Meme and Plato

Through the evolutionary spectacles
If we however shift our perspective and look at the virus through evolutionary glasses, the image of the virus changes drastically. The evolutionary perspective is to focus solely on evolution and survival, ignoring body functions, adaptive behavior, irritability and whatever technique the organism may use to survive. Through the glasses of evolution the life cycle of an organism is reduced to a mere point in time, a still picture of an entire lifetime. And when we assemble many such succeeding pictures into an animationthe resulting movie is the evolutionary dynamics of organisms. In this evolutionary time-space viruses look far from inanimate. If we could see a film from this landscape we would see viruses behave as swarms of mosquitos. We would see viruses spread all over the organic world, but densely concentrated around ordinary organisms. And just like with mosquitos, it is impossible to run away from the viruses. If an organism manages to leap out of the swarm of viruses (i.e. becoming immune) it is instantly chased by the hungry swarm (they adapt). And wherever the organism moves, the swarm of viruses faithfully follows. Like its own shadow.

An organismic shadow
And this is exactly what viruses are. Shadows of other organisms. Not only do they faithfully chase their host, they are also completely dependent on it. Without other organisms viruses simply cannot exist. Just like shadows cannot exist without the objects which cast them. Therefore this is more than an analogy. Viruses really *are* mere shadows of other organisms.

Plato meets Dawkins
This alone is enough to justify our notion of memes as shadows of the mind. But it also means that Dawkins really reinvented an idea which the greek philosopher Plato invented milleniums earlier! He saw objects in the world as mere shadows of ideas, imperfect reflections of an ideal realm. The difference between Plato and Dawkins is that Plato fell in love with the realm of ideas while Dawkins was fascinated by the viral properties of their shadows.

(Aan, "Shadows of the Mind")

inf(l)ection center Cyberspace Overview Critical Theorists

Inf(l)ections by Steve Cook