely seriously.
[ Parent ]

Insofar as it's just a model... (none / 1) (#136)
by cr8dle2grave on Fri Nov 12, 2004 at 12:39:33 PM EST

...I have no real objections, my complaints concern the tendency to mistake the model for the thing in itself. Well, that and the fact that I don't think it's an especially useful model for understanding human culture as it lacks a ready analog for intentionality and other significant aspects of agency.

My preferred model for understanding cultures is semiotic; that is, culture as a motivated sign system analysed interpretively. If you're interested, a good place to start would be Clifford Geertz's seminal essay Religion as A Cultural System.

Unity of mankind means: No escape for anyone anywhere. - Milan Kundera

[ Parent ]
When I hear the word "meme"... (2.22 / 9) (#90)
by cr8dle2grave on Thu Nov 11, 2004 at 05:22:29 PM EST

...I reach for my gun.

Natural selection is an important model precisely because it enables us to account for the existence of complex, hetrogenous, and highy interdependent phenomena without having to appeal to those intentional properties belonging to the concept of agency.

The naive human eye is strongly disposed to see the world in terms of agency; particular attributes are solutions to problems; solutions are designed to meet goals; specific goals embody values which then establish moral and cognitive orientation. Natural selection, on the other hand, provides us a mechanism by which we can account for the natural world without agency. Solutions become mere attributes, which are themselves adaptations selected for by environmental pressures. The world ceases to be a thing designed by an agent, but a complex phenomena evolved under variant pressures. And the form of the world no longer embodies enduring values, but instead reflects the arbitrary, the capricious, and the accidental.

So, if natural selection is useful precisely because it allows an account of natural phenomena devoid of agency, why then is it that so many are inclined to account for the one domain which incontestably displays agency, human intellection, by way of a mechanism who's utility is to be found in it's obviating the need for the concept of agency?

[reposted from a earlier article which failed to pass the queue because, well, its appropos]

Unity of mankind means: No escape for anyone anywhere. - Milan Kundera

That's just the 'meme causes gun violence' meme (none / 1) (#116)
by cburke on Fri Nov 12, 2004 at 12:56:25 AM EST

A meme that will spread and eventually cause the destruction of the "meme" meme.

But seriously, I agree that it's ridiculous to analogize the process of humans sharing ideas with natural selection, particularly to the point of theorizing "brain viruses".

[ Parent ]

Just the "memetics is ridiculous" meme (none / 0) (#202)
by mrt on Mon Nov 15, 2004 at 06:35:02 PM EST

Is it usefull?
Is the model predictive?
Does the model illuminate the present?
Does the model facilitate the design of communication?

If the model of memetics is usefull to understand the spread of ideas, if it illuminates the present behaviour, if the model is predictive or allows the design of more effective message/idea transmission, then it doesn't really matter how "real" the analogy is.

Can we use memetics then same way we use psychology or philosophy, to shape human thought, bend behaviour to our will, or get people to buy stuff?

If the answer to those questions is "yes", then it is a model worthy of study and reflection, if not to use for your own gain, then at least to prepare yourself against those who will inevitably use against you.


I'd give my right arm to be ambidextrous
[ Parent ]
Because it works (none / 0) (#117)
by ChaosEmer on Fri Nov 12, 2004 at 02:24:36 AM EST

Most popular ideas are not designed to be popular. There just ended up being something about them that was more appealing than other ideas. Natural selection can then be easily applied by replacing organisms with ideas, the changes of which are random, and the physical fitness with the social fitness of the idea. Whether this helps illuminate facts about the ideas or about human society is purely in how you approach it.

[ Parent ]
Similar aberrations (none / 0) (#162)
by interiot on Sat Nov 13, 2004 at 12:40:27 PM EST

Some people view religion as being on the whole capricious and without agency. While religions do teach morals, they also have been used as a way to get populations to blindly follow authority, sometimes into serious wars, and generally causing people to see the world as they want it to be instead of evaluating the world based on the evidence before their own eyes. In this sense, some people view religion as decidedly anti-intellect, and thus somewhat difficult to explain.

Memes are one way to explain this. Natural selection provides reasons for the existance of viruses and bacteria, and a similar explanation seems to apply to why people willingly choose to expend a great deal of time, energy, and even lives on religion.

[ Parent ]

i've been waiting all day to vote this down (1.42 / 7) (#106)
by dammahum on Thu Nov 11, 2004 at 08:12:47 PM EST


Great article (2.57 / 7) (#113)
by Big Sexxy Joe on Thu Nov 11, 2004 at 10:17:42 PM EST

I have been turning against religion more and more ever since 9-11-01.  I can't believe we reelected a president that just brought us into a holy war.  It's the fucking 21st century and we're just replaying 13th century shit with more powerful weapons.

I'm like Jesus, only better.
Democracy Now! - your daily, uncensored, corporate-free grassroots news hour
It's the distortion of religion that's at the root (3.00 / 3) (#146)
by israfil on Fri Nov 12, 2004 at 04:56:30 PM EST

... the fact that we're all sheep and follow charasmatic leaders.  If you look at the founders of religions, they're mostly anti-establishment, rabble-rousers that hung out with the wrong crowd and ate into establishment systems.  (Jesus throwing tables over in the temple, muhammad destroying idols in the Kaba, Moses chucking tablets, Buddha thumbing his nose at the ascetics.)

It's the third-through-tenth generation followers you've got to watch out for, since they establish crazy doctrines that are entirely removed from the actual point.  Things like "love one another" turn into "beat the snot out of one another" with little regard for textual authenticity of the new rule.

