Memes, as Goleman explains, are a communication construct; the term meme describes the conveyance of ideas and emotions together as a unit from one person to another; or from stored location, such as a recording, to a person's senses and into his consciousness. In music, a memes are empathic and consist of affective components that are meant to influence with emotion: melody, rhythm, the loudness of music, and any other sounds that may add to the effectiveness of the emotional meme. Effectively, in the end, a meme transports concepts developed by an artist to be allowed to travel through the neural pathways of the minds of an audience: a single concept which affects each member of the audience in a ways unique to each of their individual neural pathway mapping.
In Goleman's higher and lower perspectives, memes attach to the lower functions; they are ideas as lyrics are, and they are often promoted by sounds, as music does to sway us. But art is special; as music enters the ears, sounds are absorbed neurally into areas of the brain that process emotionally, but there is meaning in the music; the music creates deeper understanding within the consciousness; the music helps bring the mind to a place of understanding felt by the musician; this is a meaning of empathy.
Musical memes should work their way into higher thinking to allow us a both appreciative and emotional experience of being carried away by the music, but Goleman does not allow for this. He keeps them at the low level and associates them only with the mirror neurons. In the absorption of the music he sees memes only attaching to the lower thinking processes; he does not see the memes working into higher areas of the mind that could appreciate not just the music, but the music's origin and the musician's empathic understanding. The listener empathically recreates the entire scope of the composer’s and performers' experiences, effectively joining their community and sharing their community of knowledge.
Meme is just a term for a biological phenomenon, describing the transport of empathic ideas; there is no right and wrong associated with its definition; and as with any conceptual construct, it can have good or bad effects. To me, a bad meme would be an image that sticks in my mind but has no relevant meaning to me; a McDonald's hamburger advertising jingle -- especially one I don't like -- would be a bad meme; it has no purpose except to get me to give someone money for something I don't want. A far more extensive meme, though not necessarily more complex or sophisticated, is the feature length movie; a bad movie meme would be a movie you walk out on, another would be a horror film that gives children damaging nightmares, but from which the same children cannot avert their eyes.
Goleman primarily sees memes in their ability to affect the brain in a way that is prescribed by meme-makers, whoever they may be. He seems to relate them only in their ability to affect the mind, not in their ability to add new meaning to enhance listeners' or viewer's' lives by providing them with social meaning, or constructed community knowledge.
Falseness in Memes
Memes, as they were first conceived, are not really ideas of emotion; they are more ideas of invention, specifically technology. The initial concept of a meme is devoid of emotion; memes, according those who coined the term, were designed to transport knowledge and skills. Memes were initially presented as a unit of imitation, where imitation is how life, including technology, is communicated. Wrapped in the concept of the meme is the genetic theory of the selfish gene. From the view of those who coined the term meme, life is engineered by genes specifically for the benefit of the replication of those particular genes; life is "driven by the competition between genes" for domination of the holders of the genes so that the genes can replicate in greater numbers that other gene holders. Extending this concept, genes empower their holders, plants, animals, humans, bugs and germs to assure their replication into the next generation. Selfishness as an emotion is a product of the gene, created so that the genes can be replicated, according to this idea. Genes, and therefore their holders, act solely to create more genes.
The coiner of the term meme, Richard Dawkins wrote widely on this view of genetics: the "selfish gene." To Dawkins, the meme is simply a replicator of information just as the gene is. Memes have much greater value as Goleman points out, and Dawkin's low-balling of his own concept hardly does the meme justice. Along with the meme, Dawkins also low-balls all the living things that benefit from memes. Dawkins extends Darwin's concept of evolution, yet ignores Darwin's most important idea, which is that the purpose of life, and in particular the reason for the sophistication of the human brain, is specifically for the refinement and improvement of life. Social affection, as Darwin described empathy especially as it is found in the family, is the triumph of nature. An even deeper irony is found when discussing the importance of the meme; the meme is the perfect mechanism for empathy. Memes provide the ideal transportable container that feelings and understandings are kept in to be delivered through the empathic communication process. This container can be music or art, and it can be stored for long periods of time either in some media, or within community knowledge as in the oral tradition. Dawkins, in his writing, reduces empathy to imitation; furthermore he says that animals cannot imitate, only humans can; or at least he says so through the writing of his protégé Susan Blackmore. (Blackmore)
Unfortunately, this low balling of life's key components is very common. Scientists continually try to find a genetic replication advantage in all observations particularly when it defies intuitive conceptualization. To Dawkins and many other scientists, the blues musician feels the blues because his genes want to replicate; the memes that transport the significant meanings of blues music therefore, to them, exist only to replicate genes. To me, the fact that many highly educated and talented scientists could be so stupid is disturbing and makes me very suspicious; is there some sick agenda deeply embedded in science?
