Dan Dennett: Dangerous memes (TED talk)

What’s in it for the ant to climb up the long blade of grass? Does it really need to be struggling so much – what’s in it for him? Turns out, nothing. The ant has a parasite in it’s brain making it submit to the whims of the aimless parasite.

Islam means ‘surrender’, or ‘submission of self interest’. It’s ideas, not worms, which hijack our brains. Many people are infected by ideas, be it Catholicism, Islam, or even Capitalism.

Ideas are so easy to misuse. They can be toxic to whole populations of people. In Jared Diamond’s book, Guns, Germs and Steel, he talks about how Europeans had grown immune to certain pathogens, but when new Natives encountered these germs, they were wiped out, because they had not built up a tolerance to them over hundreds of years of living with domesticated animals like the Europeans. And now we’re doing it again, but with ideas.

American culture has many memes, which are not toxic to the American population – such as pornography. They are tolerated, like a mild cold. But when these memes are distributed around the world, there are some cultures not adapted to dealing with them.

(Part of TED a day for June)


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