Basically, it's politics entering into religion.  What we have today, I would argue, is not the message of Jesus, but Christendom... Not Islam preached by Muhammad, but Muslim-inspired ideologies that bear little resemblance to the original.  Nor can these be said to be "improved for the modern age."  They're retrograde, thoughtless literalisms that miss the point.

So why am I saying this?  Because even if religion is like a biological contaminant, there are benign forms and malignant mutations.  Viruses are incredibly efficient at moving dna around... more so than we are.  But they can move bad stuff too.  It's all perspective.

Don't turn against religion just because people have been hijacking it for political ends... get the good stuff.
i. - this sig provided by /dev/arandom and an infinite number of monkeys with keyboards.
[ Parent ]

No, it really is religion (none / 1) (#175)
by Nyarlathotep on Sat Nov 13, 2004 at 05:43:16 PM EST

No, it really is a fundamental problem with religion.  Irrational ideologies are easy to inherently hijack and need to die out.

Now I'm not saying we know completely how to replace these with rational ideologies, but we are making progress at replacing things like ethics with science every time someone shows something like "animals exhibit altruism to their pack," and suspects that its due to evolutionary advantages.

Irrational ideologies are just an artifact of our evolution, and they are obsolete.

Campus Crusade for Cthulhu -- it found me!
[ Parent ]

+1,FP (1.33 / 3) (#115)
by Esspets on Thu Nov 11, 2004 at 11:15:41 PM EST

yeah who can't use a little mysticism every now and again?

Viruses do not always damage their host. (none / 1) (#119)
by Russell Dovey on Fri Nov 12, 2004 at 03:16:17 AM EST

Even HIV lies dormant for years before it starts to eat your immune system.

"Blessed are the cracked, for they let in the light." - Spike Milligan

As I understand it (none / 0) (#132)
by brain in a jar on Fri Nov 12, 2004 at 10:19:22 AM EST

it is just that the immune system can fight it to a standstill for a long period of time, but eventually fails under the viral assault.

Life is too important, to be taken entirely seriously.
[ Parent ]

I'll try to remember that .. (none / 1) (#123)
by Highlander on Fri Nov 12, 2004 at 03:33:38 AM EST

I'll try to remember that when I design my own religion.

Moderation in moderation is a good thing.
I've read this in one of Dawkin's book (3.00 / 2) (#128)
by A Bore on Fri Nov 12, 2004 at 07:02:58 AM EST

I read them all, as the local library had them. All basically similar. Can't remember which, could have been "Climbing Mount Improbable".

In it was an exercise he gave to a class. He asked them to imagine things that would help an idea replicate, and they came up with many of the points you have covered, infect the young, be useful, proselytise etc. etc. Then he showed them how many of these concepts were present in modern religions.

But the point is, he warned it was an exercise in circular reasoning, as your initial assumption makes you look only for concepts that agree with your own hypothesis, inevitably confirming your conclusion.

I think you need some definitions (3.00 / 2) (#137)
by jolly st nick on Fri Nov 12, 2004 at 12:57:55 PM EST

What you say here applies to many other kinds of social constructs, such as ideologies and fads. Does it apply in some special way to religions? What do you consider to be a religion.

I also think that you are missing some of the interesting aspects of religion. Taking your analogy as a starting point, the genetic stuff of religion is symbolism. An enduring religion has ot have symbols that have enduring attraction, but are adaptable. Symbols are curiously polyvalent -- they can take on different meanings. Thus we have Christianity used to justify both pacifism and holy war. Religions often have curious historical inflection points in which their character changes, but the symbolism endures.

Personall, the situation I find most interesting today is that of the Shiite muslims. They may be going through a transition, started by the Ayatolla Khomeni, from quietism to authoritarianism. There is great potential for both authoritarianism and democracy within their world view.

Then how do you explain (none / 1) (#140)
by Kasreyn on Fri Nov 12, 2004 at 02:20:44 PM EST

certain eastern mind virii, where death is not seen as the failure of life, but the goal of life?

One of those virii happens to have billions of people currently infected, so it seems fairly successful to me.

"Extenuating circumstance to be mentioned on Judgement Day:
We never asked to be born in the first place."

R.I.P. Kurt. You will be missed.
Goals are overrated. -nt (none / 0) (#141)
by MrLarch on Fri Nov 12, 2004 at 02:34:26 PM EST

[ Parent ]
Um... (none / 0) (#150)
by trhurler on Fri Nov 12, 2004 at 09:09:11 PM EST

That is both a vast oversimplification(if it were literally true without qualification,) those billions would all just kill themselves,) and partly false(they don't believe that death is what you would believe death is were you not religious, so saying "they want death" as though they want what athiests would call death is just silly.)

'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

[ Parent ]
-1 (2.00 / 2) (#147)
by codejack on Fri Nov 12, 2004 at 06:04:00 PM EST

Doesn't mention Neal Stephenson.

Please read before posting.

fight i got into tonight with a black kid (1.08 / 12) (#154)
by Liberal Conservative on Sat Nov 13, 2004 at 01:12:38 AM EST

ok well i was at this club and me and my friend were talking to all these girls this white wigger comes through saying scuze me pimp comin through i said ur not a pimp he started saying shit so i walked off

later that night ok i get outside and abunch of black people come up to me saying u messin with my dog imma knock yo ass out i started walkin to my friend who was a former kickboxer for 7 years so then a black kid comes outta no where and is like cracker imma knock youre ass out if you mess with my dog he gets so close to me screamin in my ear i can feel his skin so i take a step back and hook him to the temple

he falls back onto a car i catch him with 2 jabs with my left then a right then i upper cut him with my left then he is knocked out on the ground not moving so by then im swarmed with black people like im a peice of bread there all over me kickin me hittin me and shit while im on the ground covering my head so i manage to get outta there without gettin hurt cuz cops sprayed mase into crowd lol well that was preatty much it