The more enlightened and
classical view, Darwin's view, and one that is certainly more compassionate,
has intelligent animal interactions as highly cooperative systems that promote
collaboration, especially within the family structure. The human mind is
not unique, it is simply highly advanced; it extends the communication and
interaction systems of a highly social animal world. Dawkins accepts
Darwin's concepts of evolution and extends them by explaining a mechanism that
transports information, yet he ignores the basic, and most important, gift of
nature to man by denying that there is communication in the animal
world. Dawkins entirely contradicts Darwin, and creates a missing
link where there was none before he started writing. (Blackmore)
Biologists, even those who do imply that genes are purely selfish, continually trying to downplay animal empathy, and even human empathy, try to dissect actions purely as behavioral mechanisms of genetic advantage. Every emotion, feeling, and even the deepest of memes that describe, for instance the blues, is a behavior to a biologist. Biologists usually see that our intelligence consists of hate and deceit; and that communication is developed, by the genes, only for purely combative and dishonest purposes. Ekstig, who studies communication, is an ally of Dawkins: "other factors quite independent of language contribute to the selection pressure for a large brain, factors such as skill at hunting, foraging, tool making, and warfare." (Ekstig) Dawkins's writing, when combined Ekstig's, becomes a science fiction nightmare rather than biology. Dawkins writes that "we, and all other animals, are machines created by our genes. We are survival machines - robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes."
David Edwards, an animal lover, responds directly to Dawkins and Ekstig in his Tear-stained Robot: "If we are merely 'robot vehicles' produced by a random, godless universe, then restraint and compassion might be considered a freak of nature." (Edwards) In reality, the strongest survival tool of the higher animal is Darwin's social affection, as it allows animals to work together for mutual benefit, and, most important, it allows for the nurturing of the young by adult animals. This nurturing is closely linked to the development of the cells of communication and interrelation, the mirror and spindle cells. It is the humans who are robotic who are the freaks of nature; their empathic components are missing or are not active. For some reason, they have been able to do in human society what animals cannot do in nature; work against the better interests of the community, in other words be selfish. In modern society, selfishness is promoted through control structures whose very design is mechanical, and whose controllers, are operators are robotic. Lewis Mumford, who has shown us that human ingenuity, clearly a product of communication, can be either democratic or controlling, or beneficial or dangerous, depending on who wields the technology. The birth of control in our society comes not from our genes, but, according to Mumford, organizations such as the Ancient Egyptian Empire. Scholars often paraphrase Mumford's idea by saying that the first machine was made of human parts; they refer to the pyramid building machine that has replicated itself as today's megamachine. (Mumford) Selfishness is not primordial; it is a fairly recent invention. Dawkins makes a valid point when he says kindness is open to abuse, and therefore kindness should not a survivable, but he frames this idea in a sense of paranoia by referring to kindness as a conspiracy in the way the commentator Anne Coulter thinks of the left wing as conspiratorial. He says that the evolution of both animal and human groups has
"a tendency to evolve towards an all-dove conspiracy" .. "But the trouble with conspiracies, even those that are to everybody's advantage in the long run, is that they are open to abuse." (Dawkins)
Kindness is not a conspiracy; this is proved by the discovery of the final refinement of evolution: mirror and spindle cells. The conspiracy occurs when cold scientists like Dawkins deny what Aristotle and Darwin promoted, which is that kindness is at the core of human nature. Because humanity is built from nature, humans are naturally kind. It is the cruel human who is a departure from the evolutionary process, the freak of nature. In modern society, excessively cruel humans usually wind up in prison, or as in the case of the dictator Saddam Hussien, getting hanged. This shows that the culture that Dawkins thinks of as an all-dove conspiracy does have some teeth. There is the issue raised by Mumford, that at the heart of modern civilization is control, and the control structure seems unstoppable when it comes to resource exploitation. But Mumford also shows us that human nature, or natural humans, through the power of technology can reverse the destructive process by regaining control over the control structure through the democratic process, and by putting cruel controllers in prison or to death.
We are at the dawn of the age of empathy; the first great empathic prophet was the Buddha, and in evolutionary terms, time since the Buddha’s life has been but a moment. Many, many other thinkers have contributed to help show how humanity is based on empathy, and how humans can continue along the natural path of mutual kindness. In my opinion, the greatest contributor was Ruth Benedict with her explanation of beneficial social interaction in society as Synergy, which she derived from the actions of Native tribes successfully surviving the colonialist and immigration genocide. Oddly, her Synergy is rarely mentioned in relation to empathy. Empathy itself is rarely mentioned in relation to the tribal cultures from which Benedict derived Synergy who are considered to be most closely related to our empathic roots: nature. Empathy is still on the ground floor of its development in our society.
Unfortunately for us, most scientists, both kind and cruel, still look at animals coldly and experiment with them in ways that are designed to fit patterns only they can conceive, so strong is the resistance the new neural information about empathy, as well as Darwin's ideas. These cold scientists miss the most important fact of life; that it is full of warmth and love, and that is human interaction that makes us successful as a species. When we fail it is because, we as society, civilization, or species, lose this warmth; we fall off the evolutionary path; we fail at refinement and adaptation. Goleman in his book Emotional Intelligence tells us exactly what the problem is; he calls it pure intelligence, or intelligence devoid of emotion. He cites his own Ivy League institution as using intelligence tests to filter out from the student body any prospective students who may have emotional strengths, and not just intelligence. On page 225 of Emotional Intelligence, Goleman discusses the highest level of the human education system; he describes the institutional providers of our most influential thinkers as having a social form of autism; the high class educational system is devoid of empathy by design. Since the influential scientists are all graduates of these institutions, our society is being pulled in the direction to a mentality devoid of empathy. He states also, through a study, that this problem only began in our society with the invention of the standardized intelligence test. (Goleman, Emotional Intelligence)