Moving Beyond Memes – Are Thoughts Really Things?

Memes are more than just social posts

Thoughts are not things, as some social memes would have us believe. An idea and its natural offspring, the thought, is pure mental energy. Although there may be some controversy surrounding the science of how the brain thinks, I have come to believe that the seeming ‘thingness’ of damaging thoughts is better understood, and certainly better dealt with when identified as ‘memes’ or 'thought viruses'. Unlike the energetic and creative idea, memes and thought viruses are denser. They lack life if their own, and once adopted into the grey folds of an unsuspecting brain, they become heavy and bog the host down. Ideas are completely different in that they will invigorate a person, cause inspiration and movement towards creation.

Classic Memes

If you spend some time researching 'meme'  you will discover that a meme is identified historically as a collection of ideas or mental impressions borrowed from a person's immediate culture which may include; parents, siblings, teachers, friends and public figures. An important note here would be to consider that we are born basically meme-free and most of us remain that way until exposed to the programs adopted by parents, siblings, etc. Memes can be handed down from generation to generation through the practice of storytelling, ritual or even through the veneration of such things as objects and concepts. They can manifest as symbols or practices, which can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals or various other observable manners of conveyance.

People who study the science of memes and theorize as to how they are perpetuated contend that these mysterious creations (because they are mind creations first) evolve by natural selection rather like  Darwin’s postulated survival of the fittest. Memes also spread through the behaviors that they subsequently generate in their hosts. On the other hand, due to an inability to inspire their hosts, less notable memes may propagate less prolifically and become immediately extinct, while others survive, spread and mutate according to the impact their hosts are able to have on a social environment. Theorists point out that memes which replicate the most effectively spread best (think how quickly rumors spread), and some memes may replicate effectively even when they prove detrimental to the welfare of their hosts (think about a person trying to lose weight unable to avoid the impulse to visit the refrigerator).

Ego vs. Meme vs. Ideas

The venerable ego is not an internal thought critic or jokester entity that we haul around inside our heads. Rather, ego is simply a collection of memes, brain programs and thought viruses we have borrowed from the world, some helpful, many destructive. We have spent our lifetimes nurturing and incubating the worst of our own personal memes through the choices we make, and they in turn are empowered and perpetuated through repeated attention. They are 'activated' and take on a life of their own only after we inject a little energetic emotion into the message they carry, which causes them to become even more convincing, and much more difficult to eliminate. That illusive essence of spirit that all meditators seek to maintain by focusing on the ‘now’ is nothing more than the reality of who we are, minus the memes; fully present, completely thoughtful and intensely creative individuals.

Divorcing the Meme Machine

How do we escape these pesky memes and thought viruses and thereby overcome the negative aspects of ego? By recognizing memes for what they are, and choosing to not pay attention to them. It really is just that simple. When it comes to conquering and overcoming memes, how can thoughts be different from memes? How does this small distinction, a shift in perception if you will, make it possible to mentally step outside of the meme realm of influence? Clearly it takes years spent in meditation while applying diligent mind control techniques to master intrusive thoughts. The thoughts we think are not divisible from our 'self' or our perception of self – it’s impossible to stop thinking unless you’re brain dead, and few of us are willing to go that far just to quiet the mind.

We contain memes in our mind but memes cannot contain us.

Because socially acquired memes are essentially lifeless bits of information, without the unwitting attention we pay to them, they simply cease to exist. Another way to look at this is that thoughts are energy, thoughts contain energy and can invigorate our bodies and even travel through time and space (the power of prayer and distance healing; knowing when a certain person is going to call, and then the phone rings, etc.) – memes have no energy other than what they borrow from their host, and once enlivened by our attention they draw life giving energy away from us. Memes drain the very life and creative force from the body and mind leaving the spirit gasping and depleted. Whereas thoughts generated by creative ideas bring us to life and charge our emotional storehouse with brain chemicals to support our intentions to create. It’s rather like the nonphysical energy of thoughts igniting the physical elements of our minds and bodies by stimulating the very juices that embolden the way we live and cause us to be human.

The Overpowering Thought Viruses of our Times

A Course in Miracles contends that what isn’t love is fear. Under this context, creative thoughts are love, memes are fear. What about hateful thoughts? Are those memes or thoughts? Here’s the answer; memes lack creative energy, so whether they extend a negative or positive influence, they cannot of themselves launch the energy to manifest creatively. Thoughts whether positive or negative will create. Thoughts create, memes perpetuate. So a meme infection can cause a person to think negatively which can cause negative action.

De-plaquing the Brain

I like to think of memes as crusty little bits of thought-plaque that collect and stick together in the consciousness based on how much attention or energy given to them. Once recognized for what they really are, all it takes is a good mental cleansing to get rid of them. It is interesting to think that the diseased brains of Alzheimer’s patients contain bits of plaque that appears to have drained the organ of mass. Whether accurate or not, it’s a good motivator for ridding oneself of destructive memes. Memes don’t have an intention or life of their own; they are animated solely by the attention we give them. They may seem to be alive but they are not. They will come to life rather like some freakish form of thought Frankenstein only when we shine our own energy on them. As soon as we come to our senses and take our energy back, they wither, lose potency and disappear. They don’t die, because they were never alive to begin with, and they can be eliminated from the mind by the realization of how they are propagated, which is exactly what this diatribe is all about … how to rid oneself of memes.

By classifying the thoughts we adhere to as ‘ego’ or ‘habit’ or ‘personal characteristic’ or even ‘psychosis’ or ‘addiction’ memes step to the forefront of our life experience, and essentially take over. Eventually, we become animated by memes, thinking we are powerless to overcome their constant chatter, unhealthy impulses and harmful urgings. As any good 12-step program will teach you, once memes take over and you hit rock bottom, the only way out – is to start thinking new thoughts. And naturally, new healthy thoughts replace dysfunctional memes.