i learned to fight from taking boxing for 5 months well that was preatty much it they said if i come back i get arrested

it was preatty fun now that i think of it btw that black kid was in a gang and his gang tag(not gang name) was like 2step or 2foot or somthin

miserable failure

   liberal conservative

organized religions are all the same (2.00 / 2) (#155)
by circletimessquare on Sat Nov 13, 2004 at 03:59:34 AM EST

islam, for example, is a religion like any other, with radical political interpretations, and mundane daily cultural elements
and, like any other religion in history, it's violent bloody downfall is precipitated by emphasizing the radical political interpretations... and meanwhile, it's continued peaceful existence is achieved through emphasizing it's mundane daily cultural elements

islam is not special as compared to any other religion: it's a spectrum of ideology from inflammatory to banal, just like any other religion, like judaism, like christianity

it's just that right now in the world, there certainly are a lot of motherfuckers on the inflammatory end of things who wish nonbelievers to be dead and are willing to die for the cause

they will of course therefore, die, and burn themselves out, leaving the banal elements of islam to continue existing

so all that remains for us infidels to do is make sure they take out as few of us as possible as they realize their death wish

but organized religion will always continue to exist... if you insist on understanding it as a meme, then i submit to you it is a meme inseparable from how human beings function socially... amd therefore, it will never cease to exist or be eradicated... just, perhaps, replaced... ever here of zoroastrianism? think of it next time you consider a tarot card deck or the zodiac or astrology... it's a dead religion, with echoes still

however: true spirituality will never be found in organized religion

and true spirituality is as valid and important to human existence as science, reason, law... morality, justice

simply ruminating on the undeniability but implausability of your existence in the vastness of time and space is spiritual, and there's no denying that search: and it is a mystical search, not a search based on logic or reason

and so you have the zealots of organized religion- those who believe spirituality is found in the sublimation of self to a higher order, whatever that may be, and you have the zealots of reason, the atheists- those who believe spirituality simply isn't found anywhere

well, the truth is, a church, a mosque, a temple: these are like whorehouses of the soul, where you get sex, but not love

and in the nihilism of the atheist you find the suicide of the soul- no sex, no love, simply denial and death of the spirit

obvously, sex is very appealing, so organized religion, with it's fleshy delights of singing and art and architecture and rhetoric will always be appealing... but empty in the end

and obviously, there is always atheism, nihilism.... which really isn't saying much... yes, nihilism, suicide, anarchic thoughts will always exist... but that doesn't make them wise or compelling... emptiness is emptiness is emptiness, it does not elevate, it does not denigrate, it just doesn't teach anything, it simply is an aspect of free will in human existence that will never go away, but doesn't add anything to human experience: you can always choose to resist, to deny, but so what? you exist anyway, there's no resisting that, despite the fact you can always choose to...

no, true spirituality you find in yourself, by yourself, and it's pursuit is not noble or cool, it is simply as essential to your existence as breathing

say you don't find it, mr. atheist

say you find it in the fleshy palaces of organized religion, mr. zealot

you're both wrong, you find it within yourself: a lonely quest, but a quest that is always there, whether you consciously undertake it or not

unless you wish to cast your lot with the whorehouses of the soul

or simply kill your soul

your soul is still there

life is basically lonely quest... organized religion offers company, atheism offers negativity, but spirituality will never go away in either case, and can be found in neither case, and has nothing to do with either

oh yeah, i almost forgot: fuck memes

The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.

Spirituality and Religion (none / 0) (#164)
by Gnateoj on Sat Nov 13, 2004 at 01:16:56 PM EST

others would proffer that 'spirituality' and 'religion' aren't different at all.

spirituality is a new aged notion (not to be confused with New Age) that we have come up with to try to explain the dichotomy of what you believe and what you DO.

just because people have become disenchanted from a religion doesn't make religion bad or the person incapable of 'spirituality' or 'religion'.

* * * * *

for the love

[ Parent ]
wrong (none / 0) (#170)
by circletimessquare on Sat Nov 13, 2004 at 03:08:43 PM EST

spirituality is most definitely not something new, retard, it's way older than any organized religion, it's older than the human species itself

we were wondering about our existence the moment our iqs went into double digit territory... get it?

THAT is spirituality, mysticism... and it is most definitely NOT organized religion in any sense of the word

get it right

The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.

[ Parent ]

actually (none / 0) (#172)
by Gnateoj on Sat Nov 13, 2004 at 03:27:43 PM EST

when we started ruminating about our existence, that was philosophy.

i also didn't define what spirituality was but simple stated that spirituality and religion as separate ideas never occured until now. and quite clearly, you don't have a clear definition of what spirituality is.

nowhere did i ever mention "organized" religion. and quite frankly, i'm not sure many people succinctly know what they mean when they say that.

you have permission to get off your high horse now.

* * * * *

for the love

[ Parent ]
spirituality and philosophy (none / 0) (#174)
by circletimessquare on Sat Nov 13, 2004 at 03:45:45 PM EST

you are have the arrogance of logic about you

the history of science has been the slow and steady march of logic and reason, turning the unknowable into the known

your arrogance is that you think that everything is eventually knowable, that there is no aspect to existence that is essentially unknowable

i assert to you, there is: no matter how far science progresses, there is a region of experience and existence, even if just locked in our heads, that will be forever beyond the explainable

that is what spirituality is: our relationship with the unknown outside us, inside us

you have an arrogance about the way you consider the world to be knowable, even in aspects of your life that are unknown now, and won't be really fully known until you are long dead and dust

and based on that, you wish to deny people the right to try to quantify and exmaine their existence and their relationship with the unknown quantities in their lives

aspects of human relationships,for example, that are emergent phenomenon, and whose exact outcomes are very vital to our peace of mind, and yet are essentially unknowable because of the interaction at play... and you wish to say that ther eis no uncertainty there, and nothing to worry about, and no need to be transcendent about somethings in our lives

your arrogance is very loud, but very unconvincing

do you hold it against ancient man for believing in thunder gods and tree spirits and water monsters?

no... he was merely using his brain to explain what was at work around him... he is not to be pitied or ridiculed... his pursuit was noble, and valid, and useful to him, and precious and powerful

and you cannot say, to people who do the same thing, in all of their honesty, about things they don't know, and NO ONE ELSE KNOWS, that what they do is invalid

your arrogance is showing, your hubris is loud

The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.

