Most people would like to believe that humans are free-spirited and have full control of their conscience and every move. However, scientists have expressed different beliefs when it comes to human nature and decision making. Susan Blackmore supports Richard Dawkin’s idea of humans imitating each other through memes in her passage “Strange Creatures”. Blackmore’s excerpt explains how memes impact the human mind similarly to how a parasite may control its host. This concept of a meme almost “controlling” the human mind through inspiration not only clashes with the idea of humans having an independently driven mindset, but also proves how memes can redefine who people are by how they learn, think or even behave.
Memes play a rather important role in society by inspiring humans to make certain decisions. The complex level of intelligence is what makes people superior to animals, and ultimately is what separates the two species as a whole. Humans become inspired and benefit severely from the ability to imitate, whereas animals “certainly do not take naturally to [imitation]” (Blackmore, 33). In addition, humans use imitation as a source of learning without even realizing it. Blackmore concludes in her excerpt that “[people] are so oblivious to the cleverness of imitation that we do not even notice how rare it is in other animals and how often we do it ourselves” (Blackmore, 34). In other words, humans are so used to being affected by other influences that they may not acknowledge how often they imitate. People subconsciously tend to use inspiration as a reason to imitate some of other people’s everyday decisions. For instance, the passage includes the observation of a baby mimicking someone once they wave, blink, or smile. As humans grow, they seem to be inspired by things around them to make certain decisions. These ‘things’ around humans are referred to as memes and are said to be transferrable no matter if they are good or bad. The idea of memes goes against the concept of how humans are “independent beings” because people make decisions based on the things they see around them, instead of being made solely on oneself.
There are several different kinds of memes that are used to inspire people throughout society. Some memes change with time, while others remain the same as they are passed down throughout generations. A selection of memes that have remained constant over the years include the various types of religions practiced by humans. Within the reading, Blackmore takes a look at how beliefs act as “parasites” by adding Dawkin’s perception on religion. She states some of the views Dawkins wrote about in his novel, The Selfish Gene, which include how “religions act as groups of memes with a high survival value, infecting whole societies with belief in a God or an afterlife” (Blackmore, 36). In other words, religions are a rather large meme that affect the way people partake in certain customs and they entitle people to believe in a different kind of mortality after life on earth. After keeping in mind how memes inspire people, it is easy to understand how religions are included as memes due to the fact that different faiths are all sources of inspiration that affect different kinds of people.
Even though all memes play the same role of inspiring human-behavior, they all do not remain constant over the years. Just like several religions, different types of fashion fads have inspired humans as well. Fashion is a type of meme that changes over time due to the different ideas of human creativity transferred over to style. Humans use different types of styles as inspiration for their own personal style. Why do you believe top-notch fashion corporations ask celebrities to wear some of their products? Because the public eye eventually mimics the likings of a certain garment due to the status of a person they saw in it. Memes are just sources of inspiration “stored in human brains (or books or inventions) and passed on by imitation” (Blackmore, 36). To put it simply, memes are nothing more than influences that are transferred through the human mind with a purpose to be passed on in the form of inspiration. Ultimately, the idea of humans allowing memes to jump from brain to brain and inspire human decisions, contradicts with the general consensus of humans being free natured and fully independent thinkers.
Memes can not only inspire a person’s physical actions, but they can also inspire the human mind to a point where people begin to have similar connotations to things. Blackmore speaks on how the ‘Happy Birthday song’ is generally taken by society in her excerpt. Billions of people know this tune and sing it daily, however Blackmore reminds the reader how the words “happy birthday to you” might even cause someone to hum the tune in their head before saying, “these words affect you, probably quite without any conscious intention on your part, stirring up a memory you already posses” (Blackmore, 37). A question she kept in mind included “where did that memory come from?” (Blackmore, 37). It simply came from imitation of someone who inspired another to join in on the song, yet Blackmore believes it is “something, with some kind of information, some kind of instruction, that has become lodged in all [those] brains so now [people] all do the same things at birthday parties” (Blackmore, 37). It is eye opening to see how inspired people are to imitate because of the memes engulfed in society, however it is also interesting to actually realize how memes are able to hop around between people’s minds.
Although memes are the vital inspirational part of human growth and decision-making, they are confusing to understand. Blackmore seems to release this thought early on in the excerpt by naming the title “Strange Creatures”. The title serves as Blackmore’s opinion of humans after thinking about the concept of memes. People simply serve as strange creatures by not only having the academic proficiency to be separated from other animals, but also by being factors of imitation without even acknowledging it. Humans tend to use the memes around them as inspiration to the point where memes are subconsciously embodied inside of their minds. This alone can generalize the human species as being strange creatures because people don’t actually have as much control of themselves as they would like to argue. Blackmore explains how people seem to be “a host to [the] parasite”, otherwise known as a meme. This idea of memes being “parasites” that feed off of humans clashes with the idea of freedom because even though humans technically have the ability to be free independent beings, they aren’t since their every decision is strongly influenced by the memes around them.
All in all, memes are the powerful factor that redefine who people are, how they learn, and how they may think or behave by controlling people subconsciously, and consciously, through inspiration. Imagining life without the idea of a meme would include picturing a society without as much imitation. Although taking away imitation seems fairly easy, it isn’t due to the fact that imitation is just a common result stemmed from inspiration. From the things people wear to the beliefs they have, or the connotations that come from specific words, memes impact every person through inspiration whether they choose to believe it or not. Within the title, Blackmore’s redefining of humans being strange creatures not only embodies the feelings Blackmore has about the human species, but it also shows the reader how memes have such a strong influence on the human mind that it can become complicated to explain. Although humans believe they control their every thought, it is fair to say that humans just control what memes they allow to inspire them. Getting rid of memes would lead to the general consensus of humans truly being free, independent beings, however the possibility of meme extinction is one that doesn’t seem to come since it is so deeply embedded into human society. So one more question: is life truly what we make it or is it rather what we meme it?
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