Memes and Genes….Different, but the same!

Memes vs Genes…Different, but the same!

Memes are a lot more than funny GIF’s on the internet.  In reality, both memes and genes are information carriers and agents for change and adaptation.  Both compete to succeed and be replicated in distinctly different domains.  Memes compete for attention, genes compete for expression. Success in both cases involves being passed to the next generation.  Functionally speaking, both memes and genes facilitate the duplication and passing down of traits.  Memes and genes are life’s universal change agents and they work to facilitate adaptation and ultimately, shape our inner and outer worlds.

Consider the facts…

-Genes allow biological organisms to evolve through reproduction and mutation.

-Memes allow ideas to evolve through replication, interpretation and modification.

-Genetic evolution impacts physical traits that in turn impact success or survival.

-Memetic evolution impacts psychological traits that in turn impact success or survival.

-Genes are responsible for physical characteristics like color, the length of limbs, and the propensity towards certain disease in both plants and animals.

-Memes are responsible for the patterns we find in art, culture, science, technology, information, and behavior.

In other words, genes are the state holders for life’s hardware while memes are the state holders for life’s software.  A Meme is to concept and culture as the gene is to structure and function.

It is valuable to understand that while they operate in very different domains, each of them evolve through the same mechanism: evolution.

When Richard Dawkins coined the term meme in his book “The Selfish Gene” he pointed out that memes are handed down through generations via replication or imitation, just like genes.  He also pointed out that they might evolve via the very same process that Charles Darwin pointed out over 100 years earlier.

The implication here is that both genes and memes adapt and improve through natural selection.  Traits that are well suited to the environment and help their host address real world challenges effectively tend to survive through many generations.  Traits that do not help with success or survival eventually die out.

So, why is it important to understand that memes evolve just like genes?  Simply stated, the evolution of memes is the essential force at play in the advancement of human knowledge and culture.  It is also the informational backbone for the formation of habits, trends, tactics, strategies and behaviors.  In other words, it’s time to take a look the evolution of behavior, technology and culture in terms of the actual mechanism that shapes them.

To a coach this is a very informative perspective.  You see, the way you coach, the way your team plays, trains and practices, the way that your people react to pressure, process stresses, and pay attention are all memes. Just like genes, the best ones will eventually out compete and out survive the worst ones, but also just like genes, that can take forever (or at least it can seem that way)

The best practices for sales professionals, HR managers, hostage negotiators, athletes in training, or racing driver are all memes. Those practices WILL evolve over time, with or without thoughtful intent. However, just as we have intervened in the natural selection of genes (genetic engineering), we will eventually intervene in the natural selection of memes.

If you understand how habits, tendencies, strategies and reactions evolve, you can work the process systematically.  In doing so you can dramatically shorten the time it takes to update or upgrade memes, in other words, improve reactions, behaviors and habits.

If you understand that your patterns of behavior, including your ability to control your focus, recover from stress and connect with and relate to other people are memes, you know that they will naturally evolve and become more efficient over time.

You know also know that it is possible to take a very active role in the improvements of these tendencies, habits, reactions and behaviors.

Once upon a time, the evolution of genes was entirely left in the hands of the forces of nature.  Not that long ago, we learned that we could design the genetic makeup of plants and animals by intent.

We are starting to see the earliest attempts at memetic design (mostly by those interested in leveraging the human propensity for watching cats fall into toilets on youtube).  In the near future, humans will play a role in shaping the habits, behaviors and trends that make it into the next generation systematically and scientifically.

A few at the cutting edge will use this information to start designing and shaping effective mental software, today.

For those few, mental skills training will bridge the gap between memetic evolution and memetic engineering.  It is now possible to develop your habits and behavioral patterns by intent through systematic training rather than accidents of evolution.

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