[ Parent ]

incredible (none / 0) (#192)
by Gnateoj on Sun Nov 14, 2004 at 10:00:57 PM EST

i find it incredible that you have a need to justify yourself and in the same turn, have to invalidate not only my statements but me as an individual.

in all fairness, you come off as rather self-righteous in your own diatribes on spirituality.

what i don't understand is why you must have to argue extreme with extreme. the distillation of 'spirituality' from religion against the ideals of logic and reason.

i ask you, what is inherently wrong with the culmination of both? what is the heresy of using both as tools to enriching human existence, the human experience.

really, from the tone of your reply and the outright crassness of your exposition, you needed to air out your one-sided arguments and i was the unlucky sap.

i hold nothing against the human experience. In fact, I embrace the totality of everyone, their idiosyncrasies, the ultimate expressions of human existence.

so please spare me your inherent ignorance about other people.
please spare me your own ineptitude that you need to escape from.

* * * * *

for the love

[ Parent ]
(snicker) (none / 0) (#194)
by circletimessquare on Mon Nov 15, 2004 at 12:18:26 AM EST

um, examine the tone in your OWN words above dear friend

what is it shakespeare said?

"methinks the lady doth protest too much"

or something along those lines

ah, hypocrisy

The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.

[ Parent ]

wonderful (none / 0) (#197)
by Gnateoj on Mon Nov 15, 2004 at 08:58:37 AM EST

my, i never thought you would reply with such an oustanding rhetoric.

at least i try to add just the slightest touch of nuance and vulnerability to my words while you come out with all the fireworks and try to force your words down my gullet.

so it is settled then. i must be engaged with a schoolyard bully worthy of petty comebacks and trite remarks that mock all intellient human interaction.

i'll play your game trebek.

* * * * *

for the love

[ Parent ]
am i really a bully? (none / 0) (#199)
by circletimessquare on Mon Nov 15, 2004 at 11:41:11 AM EST

or do you appear to have some sort of weird chip on your shoulder?

there's no game, son, i'm just being myself

so play this game, whatever it is that you speak of, whatever makes you happy

but you sure as hell confuse me



The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.

[ Parent ]

in all fairness (none / 0) (#209)
by Gnateoj on Fri Nov 19, 2004 at 04:51:56 PM EST

you are that much of a bully. and you were easy to argue with, so it was fun while it happened, in a convulated, sado-masochistic sort of way. and something even more fucked up, i actually bookmarked your entry on asian cinema! full circle.

* * * * *

for the love

[ Parent ]
Owen Barfield / CS Lewis and early mentality (none / 0) (#205)
by datamodel on Tue Nov 16, 2004 at 09:33:40 AM EST

do you hold it against ancient man for believing in thunder gods and tree spirits and water monsters?

no... he was merely using his brain to explain what was at work around him... he is not to be pitied or ridiculed... his pursuit was noble, and valid, and useful to him, and precious and powerful

He might have been doing something else altogether - you might like Owen Barfield's book "Saving the Appearances", followed by CS Lewis "The Discarded Image".

They seem to have gone to some trouble to understand older mentalities, and the processes of conscious evolution that bring us to this point.



[ Parent ]

Umm (none / 0) (#167)
by synaesthesia on Sat Nov 13, 2004 at 02:21:47 PM EST

Please explain why you think that belief in a god is necessary to achieve personal spirituality.

Sausages or cheese?
[ Parent ]
i don't (none / 0) (#168)
by circletimessquare on Sat Nov 13, 2004 at 03:05:48 PM EST

and i never said i did


The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.

[ Parent ]

Umm (none / 1) (#181)
by synaesthesia on Sat Nov 13, 2004 at 10:13:27 PM EST

the atheists- those who believe spirituality simply isn't found anywhere

Disbelief in or denial of the existence of God or gods.
The doctrine that there is no God or gods.
Godlessness; immorality.

Sausages or cheese?
[ Parent ]

would it help (none / 0) (#195)
by circletimessquare on Mon Nov 15, 2004 at 12:22:09 AM EST

if you suggested the proper terminology that would make you comfortable with the sentiment i am trying to get across?

the SUBSET of atheists who arrogantly insist on the absolute nature of reason, invalidating not just god, as you correctly illustrate, but even the transcendent nature of human existence

what word would that be?

sorry if my shorthand leads to a semantic disagreement, you know the meaning and thrust of my point

The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.

[ Parent ]

Do you mean (none / 0) (#203)
by synaesthesia on Mon Nov 15, 2004 at 07:31:43 PM EST

"strong agnostic"? When you say "spiritual", do you mean "prepared to admit that there are some things we cannot know"?

Sausages or cheese?
[ Parent ]
Depends on your definitions.... (none / 0) (#180)
by Nursie on Sat Nov 13, 2004 at 10:01:21 PM EST

I'm an atheist, yes a semi-predictable response follows:

I don't like the word spirituality applied to subjective and unexplainable human experience. It implies the supernatural and the transcendant.

Having said that - I do think there'a lot of mystery in questions as simple as "what is consciousness?" or "What is the 'I' that I feel I am?" and various other things that are difficult to put into words let alone study.

I don't swallow a lot of the crap about LSD's mind expanding powers and things that people have said about it being good for everyone to try, but OTOH I did once have a stereotypical experience of losing my sense of self, which was certainly an odd "spiritual" happening.

Meta Sigs suck.

[ Parent ]
that's all good then (none / 0) (#196)
by circletimessquare on Mon Nov 15, 2004 at 12:29:36 AM EST

as with most intelligent rationalists, you have a problem with some people ascribing spiritual significance to things that science can explain... it's only they who can't explain it, due to their educational or intellectual limitations

we agree on that

my problem is with those arrogant types who insist that all can be known

my assertion is that there is, and always will be, even as science encroaches further and further onto the unknown, an aspect of human experience that is completely unexplainable through rationality and logic

and that we still, therefore, must have a spirituality about ourselves to incorporate this aspect of our existence in our lives

for example, emergent phenomenon... aspects of reality that are not random, but still only come to pass through the interplay of various social or natural phenomenon... we cannot "know" what the outcome is, even though the outcome has a dramatic effect on the course of our lives... this is one starting point for human spirituality that will never, ever go away: the human element, the completely quixotic and uncontrollable consequences of free will

The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.

[ Parent ]

One minor nitpick: (none / 1) (#156)
by Millennium on Sat Nov 13, 2004 at 08:00:57 AM EST

For example the Jehovah's witnesses function using a system where only those members of the faith who have racked up the greatest numbers of conversions are allowed to enter heaven.

Um... actually, they don't do that. Where'd you get that one from?

What's the fun in being "cool" if you can't wear a sombrero? -Hobbes

Errr, I thought that too. (none / 0) (#179)
by Nursie on Sat Nov 13, 2004 at 09:53:21 PM EST

IIRC I heard that there's only 144000 places in heaven if you believe in their stuff, and those who have converted the most will get those places.

Could well be an urban myth.

Meta Sigs suck.

[ Parent ]
heh (none / 1) (#183)
by EMHMark3 on Sun Nov 14, 2004 at 02:12:57 AM EST

http://www.machall.com/index.php?strip_id=225 :)

T H E   M A C H I N E   S T O P S
[ Parent ]

S'abouot right! (none / 0) (#184)
by Nursie on Sun Nov 14, 2004 at 02:35:28 AM EST

Lol :)

Meta Sigs suck.

[ Parent ]
A mind virus: The Game (3.00 / 4) (#157)
by jynx on Sat Nov 13, 2004 at 08:29:53 AM EST

Your are about to start playing The Game. You will be playing it for the rest of your life. The aim of The Game is to forget that you are playing the game. If at any time, you remember that you are playing the game, you lose. You must explain the game to everyone else present. Anyone else who is playing the game wins. Everyone present is given immunity from losing for the next hour.


I like. (none / 0) (#178)
by Nursie on Sat Nov 13, 2004 at 09:52:14 PM EST

You can never tell anyone else you've lost in case they were still playing, so the game goes on in another form, everyone who thought about it once thinks about it all the time and can't say anything, everyone who's still playing has forgotten about it.

How can we seed this in people's heads successfully?

Meta Sigs suck.

[ Parent ]
turgid (none / 0) (#163)
by Gnateoj on Sat Nov 13, 2004 at 12:58:24 PM EST

i'm sorry to say that i was expecting something a little more inspired. you leave out a bulk of religions, as some have stated: Hinduism, Buddhism, Shintoism, Daoism, Yoruba, for example, and the subsects within each respective religion with different "payloads"; ad infinitum. (and yes, contrary to some belief, all of the above stated are religions) the judeo-christo-islamic bashing is so old it's new again.

* * * * *

for the love

OK kidz, lets review the basics ... (none / 1) (#169)
by tilly on Sat Nov 13, 2004 at 03:06:46 PM EST

The whole idea of religion being viewed as a virus is silly and sacrilegious at the same time. And I bring up the idea of sacrilege even though I am not a believer.

Before science, there was religion; before philosopy, there was religion. Religion WAS science; it was philosopy. It was how reality was perceived. Religion came out of experience itself and found reinforcement in experience. Just as you need to have in your brain a concept of a table in order to be able to see a table with your eyes; you need a concept of reality in order to interact with reality. Religion was that concept. You need a theory of life to live a life. Life is literally inconceivable without such a theory.

Well, that was then. Now, and recently, religions provide a huge survival advantage to believers. They relieve loneliness, alienation and existential anxiety. You can unburden your mind from big tiresome questions and anxieties and concentrate on your job and concentrate on putting food on the table for yourself and your family. For the overwhelming majority of jobs, faith in God will help you do your job better. There are exceptions: the job of a scientist is one; the Office of the President is another (IMO).

On the group level, the survival advantage conferred by religion is even more dramatic and absolutely crucial. Religions provide cohesion and unity to the group. Just think how this enabled the Puritans to survive in the harsh and unforgiving environment of the New World in the 17th century.

How do genes come into this? This is where it gets totally fascinating for me. The intersection of the material and the spiritual; the borderline where the mind meets the body ... Brings to mind Descartes looking for the seat of Spirituality in the body and, somewhat embarrassingly, settling on the pituitary gland ...

The intersection of the mind and the body is of course the brain. All the chemicals, neurotransmitters that mediate our experience of reality, that affect (determine?) our thoughts, feelings and feeling states ... Waking up feeling depressed or feeling happy after an encounter with a loved one or having feelings of fear and foreboding, all have their corresponding "brain states" involving actions of neurons, chemicals released, receptor sites that detect these chemicals, concentrations of receptors affecting the response etc. And all these processes, the whole system in general outline and also in the specifics that vary from human to human, based on genes from birth and mediated by genes throughout life ...

There have been fascinating experiments with monkeys and their fear of snakes. It turns out a monkey who has never seen a snake will not be afraid of it on seeing it the first time. But it quickly learns to be afraid of a snake by observing the reactions of other monkeys. Yet it cannot similarly be taught to be afraid of flowers. The fear of snakes is in the genes of a monkey in the special form of having the ability to quickly learn that fear.

We have clinical conditions called claustrophobia, agoraphobia, arachnophobia etc. When did you last hear of somebody dying of a spider bite?? Yet we dont have phobias involving guns or cars which kill far more people. The phobias are in our genes! We have inherited the fears from our distant ancestors who had real cause to be afraid of such things. Fascinating!

We can readily accept that sex is instinct; it is in the genes. But the real interesting proposition is that love, also, is in our genes.

After all this, perhaps it will not seem so far-fetched to accept religion is in our genes, too. Or, more precisely, what is in our genes is the ability to experience mental states, "brain states" that are consistent with religious experience. And if you agreed with me when I explained above how religion confers a survival advantage, the survival of such genetic combinations over the hundreds of thousands of years of human evolution seems plain and obvious.

Silly? (none / 0) (#186)
by brain in a jar on Sun Nov 14, 2004 at 03:38:24 AM EST

Even if, as you state, we are predisposed to religion because if confers certain advantages upon us, this does not invalidate the concept of religion as a virus.

To say that we are predisposed to religion, is equivalent to saying we are programmed to be susceptible to mind virii. There remains the question of what determines the relative frequency of the various mind virii which exist or which have existed in the past.

What made one virus continue where another died out?,

What made one virus able to supplant another?

I think my way of looking at religion at least provides some hope of being able to answer these types of question.

Also I agree wholeheartedly that religion does provide some advantages to those who believe. As you say it provides satisfying (usually anthropocentric) internally consistent, ready made answers to the big questions in life. It is convenience food for the soul, which saves the believer the considerable time and effort which would be required to come up with their own answers to these questions. Assuming of course that they had the time and wit to do so.

The answering of these questions is perhaps the primary benefit, but the payload which is carried along with this can shift the benefits either way. Some payloads, such as unselfishness, can be life enhancing. But others such as archaic sexual prohibitions can be very damaging. So I would propose that were a person in the position to rationally choose a religion, it would be sensible to choose one which provides satisfying answers to the big questions, but which carries a minimal amount of damaging payload.

This perhaps explains the popularity of eastern religions especially Zen buddhism. A religion so empty of payload that, some argue that it is a philosophy rather than a religion.

So even if I grant you, that perhaps a capacity for religion is an evolved trate, innate to humanity. There remains some utility in the virus model, in that it helps the rational mind choose which a method by which to scratch his or her religious itch.

In any case, I wouldn't say that religion is necessarily an evolved trait. I think it arises repeatedly because of certain problems which the thinking mind will always run up against. It arises because we all die eventually and we don't like it. It arises because there will always be things that we do not understand, and it is easier to invent a satisfying answer than simply to accept that we do not know, and possibly never will.

Finally it would be wrong to suggest that the existance of religion implies that it is beneficial. Biological viruses exist and are generally speaking, harmful. They do not exist because we are have evolved in a such a way as to allow or even encourage their continued existance. They exist because viruses evolve much more quickly than humans do, and as such they are always one step ahead. One could argue that the same is true for religions. Even if religion was harmful, and natural selection therefore favoured the unbeliever, the nature of religion would change rapidly to ensure that it remained infectious.

The existance of evolution by no means proves that everything that exists is useful.

Life is too important, to be taken entirely seriously.
[ Parent ]

Important issues, unanswered questions ... (none / 0) (#187)
by tilly on Sun Nov 14, 2004 at 08:06:30 AM EST

In this particular post, I was not trying to defend or attack religion. The idea of religion as a virus seemed to imply it is outside of us. Here, I wanted to make the point that it may be integral to our being, we may have an innate need for it. Which makes dealing with it very very tricky ... In another post , I pointed out the harm and the danger intrusion of religion into politics posed at this juncture in history.

Fortunately, the West figured out a way of dealing with this problem after untold amounts of suffering and bloodletting in religious wars. That was called The Enlightenment. You have Voltaire's approach to religion which is basically a counsel of toleration. Roughly, this meant: respect religion but keep it out of politics. If a certain belief helps u get thru the day, by all means, knock yourself out. But dont try to legislate to me what to practice, what to think, what to feel. This is a bit of a muddling but yet a fairly sophisticated and also fragile concept and code of behaviour. So much easier to say "This is what God wants; it is all in the Book; you'd better follow it or else!"

The thing that is so dismaying about GWB & Company is that they are rejecting the best of their own cultural heritage. They are introducing religion into politics out of political expediency and starting to go down the road of The Ayatollahs. This kind of thing happens all the time in 3rd World politics but it is frightening to see it in an Advanced-Sector country and in the sole Superpower in the world at that.

On the flip side of the coin, you have the dangers of dealing with religion flippantly. After Darwin came out with his "Origin of Species", it took a while for his ideas to make their way into Philosophy. This finally happened with Nietzsche and his prouncement that God is dead. And you can draw a line from Darwin to Nietzsche to Hitler. The loss of God was such a shock, so unbearable a condition that new Gods were immediately created: Fascism and Communism. And the horrors of the first half of 20th Century is the story of the inadequacy of these Gods.

So we have to navigate the waters between the dangerous rocks of Fanaticism and Religious war on the one side and denying people their God which they seem to so badly need on the other. We have to use the ideas of Enlightenment, the Separation of Church and State and give people hope so that the only Solace they find is not in another World. Until Science and a Philosopy that uses that science comes up with more precise answers, we seem to need to muddle.

p.s. Your mentioning Buddhism was interesting. Does anyone know if Buddhist societies have been less prone to religious violence, historically speaking? This would go some ways to answering the question of how innate religious behaviour is. I am thinking perhaps recent history have been the result of the particular ways in which the major three monotheistic religions - which are three branches of the same tree - mold the human brain and it may be possible to mold it another way.

[ Parent ]

how can something sacrilegous be silly? (none / 0) (#201)
by usr on Mon Nov 15, 2004 at 04:21:27 PM EST

ok, ok, since there's an infinite amount of sillyness there has to be some intersection... ;)

enough with the joking

i like the part about phobias in your post, but i don't see a strong connection to religion with that. i think most of the phobia stuff probably dates back from when evolution needed to use those cheap hardcoded fixes against dangers before analytical and experience-handling capabilities were developed far enough to cope with those things in a better, more flexible way than triggering irrational fear. and i doubt there was any concept like religion before that happened. and besides that, as you said in religion had the role of science before there was science. before science, religion was defined as being consistent with the observations around you. nowadays all but those components which are orthogonal to everything observable is removed from religion, making it a very very different thing, a thing that caveman ugh-ugh would never relate to the religion he knows. but he would instinctively believe in newton if you presented him some good visual experiments about the preservation of momentum.

[ Parent ]

implications? (none / 0) (#177)
by urdine on Sat Nov 13, 2004 at 07:12:51 PM EST

Well this is something I've heard of before, and it's fairly interesting.  I think where a lot of responses are missing the point (and maybe the original writer is too) is that even if religion IS a mind virus on one level, that is not necessarily a BAD thing.  I agree with much of the analysis in this article, but I also agree with much of the retorts saying that religions are (usually) beneficial to the human race.

We also have helpful bacteria crawling all around inside of us, helping us digest food, etc. - the point is, I don't think that because religion shares the delivery mechanism of viruses necessarily means religion is BAD.

But the smell in my armpit says (none / 0) (#207)
by foodmotron on Wed Nov 17, 2004 at 11:35:10 PM EST

... that not all the bacteria do something I or other people find pleasant. So the question becomes what exactly is the deodorant for religion?

[ Parent ]
I thought it was going to be something like (none / 0) (#182)
by mikesum32 on Sun Nov 14, 2004 at 01:25:43 AM EST

I thought it was going to be something like Different Kinds Of Darkness by David Langford.

http://www.fictionbook.ru/author/langford_david/different_kinds_of_darkness/lang ford_different_kinds_of_darkness.html

Lies are the truths that sooth our animal soul (none / 1) (#185)
by Karl Rove OBrien on Sun Nov 14, 2004 at 03:08:58 AM EST

Human existence can be viewed as the perfection of the art of the lie. The human animal appears to have a need for meaning, for purpose to its pointless existence of ingesting sustenance and evacuating feces, day in, day out, from birth until death, an explanation for the pointless futility of the ludicrously brief human life. All of human history can, in essense, be summed up as the search for the perfect set of lies, the set of lies which most sooth the human soul.

Throughout human history, there have been those who step up to the challenge and provide a set of lies that people want to believe, desire to believe, give their faith and trust to. Ludicrous sky spirit cults with holy scriptures that read like bad science fiction novels are but one of the many set of lies that have filled this need for domination over others on the part of the liars, and the need for meaning on the part of the faithful.

There is nothing "viral" here, any more than it is "viral" that a pigeon, when presented with birdseed, will peck it. It is simply the nature of the organism. Just as a pigeon, if confronted by two alternate seed bowls, will choose the seed bowl whose seeds look most promising, a human animal, when presented with two sets of lies, will choose the set of lies that look most promising for filling the needs of the human animal. And just as the pigeon may choose the junk food popcorn rather than the healthy bird seed mix, so, to, may the human animal turn from one of the healthier sets of lies, like the set of lies entitled "The American Dream", towards a set of lies far more insideous and unhealthy, such as the set of lies presented by the various sky spirit cults that reject reason and reject science.

If you would properly select the set of lies that will be most appealing to the human animal, you must understand the basic nature of the animal and what appeals to it. The human animal, luckily, has been studied reasonably well. Some of the traits that a good set of lies must address are:

  1. Hatred of those not part of the herd or clan: It is biological nature of all humans to hate all those who are Other. This trait can be suppressed by education and/or social pressure, but is always there, inbred at the biological level. By providing an Other for the human animal to hate, you fill this need.
  2. Exclusivity. The human animal has a need to feel that it is a member of an exclusive group, one which not all may belong to. Provide a set of lies that reassure the human animal that it is special, that it is the Chosen, and you fill this need.
  3. Purpose. The human animal has a need to feel that its existence has a purpose. Provide a set of lies that provide purpose, and you fill this need.
  4. Hope. The human animal has a need to feel that there is something besides the pointless life of quiet desperation that it spends its existence in. So your set of lies must provide some hope that there is a way out of the misery and squalor to a better place. Most of the sky spirit cults have some sort of "paradise" that "you" go to once you die that fills this need, for example.
  5. Explanation. The human animal is the animal that asks "Why?". Your set of lies should provide an explanation for why the human animal's plight is one of misery and desperation, and should, ideally, have a "catch-all" explanation for all disasters that befall the human animal, such as, for example, "it was Sky Spirit's will" (substitute name of appropriate sky spirit -- "God", "Allah", "Jehovah", etc. -- as desired).
And there are yet more, but I go on too long already. In any event, I believe that my point is made: it is not the lies themselves that are viral. It is the human animal, and its incessant search for the perfect set of lies to sooth its animal soul.

Orwellianly Yours, O'Brien
If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face -- forever

Idle talk; you are building castles in the air ... (none / 1) (#189)
by tilly on Sun Nov 14, 2004 at 03:07:29 PM EST

You should have learned somewhere in your education that it is no longer possible to pull theories out of thin air in biology and human behaviour.

There is only one theory that serves as the ground for all other theories: That is the theory of evolution. Every other theory has to base itself on it or be able to verify itself against it.

[ Parent ]

Irrelevant (none / 0) (#193)
by Karl Rove OBrien on Sun Nov 14, 2004 at 10:10:30 PM EST

It is not necessary to understand how a behavior evolved in order to measure it and study it. Indeed, there are many things which are impossible to understand via evolutionary theory, such as why human males prefer smaller females (which results in fewer offspring since smaller females are less able to bear children) or why peacock hens prefer peacock cocks that have bigger tail fans (which actually result in a shorter life span for the cocks, since the bigger the tail, the less well suited it is for evading predators and forcing its way through brush to get to food and water supplies). Yet we can observe these behaviors.

We in the Party have devoted many years to the study of human behavior, and have broken down human behavior into a number of areas where it is easy to manipulate humans via outside stimulae. It may be that these aspects of the human psyche that we take advantage of are social constructs rather than biological constructs, but that is irrelevant to our purpose. We may argue as to why humans may be manipulated by, e.g., giving them an object to hate then presenting one's self as the strong leader who shall save them from the hated thing (gay marriage, anybody?), but the fact that human animals can be manipulated via such means is beyond controversy. Indeed, the Party's fundamental grasp of these principles should have been apparent from our victories on November 2, where we used them to the hilt and left those opposed to Party rule apalled and aghast.

As the Party's understanding of humanity's need for lies grow, we shall produce ever-more-complete sets of lies for humanity to choose, lies that fill even more of the emotional needs of the human animal. Humanity shall be happy and feel free, and shall adore Big Brother and want only what Big Brother wants, feel only what Big Brother feels. I love Big Brother. Big Brother loves me and wants only the best for me. Don't you love Big Brother too?

- O'Brien
If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face -- forever
[ Parent ]

It's Viral When... (none / 1) (#191)
by kenmce on Sun Nov 14, 2004 at 09:21:44 PM EST

>There is nothing "viral" here, any more than it is "viral"
>that a pigeon, when presented with birdseed, will peck it.

You are correct that pecking food  is an instinctive behavior.

> It is simply the nature of the organism. Just as a pigeon,
> if confronted by two alternate seed bowls, will choose the
> seed bowl whose seeds look most promising, a human
> animal, when presented with two sets of lies, will choose
> the set of lies that look most promising for filling the
> needs of the human animal.

When the seed chooses you, that's when you know it's memetic.

[ Parent ]

Set of lies (none / 1) (#204)
by YesNoCancel on Tue Nov 16, 2004 at 04:17:16 AM EST

Do you consider (western) science or your own theory a "set of lies" as well?

If not, how do you determine truth?

[ Parent ]

Parasite, Commensal, Symbiote (3.00 / 3) (#190)
by kenmce on Sun Nov 14, 2004 at 09:11:37 PM EST

> The analogy with biological viruses only fails in that
> biological viruses always damage their hosts to some
> extent, whereas in some cases religions can have a
> positive effect.

Er, not quite.  Memes, like microorganisms, can be:

Parasites - actively harmful to the host,
Commensals - minimal effect on host
Symbiotes - improves functioning of host

Computer virus protection is in a poor state... (none / 0) (#200)
by jforan on Mon Nov 15, 2004 at 01:37:56 PM EST

of affairs.  Most of "virus protection" programs I consider to be viruses  themselves.  They slow down your computer and run unneccesary popups and catch VERY few viruses.

My impression of medical virus prevention programs isn't much better.

I imagine a mind-virus protection program would be equally bad.  Persistence and intelligence are the only things I will count on to keep my computer, my body, and my mind virus free.

And faith in windows update.

Just don't go around executing questionable mind programs, especially on the weekends.  The mess created in your brain can take years to clean up.


I hops to be barley workin'.

ya... virus protection programs are bad... (none / 0) (#206)
by the77x42 on Wed Nov 17, 2004 at 01:43:21 AM EST

... cause, you know... they are inherently harmful and all... dumbass.

"We're not here to educate. We're here to point and laugh." - creature
"You have some pretty stupid ideas." - indubitable ‮

[ Parent ]
This can also be applied to schools of thought. (none / 1) (#208)
by Zola on Fri Nov 19, 2004 at 03:39:08 AM EST

This was an excellent article, it has really had me thinking these past few days.

The biological model in many cases I think works better for human systems because machines are too regular and predictable, whereas with humans, one must always consider the chaos factor and the fundamental flexiblity of the principles of adapatation.

That being said, the viral model can be applied to almost any human system of thought.

For example, let us take the concept of Science.

Science is going to give us Truth, Progress, Reason, Logic and A Better Life. Someday it will even Conquer Death.

Supposedly it's better because it's based on the principles of "Reason", and yet there are countless examples of supposedly unbiased experiments that turn out to be faked or tweaked in order to support the researcher's pet hypothesis.

There is also an appalling lack of foresight in many instances--we do a thing because we can, with very little thought of the future consequences.

Don't get me wrong, out of all the mental viruses, this is probably one of the less damaging ones, but without a healthy immune system, even beneficial viruses can be fatal when permitted to run amok.

Nice job on this.

You're a louse, Roger Smith.

Coding Viruses for the Mind | 210 comments (120 topical, 90 editorial, 0 hidden)
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